Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) address the media as lawmakers prepare to vote on a new budget resolution to avert a government shutdown, at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/REX)
Opinion writer

President Trump may have misread — if was reading at all — the vast majority of Americans' patience for an hysterical, chaos-creating and non-functioning president. What in the past worked to delight his audience and throw mainstream media off balance (e.g., a new scandal to replace an old one, vicious personal attacks on opponents and the press, new stock market highs) no longer works to keep his leaky ship of state afloat. Shutting down the government, rewarding Russia and Iran in the Middle East, losing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and sending the markets reeling may have moved us to a tipping point, the moment when lawmakers and voters decide Trump is far more trouble than he’s worth.

Once the realization hits that he’s a net drag on the economy and a needless headache, the country is collectively far more willing to consider grounds for getting rid of him. (It’s one thing for garden-variety Republicans to concoct excuses for defending a functional president; it’s quite another to defend him when just about everything seems to have gone haywire.)

Coming at a time of maximum chaos (perhaps what precipitated the chaos overload) are significant legal developments — Michael Cohen pleading guilty to a crime Trump directed, Michael Flynn getting bashed for a favorite conspiracy theory of the kooky right, jettisoning a foundation that state authorities identified as akin to an illegal slush fund, and the revelation that Paul Manafort continued to communicate with the White House and lie in violation of his plea deal. After more than 7,000 lies, Trump’s habitual dishonesty is now a given — and his excuses and accusations now habitually ignored by most Americans.

As a result of the chaos, the legal quicksand and the lies, Trump faces a country willing to accept that their president is, as Richard Nixon put it, a crook. The latest Associated Press-NORC poll shows:

A majority of Americans — 58 percent —think the president has tried to impede the Russia investigation, while 4 in 10 say he has not. An overwhelming share of Democrats, 90 percent, say the president has sought to obstruct the probe, compared with 22 percent of Republicans.

The survey also shows that if Mueller’s investigation finds that Trump did not personally have inappropriate contacts with the Kremlin but nonetheless tried to obstruct the FBI’s work, 51 percent of Americans think Congress should take steps to remove him from office, while 46 percent think it should not. …

Remarkably, members of the party of “law and order” now overwhelmingly say they oppose removing Trump if he committed obstruction of justice(!). ("About 8 in 10 Democrats and 2 in 10 Republicans think Trump should be removed from office if he committed obstruction. ")

Let me suggest the American public is moving toward two disturbing conclusions: The president is a menace, and the president likely broke the law. What’s the implication of all that? First, his chances of reelection are sinking fast. It’s one thing to resist impeachment; it’s another to sign up for four more years of turmoil with a liar and miscreant. Republicans had better start looking for options for 2020. Second, the public, I’d suggest, is far more likely to accept at face value special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report findings. If they already suspect Trump ordered illegal payments or obstructed justice, Mueller’s report will likely solidify that view beyond the confines of the Trump cult (which shrinks as his performance worsens). Third, impeachment becomes less akin to a risky option and more like a constitutional obligation compelled by events. Fourth, watching the turn in public opinion and the meltdown in the executive branch (especially the loss of the only trustworthy national security adviser), more senators will begin to consider seriously removing Trump from office. And finally, as we have previously discussed, the option of indicting him and/or his business organization becomes only a question of timing (now or after he leaves office).

In sum, the ground shifted substantially over the last week or so. The cracks in his Republican wall of support are widening as actual fear grips Republican officeholders; the public becomes far more willing — anxious even — to see him go. Whether all that will result in his departure from office before 2020 is unknown, but it no longer seems like a pipe dream.

Read more:

Andrew Coan: William Barr’s memo on the Mueller probe is baseless and dangerous

Michael Gerson: If Trump’s actions aren’t impeachable, then what is?

Jennifer Rubin: If Trump does not run for reelection, what then?

Henry Olsen: Trump is now forging foreign policy on his own. Where will he take us?

Jennifer Rubin: With Mattis out, we’re in uncharted territory