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Juan Williams: GOP support for Trump begins to crack

What are we to make of arch-conservative Republican Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate hears from Biden's high-profile judicial nominees for first time Senate Democrats take aim at 'true lender' interest rate rule Former North Carolina chief justice launches Senate campaign MORE (N.C.) taking a stand against President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' McConnell alma mater criticizes him for 1619 comments McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' MORE (R-Ky)?

Tillis is among a surprising group of Senate Republicans backing a bill to protect Special Counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE in case Trump fires him.

Here is Tillis, who votes with Trump 96 percent of the time, sending the message to his fellow Trump backers:

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“The same people who would criticize me for filing this bill would be absolutely angry if I wasn’t pounding the table for this bill if we were dealing with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' Hillary Clinton: There must be a 'global reckoning' with disinformation Pelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights MORE,” he said last week. “So, spare me your righteous indignation.”

 

Well, that’s a first — one of the president’s strongest supporters telling other Trump supporters they are wrong to blindly back Trump.

The key here is that Tillis isn’t up for reelection until 2020.

I suspect that Tillis is getting a jump on distancing himself from the president in 2020. That is when Tillis’s name will appear below Trump’s name on the ballot (or if Trump is gone, below the name of Trump’s tainted-by-proximity vice president, Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceMcConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' Cheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts McConnell sidesteps Cheney-Trump drama MORE).

With less than seven months until the midterm elections, the most politically savvy Republicans are drawing the obvious conclusion from current polls: If the election were held today, they would lose the House and possibly the Senate because of Trump.  

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week found Trump underwater, with a 39 percent approval and 57 percent disapproval rating. Trump’s approval rating is down 4 points since last month.

A Quinnipiac poll — taken before the raid on Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s office this month — found that 69 percent of Americans oppose Trump firing Mueller. Just 13 percent think Trump should fire him.

Even with those strong poll numbers backing Mueller, the top Republicans in the Senate and House remain protective of Trump.

They are politically paralyzed, displaying a ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ inability to stand up to Trump for fear of angering the president’s small but fevered base of supporters. Trump calls the probe a “hoax.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only Cheney at donor retreat says Trump's actions 'a line that cannot be crossed': report MORE (R-Wis.) has said he does not think legislation to protect Mueller is necessary because he does not believe Trump will fire the special counsel.

McConnell is taking the same stand in opposition to a bill that would give Mueller a 10-day period for speedy judicial review of any dismissal.

“I don’t think [Trump] should [fire Mueller] and I don’t think he will,” McConnell told my Fox News colleague Neil Cavuto.

But McConnell remains opposed to even bringing any legislation to insulate Mueller to the Senate floor for a vote. 

That imperious position is responsible for the first cracks in the GOP congressional stonewall defense of Trump.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley asks Blinken to provide potential conflicts involving John Kerry Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (R-Iowa), a strong Trump supporter until now, is splitting from McConnell by scheduling a vote on the measure later this week in the committee.

“Obviously, the majority leader's views are important to consider, but they do not govern what happens here in the Judiciary Committee,” Grassley told reporters.

Two Republicans on Grassley’s Committee are spearheading the bipartisan legislative push to protect Mueller.

In addition to Tillis, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won MORE, is also a sponsor of the measure. He is on record as saying that if Trump fires Mueller, it will “be the beginning of the end of his presidency." 

There is also the argument that Trump will veto any law protecting Mueller, so why bother? But Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  Cindy McCain: Arizona election audit is 'ludicrous' The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (R-Ariz.) has countered that, even if Trump vetoes the bill, the purpose of putting it on his desk is “to send a message to the president…the message needs to be that we take this very seriously.”

Also, McConnell and Ryan don’t have an answer to the obvious flaw in their logic.  

If there is no danger of Trump firing Mueller, then what is the harm in passing legislation to protect him?

If McConnell and Ryan are right that Trump won’t fire Mueller, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by protecting fellow Republicans and shutting down critical Democrats.

The reality is that if Trump fires Mueller, the midterms could be even worse than the most pessimistic prognosticators imagine.

The harsh reality of extensive political turmoil leading to riots if Mueller is fired is already of concern to police.

The Pittsburgh police chief told his officers to be prepared for just that scenario in a department-wide memo last week.

How far we have come since the Republican National Convention that nominated Trump in 2016 adopted a party platform that read “the next president must restore the public’s trust in law enforcement and civil order by first adhering to the rule of law himself.”

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.