The pessimists of the anti-Trump resistance have long been of the opinion that the Republican majority in Congress will stand by Donald Trump no matter what happens. But from the start I’ve pointed out the basic political reality that they care far more about getting reelected than they do about protecting a failed president of their own party, and that there is a specific threshold at which they’ll selfishly cut him loose to try to avoid getting wiped out in the midterms.
That threshold, I’ve long stated, is 30%. Unpopular presidents have approval ratings in the forties. Deeply unpopular presidents are in the thirties. But if you fall into the twenties, it breaks a psychological barrier. It means you’ve reached a Richard-Nixon-in-1974 level of toxicity. In fact 29% is the mark at which Nixon lost support of the Southern Democrats in the House who, despite technically being in the other party, had been largely aligned with him, and had been propping him up.
Fascinatingly, the great Dan Rather recently went on CNN and stated his view that he also believes Republicans in Congress will begin meaningfully turning against Donald Trump if he drops below 30% (link). Dan Rather is smarter and far more experienced at politics than I am, so this makes me think I’ve had it right all along: the 30% mark truly is the point below which Trump’s own party will begin to eat him alive for their own benefit. But how close are we to that?
Trump’s average approval rating has slowly but steadily drifted downward from the low forties to the mid thirties during his time in office (it’s important not to treat individual polls as if they’re of any particular relevance; the polling averages tell the story). He doesn’t have to fall much further to hit 29%, and with the Russia/obstruction scandal accelerating of late, he may or may not begin falling more quickly. It’s important to keep in mind that Trump’s true base is probably no more than around 15% of the country, but his approval rating is more than twice that number, so this has absolutely nothing to do with his base. It never has. From the start they’ve been irrelevant in whether he sinks or swims.
For now Donald Trump is being propped by those out there who have had mixed feelings about him all along, but have been tentatively giving him the benefit of the doubt in approval rating polls because he was new. He’s been gradually losing the support of those types of people since he took office. If he keeps losing them, he can easily fall below the 30% mark even if his base remains intact. The Republicans in Congress are looking at Trump’s approval rating every day as they try to decide how much longer to prop him up – and there is a point at which they’ll toss him overboard to try to save themselves. If you don’t believe me, just ask the great Dan Rather. If you’re a regular reader, feel free to support Palmer Report
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report