As the impeachment inquiry marches forward, President Trump is closely watching the Republicans in Congress, particularly in the Senate, who constitute his last line of defense against removal.

In that regard, Trump has a very powerful ally: Fox News.

Trump pulled the plug on his corrupt scheme to host the Group of Seven summit at his Doral resort after getting informed that some moderate Republicans — the ones he needs to keep in line on impeachment — didn’t want to defend it, amid indications that it would become part of the case for impeachment. He also witnessed some Fox News personalities disapproving of it.

That’s when Trump concluded the jig was up on Doral, the New York Times reports. Trump issued two tweets nixing the plan, but took a break between them to watch Jeanine Pirro on Fox — another indicator of how closely he’s monitoring the network as he assesses the holding power of his defensive ramparts.

A new study just out from the Public Religion Research Institute sheds light on this dynamic in a remarkable way: It shows that rank-and-file Republicans who watch Fox are far more loyal to Trump than those who do not.

The poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, finds that an astonishing 55 percent of Republicans who watch Fox News as their primary news source say there is almost nothing Trump could do to lose their approval. By contrast, only 29 percent of Republicans who don’t cite Fox as their primary source say this.

What’s more, 98 percent of Fox-citing Republicans oppose impeaching and removing Trump — opposition that’s “essentially unanimous,” as PRRI puts it. By contrast, 90 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans oppose impeaching and removing him — which is overwhelmingly high, but suggests that among this group, at least, Trump could suffer losses on the margins as the inquiry turns up worse revelations.

And here’s another real doozy: In response to my inquiry, PRRI tells me that 71 percent of Fox-citing Republicans strongly approve of Trump, while only 39 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans strongly approve of him.

“The numbers show that Republicans who watch Fox News tend to be much more pro-Trump,” Natalie Jackson, the research director for PRRI, told me. “Fox seems to be a powerful vehicle for Trump support.”

Of Republicans overall, 44 percent say Fox is their primary source — meaning we’re talking about a very large chunk of the GOP base. “What Fox is putting out there is really impacting Republicans’ opinions,” Jackson said.

On impeachment, Fox News figures have put out nonstop disinformation. They regularly claim the inquiry is invalid absent a full House vote (which is baseless); that Trump did nothing wrong in the Ukraine scandal (he pressured a foreign leader to help him rig our election by investigating potential opponent Joe Biden); that the whistleblower has been discredited (his complaint perfectly captured what Trump actually did); and that Biden did the same or worse (which is based on a fabricated narrative).

The Fox effect

It’s difficult to say whether Republicans watch Fox because they’re already in lockstep with Trump, or whether they’re inclined that way because of what Fox tells them. But these things seem to reinforce one another — and that may prove a significant factor in keeping GOP lawmakers in line behind him.

“His core constituency seems to be these Fox-watching Republicans,” Jackson told me, adding that such strong numbers among those voters mean that “Republicans in Congress are going to be less likely to turn against Trump.”

Of course, some GOP lawmakers will remain behind Trump because they actively approve of his efforts in this matter. But this is probably related to the Fox effect as well. Trump has adopted the unabashed posture that demanding the sham investigation of Biden is the affirmatively correct thing to do under the circumstances, and some GOP lawmakers are with him on this.

Fox is pushing similar messages — Trump is absolutely within his authority to call for an investigation of Biden, the truly corrupt figure in this situation; Trump is the real victim here (of the “deep state”). This hermetically sealed-off version of reality has created a space in which Republicans are backing Trump because he’s only done right.

This isn’t the 1970s anymore

There’s an additional perversity here that could have a major impact on how all of this unfolds.

A debate is stirring over whether the only plausible way to get the Senate to remove Trump after the House impeaches is through massive popular mobilization, a case originally made by Brian Beutler. The idea is that things are vastly different than in Richard Nixon’s day.

Back then, the two-party system was less rigid, and the far-less-fractured media environment was dominated by a few major networks. The prospect of party defections driven by principled reactions to empirically determined misconduct was more realistic. As David Leonhardt notes, “the elite institutions that helped bring down Richard Nixon” are “weaker today.”

But what makes this worse is that, even as our institutions are weaker, there is simultaneously an institution of sorts lined up forcefully behind Trump — Fox News — which is carrying out a self-assigned institutional role with reasonable success. Historians have noted that Nixon had nothing like it at his disposal. This both underscores the case for a popular mobilization and suggests how overwhelming it would need to be to move the required 20 GOP senators.

Nobody understands this better than Trump, who has aggressively attacked Fox when it occasionally strays from that role. But on impeachment, Fox has largely stuck to it, and it’s hard to see that changing. These new numbers suggest it’s having a real impact, and could even help Trump survive.

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