Republicans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. took a hit since last month. Forty-one percent of Republicans say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S., down 17 percentage points since May. At the same time, satisfaction among Democrats and independents has remained low.
The honeymoon may, in fact, be over for Trump among his base. When only the base matters, and you stop pretending you ever actually cared about said base, well, things start going bad, fast.
In the week since fired FBI Director James Comey leveled his explosive charges at the president, Capitol Hill Republicans have followed a two-track response. With virtual unanimity, they have insisted that even if Trump did everything Comey alleged, the behavior does not warrant criminal action or impeachment. And simultaneously, while the Trump-Comey confrontation has monopolized media attention, both chambers have advanced deeply conservative policy proposals—with House Republicans voting to repeal the major financial regulations approved under former President Barack Obama, and Senate Republicans working in private toward a plan to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Both of these responses rest on the calculation that Republicans can best avoid losses in 2018 by mobilizing their base supporters, no matter how other voters respond to their actions. But the choice to aim their governing decisions at such a narrow spectrum of Americans could magnify the risks facing Republicans in 2018—and, for that matter, Trump in 2020. As Trump’s presidency careens through increasingly turbulent waters, congressional Republicans are lashing themselves ever more tightly to its mast.
That was most apparent in their collective shrug at Comey’s Senate Intelligence Committee testimony. Strikingly, no leading Republican argued that Comey was fabricating when he said Trump encouraged him to drop the FBI investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Rather, in virtual unison, Republicans declared that even if Trump made the remarks Comey reported, his actions were at most inappropriate, and not illegal.
The unanimity among Hill Republicans contrasted sharply with the response to Comey’s testimony from the mainstream legal community. Some experts defended Trump’s actions. But a wide array of former federal prosecutors, like prominent former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara; Watergate investigators; and law professors argued that the pattern of behavior Comey described justified opening an obstruction-of-justice investigation. Congressional Republicans have summarily dismissed those conclusions.
That supine acceptance follows the pattern established when Trump previously violated other norms, like not releasing his tax returns. Every time Trump has broken a window, GOP leaders have obediently swept up the glass, if sometimes after some initial grumbling. That pattern of deference could help explain why Trump might imagine Republicans would ultimately defend him even if he fired special counsel Robert Mueller, as he’s reportedly mused this week.
Trump went on another tirade about witch hunts and Hillary on Twitter today. If even the base decide he's a petulant loser, then all bets are off as to what depths Trump will sink to in order to try to stay in power.