Even with the looming threat of impeachment over the Ukraine whistleblower scandal, Republicans are unlikely to kick President Donald Trump to the curb — they have, after all, stood by him after horrific racism, human rights abuses, boasts of sexual assault, and trampling of basic human decency.
As Lee Drutman wrote for FiveThirtyEight, however, an ultimate Republican rejection of Trump is possible, unlikely as it may be. But if it were to happen, it would not be a gradual process — it would be a floodgates moment where the whole party seems to collectively decide they've had enough.
"It’s not exactly a secret that if congressional Republicans could hold a secret-ballot no-confidence vote, they’d probably vote to oust Trump," wrote Drutman. "Private preferences aside, congressional Republicans actually have some very strong incentives to support Trump publicly, at both the individual and collective level."
"Take those who have openly challenged the president," explained Drutman. "The few, like former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford or Alabama Rep. Martha Roby, have faced primary challengers as a result — Sanford lost his renomination bid, and Roby was forced into a runoff. Others, like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake simply retired, fearing tough reelection prospects. And this all adds up, contributing to the perception that Trump’s popularity is un-dentable among GOP voters. Republicans likely won’t individually take on Trump, unless, of course, his approval rating tanks and he becomes a liability to the party. But that’s only likely to happen if his fellow Republicans all turn against him. And therein lies the rub."
There is, Drutman noted, political precedent for this kind of sudden, dramatic collapse.
"Consider the Arab Spring, which began with one Tunisian vendor, who protested being mistreated by government officials by setting himself on fire," wrote Drutman. "His death triggered a series of events, and a month later, the long-unpopular authoritarian Tunisian president fled the country after more than 23 years in power. A few weeks later, protesters in Egypt ousted their own long-serving authoritarian leader. What looked like ironclad power collapsed in a matter of weeks."
The collapse, Drutman noted, came about as a result of a "critical mass" of supporters of change, who — upon realizing they had the collective numbers to force it — overnight felt secure enough to do so when they see the first shot being fired. The key to this is that no one wants to be the leader, not the follower.
It may seem counterintuitive, wrote Drutman, but for the key warning sign this might be about to happen to Trump, observers shouldn't look to the senators currently raising objections to him, like Mitt Romney (R-UT) or Susan Collins (R-ME). "Rather, it’s rank-and-file Republican senators up for reelection in solidly red states, like Bill Cassidy from Louisiana or Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, whom you should watch. If they waver, that will signal that Trump’s days are numbered ... it will be because of the senators least likely to strike out against Trump balked."
Another thing to look for, Drutman wrote, is a big moment when the whole GOP appears to speak against Trump as one — like last Tuesday, when they unanimously passed a resolution demanding he release the full whistleblower complaint against his effort to extort Biden dirt from Ukraine. That moment passed, and the GOP settled on anti-whistleblower talking points — but it was still a pivotal moment.
"If you’re looking for another moment when Republicans might break with Trump, look for an event like last Tuesday," wrote Drutman. "Moments like that can create uncertainty and situations where the ground can shift quickly."
"If there is a Republican cascade against Trump, in retrospect, it will look inevitable, as if the steady drip of revelations and testimony was always destined to reach that final dramatic tipping point," concluded Drutman. "But a note to future historians: As of this moment, it does not look inevitable at all."