DES MOINES – They had come to hear Donald Trump, who finished his brief Iowa State Fair swing with a mini-rally at the Steer n’ Stein. But the Republican crowd cheered just as loud for Rep. Greg Steube, a third-termer from southwest Florida who’d come with big news.
“Yesterday, I filed impeachment articles against Joe Biden,” said Steube, standing next to Trump in matching MAGA hats. “How many of you think we should impeach Joe Biden?”
Encouraged by their base, and outraged by the criminal investigations into the 45th president, the right flank of the House GOP is trying to build momentum for a Biden impeachment. They’ve gotten asked about it at town halls, brought it up in conservative media hits, and been urged to act quickly by an array of movement leaders.
“Joe Biden is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, warranting the opening of an impeachment inquiry,” read an open letter from the Conservative Action Project, released Wednesday; David Bossie, chair of the RNC’s debate committee, was among the activists who signed. “There has never been a more corrupt occupant of the White House than the sitting President of the United States.”
Impeachment’s advocates don’t have the 218 votes needed to back up the threat, or the total buy-in of party leaders. Instead, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told his conference shortly before the start of the summer recess that an “impeachment inquiry”— the formal investigative process that typically precedes an impeachment vote — was possible, if more evidence justified it, as the House Oversight Committee probed whether money paid to the president’s son and brother before he was president made it to him.
That put a lid on the conversation as members headed home. But the impeachment chatter picked up, powered by memos from the Oversight Committee and anger at what was happening to Trump. On Wednesday, at a town hall meeting in his north Texas district, Rep. Pat Fallon told constituents that he supported an impeachment inquiry and that “we should have done that already.”
Impeachment was the first topic Fallon was asked about; on a recording of the event, one attendee can be heard shouting “What’s McCarthy waiting for?” Fallon walked the crowd through an FBI informant’s claim that Burisma Holdings owner Mykola Zlochevsky admitted bribing two members of the Biden family, suggesting that further revelations could remove the president from office.
“If Zlochevsky comes forward with either of those things — recordings, or the route to how he got the money — we’ve got impeachment, conviction, removal, and god forbid, not that I’m rooting for this, but we’re going to say three words: President Kamala Harris,” said Fallon. “I’m not rooting for that, but we have a constitutional duty to investigate.”
“We’re going to go through an investigative process, I believe, in the Judiciary Committee, through an impeachment inquiry,” said Donalds, who endorsed Trump in April — days after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted him. “There’s going to be several hearings on that. And then, if the evidence speaks for itself, there’ll be impeachment articles brought to the floor.”
That decision’s up to the House Republican’s leadership (on conference call this week, McCarthy said he anticipated “some serious family discussions on our next steps forward when we return in September.”) But as he campaigned for Trump at the fair, Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt said that it was time to escalate the Biden probe.
“I think there’s a lot there that warrants it — whether you call it an impeachment inquiry or further investigation, whatever you want to call it,” said Schmitt. “I think this testimony needs to be out in the open, out in public. And the American people deserve to know whether or not the President’s a crook.”
The journey from impeachment as a “kook” obsession to reality is shorter than it used to be. Republicans put the onus for that on Democrats, who ignored their insistence that removing a president meant defying the will of the voters who elected him.
“I blame this impeachment craze on the Democrats,” House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer told Raw Story late last month. “A lot of voters feel like, well they impeached Trump twice, and we should impeach Biden. And again, that’s irresponsibility on the Democrats’ side.”
It helps that both parties learned, in the Trump years, that impeachment doesn’t lead to removal of a president. Democrats, in both 2019 and 2021, saw Trump as so uniquely dangerous that he needed to be barred from the presidency. But progressive activists who spent millions of Tom Steyer’s dollars on a “Need to Impeach” campaign got a vote, then trial, with a single Republican defection, and — pre-Covid — a re-energized Trump talking about his vindication. Even after Jan. 6, Democrats could only lure a handful of GOP Senators to their side.
That’s transformed impeachment into just another tool to try and win the news cycle. With some exceptions like Fallon, pro-impeachment Republicans mostly seem to think Biden is a crooked joke, rather than an imminent danger to the Republic, and this is the best way to educate the people who don’t know it. That’s grown more intense over the recess, as Oversight’s memos and subpoenas, like one this week asking for any communications that used “Robert L. Peters” as a pseudonym for the president, get lost in the Trump drama.
“The purpose of that impeachment, from my standpoint, is not to force a vote that loses,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said on a Wednesday Twitter Space organized by Tea Party Patriots. (The group’s CEO, Jenny Beth Martin also signed the movement letter endorsing impeachment.) “It’s to put on a trial in the Senate… it will not result in a conviction, but the true verdict can still be rendered by the American people.”
