The Political Is Very Personal

As President Obama prepares to take executive action on immigration reform, Republicans are once again being torn apart. You can look at it as a battle between their heads and their hearts, with their heads understanding that doing things like shutting down the government or even impeaching Barack Obama would in fact end up being good for Obama and terrible for them, while their hearts cry for satisfaction, wanting only to beat their tiny fists against the president they despise so much:

Congressional Republicans have split into competing factions over how to respond to President Obama's expected moves to overhaul the nation's immigration system, which are likely to include protecting millions from being deported.

The first, favored by the GOP leadership, would have Republicans denounce what House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has called "executive amnesty" and use the party's new grip on Congress to contest changes to the law incrementally in the months ahead.

The second, which has become the rallying cry for conservatives, would seek to block the president’s decision by shutting down the government for an extended period until he relents.

Mitch McConnell may say that a government shutdown isn't on the table, but that doesn't mean the Republican caucus agrees. And now impeachment talk is back; even Charles Krauthammer, the most influential pundit among Republicans and someone who only a few months ago was calling impeachment talk a Democratic canard, now says that if Obama moves on immigration it'll be an impeachable offense.

The best measure of the intensity of this internal conflict is the anger in Boehner's rhetoric: the more incensed he appears when he talks about the president, the more pressure he's under from the right. And he now sounds very angry.

This ongoing debate within the GOP offers a good reminder that politicians are people with feelings. One of the arguments Republicans have made many times is that if Obama goes ahead and does this, it would "poison the well," squandering all the affection congressional Republicans have for him and rendering them no longer able to work across the aisle, something they've been so eager to do up until now. What this argument really means is that Republicans would have their feelings hurt, and in that dark emotional state would be unable to do the people's business.

OK, so I'm mocking. But I don't think they're lying about that, not completely. They really would be super-mad, not least because it would highlight their own impotence. In that state, they might well do something rash—something that their more rational selves know would be a disaster, but that they just wouldn't be able to stop because their emotional selves would have taken over. And they'll be getting plenty of encouragement from the conservative media, for whom impeachment would be a ratings bonanza.

Barack Obama knows all this, of course. He obviously feels that the particular immigration steps he's contemplating are the right thing to do, and he understands that Republicans are never, ever going to pass a comprehensive reform bill that would be remotely acceptable to him. But he also knows that taking executive action will drive them batty, making some kind of emotional outburst on their part more likely. Which would end up being good for him and bad for them. So why wouldn't he go ahead and do it?