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GOP made mistakes during Clinton impeachment affair. Democrats need to know them

Fifteen years ago, I brought former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr to speak to my students. Twenty years ago, he was a House impeachment manager, putting President Bill Clinton on trial after impeaching him in Congress. There are lessons we can learn from those days, and apply them today to the potential for President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings, and false lessons as well.

As reported in the Stamford Advocate, “Yet those who have been on the front lines of past impeachments stressed that ultimately, political considerations shouldn’t matter. ‘It ought to be irrelevant,’ Barr said. ‘If a majority of the members of the House believe the president has committed an impeachable offense, then regardless of where the political chips may fall, they have an obligation to proceed.”

Barr is not a Trump impeachment supporter, and he remains an unrepentant supporter of trying to remove Clinton back in the day. He is sure to be the subject of many interviews, second-guessing and the search for answers, as to how to impeach a president.

Fox News clearly thinks the move is a bad one for Democrats. They made a documentary called “Scandalous: The Clintons” which documents the more salacious details of the Clinton scandal. Yet it seems they have no more clue as to why impeachment failed then as they do today.

Fox News contributor Mara Liasson claimed, “Bill Clinton’s presidency was a period of peace and prosperity. That’s the bottom line for presidents... You could draw a comparison between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, people understand their faults, they like them anyway.”

The economy was in better shape in the 1990s than today (though 2017-2018 had a great stock market until December). Clinton’s approval ratings in the 1990s far exceed Trump’s approval ratings.

‘“What turned out and what I didn’t know would happen and I’m not sure anybody did, was that the impeachment move by the Republicans backfired,” said Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume. “Times were good. You know Clinton had done the things that got him re-elected and they were still in place and the economy was doing as well as ever. And this story did not offend the country the way we all — more or less — assumed it would. It just didn’t.”

That’s not why Clinton wasn’t removed from office. Senators vote, not the public. It’s because the Republicans in the House, Fox News and the Clinton critics focused almost exclusively on the sex, and the sensational nature of it all. It was though they felt the public would only care about it if it was about sex. As one pundit mocked the House GOP Impeachment case “They managed to make sex boring.” Far less time was focusing on the crime itself, explaining why lying to a grand jury was an impeachable offense, a “high crime and misdemeanor.”

For the Democrats, that’s going to determine whether they can make their case to the public. Instead of focusing on all of Trump’s unlikeable qualities, Democrats must establish if a crime has occurred, spelling out exactly what the crime is, and why they represent “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Otherwise, they will do no better than Republicans did back in 1998-1999.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.