THE VIEW FROM THE DEMOCRATS
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, said that Republicans were charging ahead based on “debunked conspiracy theories,” all to serve a “twice-impeached and disgraced enemy of the Constitution now facing 91 serious criminal charges.”
“The constitutional predicate for impeachment is treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” Raskin told Semafor in a statement. “House Republicans have admitted themselves they have no evidence of any wrongdoing by President Biden, much less evidence of an impeachable offense. The purpose of this colossal waste of taxpayer dollars and Congressional time would be to try and establish a false equivalency between Biden and Donald Trump.”
Steube’s four articles were posted right before he touted them to the Trump crowd. All of them focus on actions made before Biden became president; one article, focused on the FBI’s interactions with the 2020 Biden campaign and transition team, suggests there was an “abuse of power” by a candidate who had yet to take it.
SFA Inc, “Spine.” The super PAC backing Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign is up with this spot in Iowa, starting off with some 2017-era praise from conservatives for her show of “spine” at the U.N. while defending the decision to move America’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It links that decision (made by Trump) to Haley’s promise to take back American land purchased by Chinese companies, a popular bi-partsian cause other candidates haven’t quite gotten around to making yet.
Andy Beshear for Governor, “Gets It Done.” Kentucky’s Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Gov. Andy Beshear’s GOP challenger this week. It’s a common Republican advantage in post-2020 races — a backlash to the George Floyd protests, which Democrats were responsive to, and a reward for the GOP’s pro-police politicking. Beshear was ready with the common Democratic response: testimonies from his own law enforcement endorsements. “More state troopers, raises for cops, and anything that we need,” says Floyd County Sheriff John Hunt; his county went for Donald Trump by 51 points in 2020, but backed Beshear in his 2019 race by 8 points.
Jeff Landry, “A Shame.” Louisiana’s Republican-led legislature never banned “critical race theory” outright, and outgoing Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a Florida-style parental rights bill, but the state has put some limits on what public schools can teach around social issues. Attorney Gen. Jeff Landry, the GOP leading in polls to replace Edwards, hints here that he’ll go further: “Too many classrooms are filled with woke politics instead of teaching.”
Before Ron DeSantis entered the GOP primary, Public Opinion Strategies put out multiple sets of swing state polls comparing his strength to Donald Trump’s in a race against President Biden. The differences were minor, but consistent — the Florida governor had a slight advantage over Trump, often within the margin of error. Things change. Fox finds DeSantis sagging to a 21-point net negative approval rating, worse than Biden or Vice President Harris, while running worse against Biden than Trump.
One in four Republicans view DeSantis negatively, and he’s less popular than Trump is with independents. The best-liked 2024 candidate? Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., thanks to the highest crossover support for anyone running — a 58% favorable rating from Republicans. (Just 36% of Democrats feel the same.)
Republicans who don’t want another Trump nomination, and are flummoxed by his steady support, tell themselves a story: This could change if his indictments became convictions. There’s a little evidence here to support that, with a majority of every voter demographic rejecting the idea of a felon in the White House. White men (overwhelmingly Republican) and voters under 35 (mostly distrustful of the system) are the least bothered by the idea, but only a third of them accept it.
White House. On Tuesday, a trove of polling and debate strategy documents appeared on the website of Axiom Strategies, unexplained, on the company news feed. The firm running the pro-Ron DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down — the one carrying him around Iowa in a branded bus — had released tens of thousands of words, and reams of data, about the Florida governor and his summer struggles.
The New York Times wrote the documents up first, and Axiom left most of them online until Thursday evening. Nearly every candidate who’s qualified for next week’s debate in Milwaukee had hours for his or her campaign to download info sheets on how they had “attacked DeSantis” in the past — Tim Scott on Florida’s education standards, Nikki Haley and Mike Pence on Florida’s battle with Disney.
No document about Donald Trump appeared on the site, but the polling revealed how strong Trump was in the first two primary states, and how the PAC intended to beat him. WPA Intelligence modeled a caucus electorate bigger than the one that showed up in 2016 — from 186,932 Republicans to a precise 216,561. Asked about the current field, 40% of Iowa voters supported Trump, 19% supported DeSantis, 12% supported Tim Scott, and 20% supported some other Republican. If the race narrowed, Trump picked up 6 points; support for DeSantis doubled, to 38%.
The PAC’s paid New Hampshire polling, of 510 GOP primary voters, told another story — of DeSantis taking on water since the campaign started.
