The only real question left is when

The only real question left is when
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The only real question left is when.

And not, "When will another shoe drop in the Russia investigation?" or, "When will President Donald Trump next rage petulantly on Twitter?" The answer to both questions is nearly every day.

The question that remains mysterious is, "When will a sizable number of Republicans turn on Trump in order to save themselves and the GOP from lasting damage to the party's brand?"

For all sorts of moral reasons, Republicans should have abandoned him long ago (in my view, they should have done it long before he won the party's nomination). But even aside from wanting to uphold one's character and integrity, most would have thought that the truly awful view that a majority of Americans have of President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE would have been enough to drive a wedge between those Republicans up for reelection and the White House. At present, the only ones who have dared any dissent are those who are either retiring from office (i.e., Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMnuchin pulls out of Saudi conference The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference MORE), or those who will not face the electorate until 2020 (i.e., South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure Trump rebukes Saudis, but also gives them more time MORE).


Notably, the only group who overwhelmingly approves of Trump is Republicans. And frankly, there are a lot of Republican incumbents who will need more than their fellow partisans to keep their seats. For instance, Republicans serve in 40 of the 48 House seats that have a partisan voter index (PVI) rating of R+1 to R+5. There are an additional 10 Republicans who hold districts with a PVI of even to D+5. Should the Democrats' advantage on the generic ballot remain around its current average of  7 percent, it seems likely that at least half of these Republicans would lose their seats (25), giving majority control in the House to the Democrats.

Said another way, Republicans need to realize that having only the support of their base won't be enough. It wasn't enough for the Democrats in 2010, or for the Republicans in 2006. As the exit polls show, in 2010, 91 percent of Democrats voted for Democratic candidates and in 2006, 91 percent of Republicans voted for Republican candidates. How Independents vote matters. In 2010, just 37 percent of Independents voted for Democratic candidates and in 2006, only 39 percent of Independents supported Republican candidates.

What's even worse for many congressional Republicans is that it appears that the electorate may judge President Trump's elected allies even more harshly that the president himself. A recent poll in Colorado measured Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocrats must end mob rule GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' Democrats won’t let Kavanaugh debate die MORE's approval rating at 25 percent. In sum, aiding and abetting Trump's dishonest presidency may be thought a worse crime than actually being Trump, because the public has higher expectations for all of those politicians not named Trump.

Adding to this perilous situation, Gallup recently found that 42 percent of Americans reject the party label and claim to be "independent." This number is again approaching its all-time high, as each party has now fallen below 30 percent. And importantly, the Democratic lead in affiliation grows when the leanings of Independents are taken into account.

Breaking out Trump's approval to an even more granular level, Gallup shows that it is only those Independents who lean Republican who remain supportive of the president (76 percent). Only 26 percent of "true" Independents approve of Trump and a mere 8 percent of Independents who lean Democratic approve of Trump.

Irrespective of how overtly gracious or genuinely bipartisan Trump's State of the Union address may be, it is clear that Trump has lost the middle and the majority of the American public seems poised to oust the majority party from power at the midterm, rather than endorse the status quo.

So when will Republican incumbents realize that coming out against Trump may be their last, best chance for survival? It's still a mystery.  

Lara M. Brown is director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Follow her on Twitter @LaraMBrownPhD.