Most of the focus in the political world in 2017 has been on Donald Trump’s base and on the anti-Trump Resistance. But neither of these two groups, despite their ferocity and enthusiasm, will ever decide Trump’s fate. Instead, another sliver of Americans – who appear to be around 17% of the country and who aren’t nearly as politically motivated – are about to decide whether Trump sinks or swims.
I’ll spare you the math, but based on the polls and data I’ve studied over the past two years, Donald Trump’s base appears to be roughly 15% of America. FiveThirtyEight pegs the number as being somewhere closer to 20%. Either way, the point is that Trump’s base is fairly small. More importantly, it only makes up a fraction of his overall support. His approval rating is somewhere around 32%. So if you go with his base as being 15%, it means another 17% of Americans are still passively supporting him despite never having truly been behind him. These people are crucial.
Consider that Trump’s approval rating was in the low forties in January. Now it’s in the low thirties. That means he’s lost nearly one-fourth of his supporters since taking office, which translates to tens of millions of Americans. This rather easily proves that Trump can lose – and has lost – supporters. It means the “Trump’s supporters won’t abandon him no matter what” rhetoric has always been a misnomer. It may be true of his base, but it’s not true of his supporters outside his base. So why does this matter?
Over the past few weeks the Republican Party has begun desperately trying to prop Donald Trump up. The reason: they’d rather not have to get rid of him before the 2018 congressional elections, because the process of ousting him would be ugly and humiliating. But they know that if his approval rating drops into the twenties, they’ll have little choice: they’ll have to dump him in order to avoid getting totally wiped out in the midterms.
The Republicans will selfishly oust Donald Trump if they have to. In fact they won’t hesitate, because they care about their own jobs infinitely more than they do about Trump’s fate. How they end up approaching him has nothing to do with the right or wrong thing, and will only come down to what they think will put them in the least bad position for the midterms.
Donald Trump only needs to lose another 3% of Americans to see his first handful of approval rating polls in the twenties, and another 5% of Americans to dip into the twenties across several different polls. His base has absolutely nothing to do with this. It’s all about those 17% of Americans who are still saying “yes” when a pollster calls them and asks if they approve of Trump, because they passively support him, even though they don’t truly support him. These are the people who will single handedly decide his fate. If the Resistance wants Trump gone, it must focus its efforts on the mild Trump supporters outside his base.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report