Now that James Comey is hours away confirming under oath that Donald Trump repeatedly committed acts which fit the legal definition of felony obstruction of justice, and now that Trump has unwittingly admitted his guilt by confirming that the advance copy of Comey’s testimony is accurate, it raises the question of how Trump goes down for this. The answer is still precisely the same as it was at the very start of this.
Even if you don’t believe that the Republicans in Congress are willing to do the right thing for the right reasons, you can bet your bottom dollar that they care more about themselves than they do about Donald Trump. If he becomes so toxically unpopular that the Republicans conclude they have to toss him overboard in order to avoid getting wiped out in the midterm elections, they’ll do it without thinking twice.
So Trump’s fate is still, just as it was the day he took office, entirely dependent on his approval rating. Everything that’s happened up to this point, everything that Comey says tomorrow, everything that happens next week or next month, is only relevant in as much as it impacts his approval rating one way or the other.
Right now, the major polls have Trump’s approval rating pegged in the mid to high thirties. If it drops below thirty, you’ll probably see enough House Republicans (roughly ten percent of them) get on board to begin impeachment hearings. If his approval rating drops below twenty-five, you’ll probably see enough Republican Senators get on board with the idea conviction and removal. What’s most important to understand is that Trump’s approval rating is largely not defined by his base.
Trump base is no more than 15% of the country (consider the fact that only around one-fourth of Americans voted for him period, and many of them did it tepidly or out of party tradition). So when you look at a poll that says his approval rating is at 35%, what you’re really seeing is that his 15% base is still entirely with him, along with another 20% of Americans who are more or less just giving him the benefit of the doubt because it’s early and they’re thinking he might pull it together eventually.
If you want to drive Trump’s approval rating lower, you ignore his 15% base entirely. You put all your focus on the other 20% who are still giving him the thumbs-up to pollsters but are doing so with increasing skepticism. They’re the ones who will continue to slowly but surely abandon him, as they see yet more evidence that he’s a criminal, or that he’s demented, or that he’s inept.
So the answer to where things go from here is the same one I’ve been offering since November: focus on how each of these events and incidents end up impacting Trump’s approval rating. I can guarantee you that most Republicans in Congress are checking his approval rating, both nationwide and in their home state or district, on a daily basis. Because that’ll be their guidepost for when or how they decide to speak out against him and move into the impeachment process.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report