Feehery: How Republicans can counter the possible impeachment push

Frederick Frelinghuysen as a New Jersey senator voted to convict former President Andrew Johnson of high crimes and misdemeanors in 1868, but the effort to boot the Democratic successor to former President Lincoln failed by one vote.

Frelinghuysen was a Republican, and while Johnson was largely unpopular with the American people, the effort to impeach him was even more unpopular. Democrats picked up 20 seats in the House as a result. 

His great-great grandson, Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenTop House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch MORE (R-N.J.) announced his retirement from Congress and won’t have to decide which way to vote on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow during 2016 campaign: report DC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE’s impeachment, should congressional Democrats decide to go down that path.

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My guess is that they won’t be able to help themselves.

In 1974, congressional Republicans let former President Nixon know in no uncertain terms that he was on his own in fighting impeachment during the Watergate investigation. That might have been the right thing morally, but politically it was a complete disaster, and after the November election, the GOP held only 144 seats in the House and 38 seats in the Senate.

In 1998, Republicans decided to make the impeachment of former President Clinton their top campaign promise. Some Democrats got wobbly at the start, disgusted with Clinton’s outrageous behavior in Oval Office, but eventually, they unified and stuck with him. Republicans didn’t get around to actually impeaching the president until after the November election, the result of which was an embarrassing loss for Republicans and the ouster of their Speaker, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

It has long been a matter of faith among the progressive left that Trump is an illegitimate president who needs to be removed from office, one way or another. Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund manager, Phillips Exeter and Yale graduate, invested tens of millions of dollars trying to convince Democrats that the president needs to be impeached. Other Democrats (and Never-Trumpers) have called on the Cabinet to remove Trump through the 25th Amendment.

The investigation of Whitewater devolved into a sordid, messy fight over Clinton’s inability to come clean on his sex life. It seems like the Mueller investigation is going in the same direction on the sex stuff, although he keeps insinuating through leaks that there is some evidence of collusion with Russia. 

No matter what Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE comes up with, my advice to Republicans is to stick with the president on impeachment but also come up with a strategy to address kitchen-table issues important to the vast majority of the American people. 

It won’t be easy to break out of the Beltway messaging morass. The national media, especially cable shows, are completely focused on the Trump scandals. Unfortunately, so is the president and his Twitter handle.

For House Republicans, it is especially important to define their own future, distinct from the president but not in conflict with him. The districts they lost are not yet liberal bastions of the progressive left, but nor are they positively disposed toward the current occupant of the Oval Office.  

Here is what I would do: Come up with three issue areas that resonate nationally that put Democrats on the defensive and get the conference unified on a strategy to communicate their solutions to suburban voters. Examples?  How about stopping Democrats as they seek to impose a carbon tax on consumers? Or how about coming up with a plan that addresses the high cost of college education? Or how about giving people more rights to defend themselves in this era of political correctness? 

Whatever the issue, it’s vitally important that Republicans come up with creative ways to communicate with the voters who matter to them in the next election. And that communication must be a two-way street. One of the biggest frustrations to the average voter is the persistent belief that nobody in Washington is truly listening to their concerns. 

As Democrats go down the impeachment rathole, it’s important for Republicans to keep their wits about them. Yes, support the president, but more importantly listen carefully to what the voters want and address their concerns in a way that puts Democrats on the defensive and helps define the Republican Party in a more positive way in this era of Trump.

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: Current shutdown impasse is a fight over peanuts Feehery: Why Democrats oppose the wall Feehery: How Republicans can counter the possible impeachment push MORE (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speech writer to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).