But here’s the thing: Even if Democrats did accuse Trump of a crime and perhaps even if they proved it, it probably wouldn’t be good enough.
A new Pew Research Center poll shows the barrier Democrats face in removing Trump from office or even in getting GOP senators to vote with them on new witnesses and evidence. The poll shows 32 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning voters say Trump has “definitely” or “probably” done illegal things since he launched his campaign for president. But even among that smaller group of more Trump-critical voters, they strongly oppose removing him from office. Fully 59 percent of those who believe Trump has probably committed crimes say he should not be removed, while just 38 percent say he should.
The poll question, as with all poll questions, is subject to caveats and nuances. Most of those Republican and GOP-leaning voters, importantly, only say Trump has “probably” committed a crime (23 percent) rather than that he “definitely” has (9 percent). Perhaps they don’t believe you should be removed from office based on something that isn’t completely proved, which is reasonable. Maybe a few of them even have more innocuous crimes in mind, rather than obstruction of justice or public corruption.
But this is also a sizable portion of Trump’s base — one-third — that volunteered to a pollster that they believe a GOP president has broken the law since he entered politics, and they have come down decisively against removing him from office. And not only have they come down decisively against such a drastic step; they also support him. The same poll shows just 18 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning voters disapprove of Trump.
In other words, at least around half of GOP-leaning voters and Republicans who think Trump has broken the law still don’t disapprove of him.
The new poll suggests a growing number of Republicans — and people overall — are entertaining the idea that Trump has broken the law. A March 2019 Quinnipiac University poll, for example, offered a binary choice — yes or no — on whether Trump has committed a crime since he became president. Just 12 percent of Republicans said he had at that point, which was before the report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. That same poll showed 45 percent overall thought he had committed a crime, vs. 63 percent in the new Pew poll. (The new poll does include his time as a candidate, so it includes more time for potential criminal activity.)
It’s a notable commentary on the moment we find ourselves in today. It’s one thing for views of the Ukraine scandal to have hardened; it’s another thing for a sizable chunk who think Trump has done illegal things to shrug their shoulders, oppose his removal and even approve of him as president. It suggests that there is a very large portion of Trump’s base that simply can’t be peeled away, even if he was proved to have committed a crime. It seems unlikely they’ll then be swayed by an “abuse of power” or “obstruction of Congress” — the two impeachment articles Democrats have offered — almost no matter the evidence.
Which helps explain why you’re seeing potentially vulnerable GOP senators not shy away from embracing him on impeachment. Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) is lashing out against reporters as “liberal hacks,” and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) is making little secret that he’s decided on impeachment. Even Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in a blue-leaning state hasn’t really seemed to depart the party line.
The impeachment trial and the Trump presidency as a whole don’t seem to reward nuanced positions, especially on the GOP side. And as Democrats try to woo some of these senators to vote in favor of new witnesses like John Bolton, you can bet this will be weighing on these GOP senators’ minds.