Both he and Trump had lost ground against the field, but DeSantis had lost more. In March, Trump polled at 35% and DeSantis trailed by 8 points. This month, Trump had ticked down to 34%, but DeSantis came in at 16%. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott was the strongest of the alternatives — polling at 6%, but with a net favorable rating of 49 points. Heading into Milwaukee, Never Back Down had told the world what DeSantis’s weaknesses were, and who was best positioned to exploit them.
ALTOONA, Iowa – Heather Ryan’s goal last weekend was to make Ron DeSantis uncomfortable, “even for 30 seconds.” She succeeded, twice.
On Friday morning, Ryan and her niece Kara showed up at a Ron DeSantis campaign stop, heckling and ringing cowbells until he made a swipe at them: “People like that are what’s holding this country back.” The next morning, the Ryans and other supporters of their activist group — Bitches Get Stuff Done, a reference to Tina Fey’s 2008 Saturday Night Live riff about Hillary Clinton — stood as close as they could get to the “FairSide chat” between DeSantis and Gov. Kim Reynolds. They made more noise, this time with bells and whistles, until they were ejected from the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
Ryan, a 51-year-old Navy veteran and former child beauty pageant manager, had made international news. It wasn’t her first dive into politics; she ran for Congress, then switched to run for a state legislative seat, in 2018. She lost, after local media coverage dug into her occasionally foul memoir of the beauty pageant industry, and what she called a “catalog of moronic songs.”
Why do this? We met up at a combination HyVee/Caribou Coffee and I asked.
Americana: What are the origins of all this — of Bitches Get Stuff Done?
Heather Ryan: I started the group right after Roe fell. I was literally working 70 to 80 hours a week, and then my day job eliminated my position, so all of a sudden, I had a lot of free time. So we got a TikTok going, started sending out newsletters, and worked on how to protest and make our voices more effective. We actually just filed for PAC status last week.
I’ve been active politically for all these years, but we were getting nowhere – we’re actually losing ground. So I decided to stop being nice. And then I contacted [Des Moines T-shirt maker] Raygun. They printed up 100 of these shirts; they actually just told me that they’re going to start selling them for us.
Americana: What’s the goal?
Heather Ryan: To create progressive change. We’ll start doing candidate training this Saturday. I was involved in reality TV for 10 years, and I really think what Donald Trump did with reality TV is the formula that you use in politics. You start a fight, you escalate the fight, you leave a cliffhanger. Whenever he says, “oh, we’ll see what happens,” that’s the cliffhanger.
Americana: Like he’s doing now, with the GOP primary debates?
Heather Ryan: That’s right. You have to be over the top. Anybody who doesn’t have a larger-than-life personality isn’t going to succeed in reality TV. It’s the same with politics.
Americana: Most of the GOP candidates were in town this week. Why protest DeSantis, in particular?
Heather Ryan: He’s the most active fascist, besides Trump, in the party right now. A lot of what he does is reflected in Iowa — Kim Reynolds wants to do everything he does. That makes it personal for me, as an Iowan. But we also target our local officials; we go to their homes and protest with pots and pans and bullhorns.
Americana: How do you define “fascist?” What about DeSantis meets that definition?
Heather Ryan: He can’t take criticism. He wants nothing to do with free speech. Everything that you think a dictator would be, that’s him. He just doesn’t have the personality for it — thank God. If he had Trump’s big personality, he’d be really dangerous.
Americana: You got kicked out of the fair, but what happened before that?
Heather Ryan: We got as close as we could to the stage. His folks came up to us before the event, because they recognized us from Friday. They asked, “Are you gonna cause a disruption?” I said, “Yeah.” That pissed them off. They went around saying: Don’t let her get close to the stage. She’s gonna rush the stage! And I said: Do you see my fat ass? I am not rushing the stage. I am physically not capable of rushing a stage. But I do plan to make noise.
So, they were angry before the thing even started. Once it did — look, the men in these audiences are really bold. They’ll scream in your face. You’ll get hit with spittle. Someone yanked me backwards and grabbed my whistle, so I yanked out my back-up whistle and started blowing it. The cops were telling us to leave, saying that if we didn’t, they’d arrest us. So they tackled me and pulled us out.
Americana: What was the actual punishment?
Heather Ryan: I got a card that says I can’t come back onto the fairgrounds for 18 months. But I’ve got concert tickets to The Chicks this Saturday, and I’m going. As long as I don’t cause a ruckus, what are they going to do? Maybe I’ll go undercover.