Impeaching Clinton

Partisan Strife on Capitol Hill

Nicol C. Rae and Colton C. Campbell

Why did congressional Republicans obsessively pursue the impeachment of President Bill Clinton when the 1998 midterm elections and public opinion polls suggested that the majority of Americans opposed it? Some claimed indignation over perjury, others outrage over immorality. But as Nicol Rae and Colton Campbell show, the driving force behind the impeachment was nothing less than the intensifying partisanship of American politics.

Impeaching Clinton offers a fascinating case study of how the American political system operated during the 1990s and of the critical factors underpinning the political process. It particularly examines the congressional aspect of the drama to show that the Lewinsky affair was simply a trigger—that the context for impeachment had been set over the course of two decades of partisan warfare.

“In this interesting and useful book, the authors provide a brief but insightful assessment of the impeachment and trial of President Bill Clinton. . . . Rae and Campbell are particularly effective in charting the dynamics by which the U.S. House and Senate Judiciary committees have become ideologically polarized in recent years even by the standards of the contemporary, partisan Congress. . . .


“Considers the politics behind one of the most important events in the domestic political history of the United States in the past century. . . . Highly recommended to any scholar interested in American political institutions. . . . Highly readable for students.

—Perspectives on Political Science
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Drawing on new interviews with six of the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee in 1998, Rae and Campbell reexamine why the House Republicans acted in defiance of electoral rationality on the impeachment issue, demonstrating that they took their cues from the voting party faithful rather than from the nations centrist citizenry. The authors unravel the web of partisan politics to reveal how the pattern of events was determined, from the decision to open an impeachment inquiry to the eventual acquittal of the president.

Rae and Campbell also look at the Judiciary Committee proceedings from the perspective of the Democratic minority, who helped shape media coverage and public opinion and the eventual Senate outcome. They show how the Senate was able to bring closure to this highly polarizing proceeding.

Overdramatized by the media, the Clinton impeachment process was nevertheless the most extreme manifestation of partisan warfare in our time. The authors special contribution here is to greatly expand our understanding not only of a particular constitutional crisis but also of a dynamic that still prevails in congressional politics today.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series