That staunch, consistent partisanship is a tricky combination. Democrats haven’t budged in wanting to see Trump booted from office, and Republicans haven’t budged in wanting him to stay. It makes comparisons with past impeachment threats — like that faced by President Richard Nixon — tricky.
Nixon’s approval rating was inversely correlated to support for removing him from office. As the latter went up, the former went down. The result is that comparing where Trump is to where Nixon was creates a weird division.
New data from Gallup released on Wednesday shows Trump’s approval rating — 39 percent — is about where Nixon’s was in the middle of 1973. The level of support for impeaching him and removing him from office, though — 52 percent — is essentially where Nixon’s would have been right before he resigned in August of the following year.
There has been movement. In June, Gallup had Trump’s job approval higher and support for impeaching him lower.
The problem here is we only have two data points. Yes, there’s been an increase in support for impeachment, but there have also been a number of developments that have put new pressure on the president. In June, Trump hadn’t yet spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, for example. Nor had Democrats formally begun an impeachment inquiry. So is this a quick jump up? Or is it the start of a long-term trend? We’ll have to see.
What it does highlight is how uncharted the current territory is. Gallup’s report on support for impeaching Trump notes only 32 percent of the country wanted to see President Bill Clinton removed from office in late 1998. Meaning the only time Americans have ever told Gallup they more strongly support impeaching and removing a president from office — on Aug. 5, 1974 — that president was gone four days later.
Which is, again, why it’s so odd for Trump to be openly fighting with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
We walked through this last week when Trump first decided to allow Turkey to move into Syria, opening the door for an attack on Kurdish forces that had fought with the United States against the Islamic State. Trump is not immediately at risk of being booted from office since he would need to be impeached and then opposed by 20 Republican senators. But it’s certainly not the sort of thing it makes a lot of sense to test.
On Wednesday, presented with a question about being criticized on the issue by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Trump was cruelly dismissive. Graham, he said, would “like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years with thousands of soldiers and fighting other people’s wars.” Graham should instead focus on his work with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump said, targeting Democrats and former FBI officials.
Graham responded with obvious irritation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who on Wednesday briefed his caucus on the mechanics of a likely impeachment trial — rebuked Trump strongly (for McConnell).
CNN reported last week that Trump’s strategy for keeping his party in line was to strong-arm them. He’s been calling McConnell regularly and threatening to attack senators who publicly break with him. If that’s also his strategy in the House, it isn’t working. The House overwhelmingly voted to condemn Trump’s actions on Syria and Turkey on Wednesday — a vote that included members of the House Republican leadership and numerous other Republicans.
So this is where we are: Public support for removing Trump from office is up in Gallup’s polling to nearly the level seen right before Nixon resigned. The one backstop Trump has against that happening is the support of Senate Republicans — a group that is frustrated by his actions on Turkey and that Trump plans to keep loyal through threats.
It’s still unlikely that support for impeachment grows substantially from here (thanks to support from Republican voters), and it’s still unlikely that 20 Republican senators turn on Trump (thanks to their fear of Republican voters).
But Trump fumbling an important alliance while being convinced he’s making all the right decisions is certainly not without recent precedent.