The Magazine

THE MYTH OF GOP DEFECTORS

Dec 14, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 13 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Other Republican members simply don't want the trouble that would come with opposing impeachment. Late last month, for instance, the Women's Republican Club in John Porter's home district issued a remarkably bellicose statement demanding that their congressman "cease and desist your inappropriate interference with the due process deliberations of the Judiciary Committee and recant your premature statements that you oppose an impeachment recommendation." Several days later, the conservative weekly Human Events ran the pictures of confirmed and suspected anti-impeachment Republicans beneath the headline, "Meet the GOP's Pro-Prejury Caucus." "Can they be brought back into line?" the story asked. "You can let them know how you feel about it by writing and calling their offices at the numbers listed below." A number of talk-radio hosts made similar pitches to their listeners. During the first week in December, says Peter King, "I was getting an average of 150 phone calls an hour. My office had to close the phones down."


For representative Mark Souder, the heat has been even more intense. A conservative who occupies the same Fort Wayne seat once held by Dan Coats and Dan Quayle, Souder has long been an aggressive critic of the Clinton administration. Last fall, he was one of fewer than 20 Republicans to cosponsor representative Bob Barr's inquiry of impeachment against the president. In January, Souder was among the first members of Congress to call for Clinton (whom he described at the time as a "compulsive liar") to resign over the Lewinsky scandal. Somewhere along the way, however, Souder decided that impeachment (and, for that matter, censure) was a bad idea. It's not clear what happened -- Souder was traveling in Russia last week -- but his critics weren't waiting to hear the details.


Radio host and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes achieved liftoff, announcing that he planned to "personally join in an effort to make sure that every Republican who votes against impeachment faces a primary challenge that will be well funded and that will make clear the point that people who act without integrity at critical moments, when our constitutional lives are at stake, cannot be excused." In a speech last month to the Indiana Family Institute in Indianapolis, Keyes attacked Souder by name. As it happened, Souder's sister was in the audience and was shocked to hear Keyes urge the crowd of 1,200 -- many of them current or potential donors to Souder's reelection fund -- to call Souder's office and complain about his stand on impeachment. "Alan said that Republicans who are wrong on this basically are jeopardizing our country," says Bill Smith, executive director of the Institute. "It was a bit awkward having Mark's sister with us."


And it got more awkward. Souder's sister promptly called her brother in Washington and reported that Keyes had implied he was a bad Christian for opposing impeachment. Souder was livid. Keyes called Souder's office several days later, reaching his press secretary, Angela Flood. When Flood picked up the phone she was surprised to learn that Keyes was in the process of hosting his radio show, which is broadcast to 80 stations nationally and simulcast on the America's Voice cable network. Flood got angry. Keyes berated her on the air for her boss's views. The calls poured in to Souder's office.


Most Americans may want Clinton as president, but there remains a large and energetic segment of conservative voters who badly want him impeached. Not surprisingly, none of the five Republicans who have declared their opposition to impeachment seems particularly anxious to talk about his decision. "He's spending this week with his family," says a spokesman for Jack Quinn, by way of explaining why the congressman will not be available for comment. John Porter, meanwhile, has spread the word that he opposes impeachment not because he sympathizes with Clinton, but precisely because he is so outraged by the president's behavior. (Interested readers should call Porter's office for an explanation.)


None of this intra-Republican controversy seems to bother Pete King very much. "This is not at the intensity of, for instance, a highway bill," he says. "I'm not sensing that there's any pressure at all. I have not gotten one call from anybody in the leadership." On the other hand, King admits, maybe that's because his strategy has worked. "It's like Syngman Rhee told Richard Nixon: 'Let your enemies think you're crazy and they won't bother you.' I think if they think I'm nuts they'll leave me alone, because I might do something worse."




Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD.