Then-candidate Donald Trump fields a question during the first Republican presidential debate in August 2015. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

President Trump's Russia defense increasingly hinges upon the idea that it's a baseless “witch hunt” — and that it maybe needs to be shut down. A necessary piece of that argument: There is a “deep state” working to take him down that isn't operating in good faith.

And as we approach what may be the final stages of the Mueller investigation, it's becoming increasingly evident just how compelling that case could be — at least to the people Trump needs to believe it.

But it's not even just Republicans; a new poll from Monmouth University shows 74 percent of Americans believe some form of the “deep state” probably exists. And that belief is completely bipartisan, with 72 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats subscribing to it.


The numbers are significantly higher than there were a year ago in a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Back then, 48 percent believed there was a “deep state,” while 35 percent dismissed it as a conspiracy theory.

The wording of the questions are important here, even as they are somewhat similar. The Post-ABC poll defined the deep state as “military, intelligence and government officials who try to secretly manipulate government policy,” while Monmouth defines it as “a group of unelected government and military officials who secretly manipulate or direct national policy.” The Monmouth poll has a lower bar, allowing for the deep state to merely have influence on national policy, while the former requires it to “manipulate” that policy. Perhaps many Americans simply view the CIA and the NSA, for instance, as directing national policy and think that sounds something like a deep state.

The Post-ABC poll also gave people two choices, with one being that it was a “conspiracy theory.” The Monmouth poll allowed four degrees of belief in the deep state, and a plurality — 47 percent — said the deep state "probably exists." An additional 27 percent said it "definitely exists."

And that's not the only evidence that the cement on the deep-state conspiracy theory isn't exactly dry. When Monmouth asked whether people had even heard of the deep state, just 13 percent said they were “very familiar” with the concept, while 23 percent said they were “somewhat familiar.” Sixty-three percent were not at all familiar — and yet even many of them subscribed to the idea when it was defined for them.

But that's really all that matters, as far as Trump goes. Polls have long showed that substantial portions of the GOP base don't believe Russia interfered in the 2016 election and that it didn't aim to elect Trump. A Quinnipiac poll in January showed that 83 percent of Republicans agreed with Trump that the investigation was a “witch hunt,” while just 12 percent said it was a “legitimate” investigation.

Against that backdrop, it's difficult to assume that anything Mueller finds is going to move Trump's base and pressure congressional Republicans to act — either through impeachment or anything else. This weekend might have been about laying the groundwork for firing Mueller, sure, but mostly it seemed to be about solidifying the base for the political battle to come after the Mueller probe. And this poll shows just how attractive Trump's alternate explanation can be to people who would very much like an excuse to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.

All of this is worth recalling whenever the Mueller probe concludes — and if it's allowed to conclude.