The House GOP’s impeachment Fyre Festival
Fyre Festival was probably always doomed to be a catastrophe. The proposed 2017 concert on a private island in the Bahamas set a new bar for scams primarily because of the massive divergence between what was offered and what was delivered. Concertgoers were promised private flights to luxurious housing and gourmet food; they got commercial flights to wet mattresses and cheese sandwiches.
What’s obvious about the festival, though, is that the organizers’ central mistake — beyond, you know, engaging in criminal fraud that landed the lead organizer in prison — was to keep taking the path of least resistance. It was easier to keep trying to pull something together as the concert date neared than it was to pull the plug; it was easier to hope that a miracle would occur than to admit that it wouldn’t. It was the sort of bet that’s made hundreds of times a day in Las Vegas, to the repeated benefit of the city’s casinos.
There is a lesson here for House Republicans.
Back in September, then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced that he was authorizing the leaders of several House committees to begin investigating whether President Biden should face impeachment. He offered several theoretical reasons that Biden might need to be sanctioned, reasons that House Republicans had already been trying to bolster for several months without luck.
The month before his announcement, McCarthy himself had admitted that they needed to begin the process of impeaching Biden to figure out what impeachable offenses Biden might have committed. A month later, he was no longer speaker.
There has been no substantive progress since. Republicans like House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) began arguing even before Republicans took control of the chamber in January 2023 what he thought Biden had done. Over the following 12-plus months, he failed to generate any substantive evidence of it.
Instead, the pattern displayed by House Republicans, and Comer in particular, is that investigators get concrete denials of involvement by Biden in his family’s business efforts. Then they ignore those in favor of cherry-picked excerpts of testimony aimed at building a circumstantial, superficial case against the president.
This has become problematic for other Republicans in the House. Last week, CNN reported that GOP lawmakers are balking at the idea that they might be asked to impeach the president, given both the dearth of evidence and Comer’s clumsy handling of the probe.
One told CNN, “I don’t think it goes anywhere.” Another Republican source called it “a jumbled mess.” The Republican caucus has a tiny majority in the House but, according to one legislator who spoke to CNN, there may be as many as 20 Republicans who are unwilling to go along with the idea. Other voices on the right are also expressing skepticism.
The problem is that Comer and his allies have already been selling tickets to this festival. Polling conducted by Pew Research Center last month found that three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents support the impeachment inquiry (belatedly formalized in December). More than half of Americans do as well, largely because of that strong support from Republicans.
Fascinatingly, a majority of Republicans said that they believed Biden had “definitely” done things that warranted impeachment. Another third said that they thought he probably had. This is despite the failure of both the informal and formal probes to assemble evidence to that effect.
Why are Republicans so confident in Biden’s culpability? Part of it is partisanship, obviously, just as part of the widespread Republican belief that Biden’s 2020 election victory was illegitimate is rooted in partisan opposition to the president.
Comer and his allies are selling something that Republicans are interested in buying. A first-class flight to see Biden impeached? Sure!
But then part of it is that House Republicans also have marketing partners. In Suffolk University-USA Today polling conducted last month, three-quarters of Republicans said they supported the impeachment inquiry. So did 85 percent of those who most trust Fox News as a news source.
Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo have been uncritical champions of the effort. Bartiromo has repeatedly hosted Comer for interviews in which his obviously false, debunked claims are left unchallenged.
Hannity has done the same, even following the one public impeachment inquiry — generally considered a debacle for Republicans — with a chance for the chairmen of the committees leading the inquiry to do a little cleanup. (The Fyre Festival also had mid-tier celebrity backers.)
The rewards at play here aren’t only political. Comer has been fundraising on his newfound position, with success. In 2022, when he was on the ballot, he raised about $286,000 for his campaign committee in the quarter that ended on Sept. 30. In 2023, when he wasn’t on the ballot but was on Fox News a lot, he pulled in more than $1.1 million that same quarter.
Of course, the payoff he’s been promising is political: that he will gin up evidence that takes down Biden. So far, he hasn’t inspired confidence, offering up allegations about Biden taking money that were quickly shown to be family members of the president paying him back for money he lent them.
Like the organizers of the Fyre Festival, Republicans seem to be taking the path of least resistance, hoping for that last-minute miracle. In the coming weeks, investigators will depose Biden’s son Hunter and brother Jim, high-profile questioning that, they hope, might shake something loose. (Given Comer’s track record, he’ll presumably claim that it did regardless.)
Maybe it will. Maybe, at the last minute, the whole thing will come together and everyone they invited and took money from will show up to see the event they were promised: Joe Biden held to account for his wrongdoing by House Republicans.
Or maybe those investors will be handed whatever the political equivalent is of a soggy mattress and two slices of white bread.