When Shepard Smith announced Friday that he was leaving Fox News, he revealed something important about the state of conservative politics: there is little room for anyone who questions the status quo within most parts of the Republican universe. It appears Smith didn't like the continued pro-Trump spin that is so prevalent at the network, and so he left.
And this is what President Trump is counting on -- continued conservative support amid his political tailspin. Public opinion is turning against him, with growing national support for impeachment as well as Trump's removal from office.
The President's efforts to stop the investigation only make things worse. His controversial decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, though apparently unrelated to the Ukraine scandal, shook a number of congressional Republicans, who blasted Trump for the disastrous policy move. And despite the White House's efforts to block former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from testifying before Congress, she gave a damaging account of her experience with the political pressure flowing from the Oval Office. Although the odds of a Senate vote to remove the President from office remain slim, it's not impossible. The President himself is reportedly worried his support in the upper chamber.
Right now, the president is in survival mode. As we watch how it all unfolds, there are five people who represent the forces that will determine his future.
Senator Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican caucus have stood firmly behind the President. In some cases, Senate Republicans have remained silent during the worst examples of the President's abuses of power, while in other cases they have been his most adamant defenders. Either way, the Senate remains the President's major firewall. As long as McConnell can keep his troops in line, the President is protected until Election Day, regardless of whether the House passes any articles of impeachment.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh
When Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed despite accusations of sexual assault and misconduct, the President delivered on a major promise to conservatives. The Supreme Court, which now has a conservative majority, remains a key player as this drama unfolds.
With the President's attempts to stonewall the investigation and delegitimize the impeachment process altogether, it is possible that the Supreme Court could end up deciding whether the President needs to comply with Congressional subpoenas. Kavanaugh is likely to be a crucial swing vote, and the President's vehement support during his nomination might influence the justice's decisions down the line.
Attorney General Bill Barr
Attorney General Bill Barr has defended President Trump since he singlehandedly quashed the Mueller findings with his preemptive declaration that there was nothing there to see. Since then, Barr has used his position at the top of the justice system to push back against investigations as well as Democratic attacks.
Under his direction, the Justice Department has been investigating the origins of the Russia investigations, as well as the email practices of Hillary Clinton's former staff members. Barr will continue to be a major force behind investigations that Trump will undoubtedly use to rally his supporters and dismiss the impeachment process.
Fox News Host (Fill-in-the Name)
President Trump knows that he needs the conservative network Fox News. Although he was angry about a recent Fox poll showing 51% of Americans supporting impeachment, he understands that the network is still key to his support from the base. Trump looks to the hosts on shows like Fox & Friends and Tucker Carlson Tonight to spread the administration's narrative while discrediting the Democrats. Trump needs to keep Fox on his side to preserve the passionate loyalty that he has enjoyed within the GOP.
Loyal Republican Voters
More than anything else, the President needs loyal voters who believe that any Republican -- even Trump -- is better than a Democrat in the Oval Office. He needs the base to keep endorsing what he does -- which, in turn, will prevent Republicans in the Senate from turning against him.
If President Trump loses any of these five pillars of support, then his future is in doubt. All five are being strained in previously unimaginable ways, with signs of growing discontent bubbling to the surface.
Smith's departure reveals that the guardians of the conservative temple are holding strong. Like Chris Wallace, Smith was one of the more measured anchors on Fox News who was resistant to the kind of pro-administration spin that is so common on the network. His departure after more than 20 years at Fox News highlights the continued dominance of the opinion shows, suggesting there is little chance of a serious breakup of support for the President on the network.
But history has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns, particularly when scandals explode. Keep an eye on these five key players, and the forces they represent, to figure out whether the President will withstand the storms that he has unleashed in Washington.
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