From Lindsey Graham on the right to Bernie Sanders on the left, a fair number of elected officials say that if Donald Trump fires Robert Mueller, the Russiagate special counsel, he’ll face impeachment. Don’t count on it.
Despite plans by MoveOn.org and others to organize nationwide protests if Mueller’s investigation is shut down, and despite the outcry from Democrats and the media that would certainly follow, odds are that Trump would survive the aftermath of a Saturday Night Massacre–style removal of the special counsel.
That’s because the country has become increasingly polarized since Mueller took office last May, with more and more Democrats saying they back Mueller’s inquiry—and more and more Republicans saying they don’t. In the House of Representatives, where Republicans face stiff odds of hanging on to power, my guess is that Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders won’t risk a break with Trump if he fires Mueller, and that they won’t allow an impeachment vote (and even if they did allow a vote and Trump was impeached, it’s highly doubtful that Trump opponents could muster the two-thirds majority needed for conviction in the Senate).
The polls on Mueller are not encouraging. Consider the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which showed a deep Democrat/Republican split on attitudes toward the Mueller investigation. In March 2018, 47 percent of Democrats viewed Mueller positively, against only 9 percent who viewed him negatively. However, among Republicans, the split was dramatically different: 11 percent positive, 33 percent negative. What’s most troubling is that, over time, those numbers have migrated sharply, becoming increasingly polarized. Back in June 2017, just 35 percent of Democrats viewed Mueller in a positive light, against 9 percent who viewed him negatively; among the GOP, the split was almost even, with 15 percent positive and 14 percent negative. (The rest expressed no opinion.) In other words, over time, Democrats have become increasingly supportive of Mueller, while Republicans have massively turned against him.
Similarly, a host of recent polling shows that while Americans are far more likely to believe the FBI over Trump, and that a majority of Americans believes that Mueller’s investigation is fair and impartial, the results are strongly skewed on a partisan basis. In fact, a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in early February found that nearly three-quarters of Republicans believe that “members of the FBI and Department of Justice are working to delegitimize Trump through politically motivated investigations.” Those results follow a months-long campaign by the White House and pro-Trump, right-wing media to attack Mueller, the FBI, the Justice Department, and the US intelligence community.