Donald Trump’s impeachment—a liberal fantasy since his inauguration—now appears to be a plausible outcome. In a testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Comey claimed that President Trump privately requested him to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States. When asked whether he took Trump’s request as an order, Comey admitted that he did, which he described as “very disturbing.”
Even conservative members of Congress, including Justin Amash (R – Mich.) and Carlos Curbelo (R – Fla.) suggest that Trump’s request for the Flynn investigation to be dropped, if true, could qualify as obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense. Representative Al Green (D – Texas) took his demand to the House floor, where he called for Trump’s impeachment after declaring “our democracy is at risk.”
Trump’s impeachment, however, would not come without a cost, even to those who have long dreamt of it. When Trump comes under fire, he almost instinctively denounces the credibility of his accusers. And when he dismisses criticism in the media as “fake news,” his supporters often believe him. Unless Trump’s loyal supporters believe the newest allegations against the president, impeachment may appear to them as nothing more than an establishment scheme to eliminate the leader who dared to disrupt the status quo in Washington.
For his part, Trump denies all charges against him. When asked whether he urged Comey to end the Flynn investigation in any way, Trump responded “No, no. Next question.”
Trump’s indignant denial of any wrongdoing didn’t end there. In response to the Justice Department’s appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to the investigation into ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, the president tweeted “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
When Trump claims that he never asked for the Flynn investigation to be dropped, he pits his word against Comey’s. Trump’s argument that the Comey memo is false seems unlikely, given that Comey, a “prolific note-taker,” wrote the memo on February 14th, nearly two months before his firing. For Trump’s claim to hold, Comey must have made up the request for no apparent reason.
Despite the hole in Trump’s argument, his base will likely believe it. Following the war waged between Trump and what he calls the “fake news media,” Trump supporters haven’t wavered in their belief in the president’s word. According to a Washington Post–ABC News poll, only “small fractions” of Trump supporters believe that the administration regularly tells falsehoods. While their trust in Trump remains strong, their trust in the media has plummeted. According to the same Washington Post–ABC News poll, “enormous majorities” of Trump voters believe that media outlets regularly lie. If Trump supporters continue to believe the president over the media as they have done so far, they will see the current investigations as a witch hunt, not a legitimate probe.
Trump’s denial of these allegations is enough to convince much of his base of his innocence. But this, combined with the fact that Trump assumed office as a political outsider who promised to fight the establishment, makes the investigations and potential impeachment effort dangerous..
This distinguishes Trump’s case from that of other recent presidents who faced the threat of impeachment. Before heading into office, Trump lacked the support of political elites, many from within his own party, including George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham. To Trump supporters, the hostility the establishment feels toward the president is evidence of his unwelcomeness in Washington.
Many in Trump’s base suspect the establishment wanted him out from the start. To many Trump supporters, that’s exactly what this scandal is about. According to Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, the mainstream media, the Democratic Party, and establishment Republicans “do not want president Trump to govern and they will do anything and say anything to stop him.”
Trump himself deems the investigation a deliberate and conscious effort to discredit his presidency. On Twitter he claimed, “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign.”
So what happens if liberals’ dreams come true and Congress impeaches Trump? To many, justice will have been served despite Trump’s attempt to obstruct it. But in the eyes of Trump’s loyal supporters, the outsider they voted for would be ousted for something he didn’t do—something fabricated by the political establishment in an effort to eliminate the only threat to their dominance.
When Trump says “This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” many Americans believe him. Many of these same Americans voted for Trump out of frustration with typical Washington politics. Impeaching Trump would only affirm their suspicion that career politicians were out to get the candidate they disliked from the start. Trump’s impeachment would remove a president despised by many, but it will only add fuel to the fire of populist backlash against the political mainstream.
Correction: June 8, 3:40PM—A previous version of this article mistakenly omitted the first paragraph. All aspects of the article are now included.