As the days pass, it becomes increasingly likely that Donald Trump will be the third president in the history of the United States to face a jury of his peers in an impeachment trial. Still, if the polls are accurate, Republicans have been largely unmoved by the Democrat-run inquiries into the president’s conduct. The majority of Republicans continue to support the president, fueling his ever more erratic behavior, rallies, and Twitterstorms.
That unwavering support was enough to preserve the sinking ship for a while. But it looks like it isn’t anymore.
On Wednesday, Fox News released the most recent in a slew of impeachment-related polls. In it, 51 per cent of Americans reported that they wanted President Trump impeached and removed from office, up nine points from a July 2019 poll asking the same question. Unsurprisingly, support for impeachment rose most precipitously among Democratic voters, who now overwhelmingly back the inquiries initiated by the House of Representatives, after years of ambivalence. But Democratic voters were not the only voters for whom perspective evolved. And the evolution of other voters may spell doom for the president.
Whether or not Democrats support impeachment inquiries and proceedings is of no real consequence to President Trump, of course. The impeachment needle appears to be moving among Independents, however — and that development should give the president pause.
According to a poll conducted by The Washington Post on Tuesday, 57 per cent of Independent voters now support the current impeachment inquiry, indicating a 20-point increase in support since July. Even if the Republicans never come around — and there’s plenty of reason to believe that they won’t, given their recent messaging in the press — Donald Trump has plenty to worry about. It wasn’t Republicans, after all, who carried him through the 2016 election; it was Independents, in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio. And those Independents are waning in their commitment to the president.
The most steadfast Republicans — like former Representative Trey Gowdy, who once famously excoriated the Obama administration for failing to produce documents requested by Congress — continue to back the president, apparently seeing no irony or hypocrisy in their own positions. Gowdy himself once stood admirably tall in his moral resolve, saying, “The notion that you can withhold information and documents from Congress, no matter whether you are the party in power or not in power, is wrong. Respect for the rule of law must mean something, irrespective of the vicissitudes of political cycles.” That premise — that a rule of law is a rule of law regardless of ruling party — has been abandoned by the current Republican Party. And President Trump has made an unwise bet that his party’s sycophantic loyalty can buy him a second term.
Despite his reputation as Teflon Don, to which no scandal will stick, the tides really are changing for Trump this week. Public opinion suggests that Independent voters are shifting their perspective to an unprecedented degree, and those Independent voters will make or break the 2020 election, just as they did in the 2016 election.
Without swing states in the Midwest and Rust Belt to bolster him, Trump has little chance of becoming a two-term president. If anything is to be his undoing, it will be a break in his base, which is composed not only of party loyalists, but also of white, middle-class voters. Losing that bloc will cost him the election.
Signs are pointing to this significant change. The Fox News poll, specifically, established that there was increased support for impeachment among white evangelicals, white men without a college degree, and white rural voters — three groups that have historically supported Trump in big numbers. The Republican Party may be towing the line, but not everyone is on board. When Independents begin to jump ship, as they appear to be doing, the problem of the presidency may become insurmountable.
In April 2017, Trump tweeted that he "did what no other Republican could" and "easily won the Electoral College.” That tweet, of course, was hyperbolic and largely inaccurate, but it did contain one kernel of truth. Without Independent voters, no candidate—Democrat or Republican—has a chance at the presidency, regardless of magnetism, social media following, or bombast. Donald Trump, Teflon or not, is no exception to this rule.