TUPELO, United States — A combative US President Donald Trump told supporters in his electoral stronghold of Mississippi on Friday that a push to impeach him is driving an “angry” Republican surge ahead of 2020.
“We’ve never had greater support than we have right now,” Trump claimed in front of thousands of cheering supporters in a packed arena in Tupelo.
The latest average of polls shows only 40.9 percent of Americans approve of Trump, but the fired-up president clearly sees his core base as essential to his political survival — and reelection next year.
He called impeachment proceedings against him in the Democratic-led House of Representatives “an attack on democracy itself.”
“But I tell you the Republicans are really strong,” he said, touting the emergence of “an angry majority.”
The rally in Tupelo was Trump’s first since the House voted overwhelmingly — but along sharply divided party lines — to put the impeachment probe on a formal track.
That vote Thursday set in motion a likely unstoppable drive toward Trump becoming only the third American president to be impeached.
He is accused of abusing his office by withholding military aid to pressure Ukraine into opening a corruption probe against one of his 2020 election rivals, Joe Biden.
But while Democrats advance against the president, Trump is focusing on a strategy that relies on party loyalty and flat out denial that his pressure on Ukraine was illegal.
As long as the Republican majority in the Senate sticks by him, the lower house impeachment will fail to remove him from office. And Trump thinks he has that support locked up.
“The Republicans have been amazing,” he said earlier in Washington.
Trump is also putting more effort into highlighting the economy, a point that Republicans might wish he stuck to more often, rather than his frequent diversions into controversial territory.
Trump got a boost on that score with figures Friday that showed employment growing at a steady pace. The 128,000 new jobs reported by the Labor Department exceeded predictions.
Unemployment rose slightly to 3.6 percent but is still near the lowest rate in decades.
If a Democrat wins the presidency, Trump told the rally, prosperity will end.
“That stock market would crash like you’ve never seen before,” he said.
The picture looks less rosy for Trump on impeachment, which he describes as a “sham.”
Trump says he did nothing wrong when he called the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and asked him for a “favor.”
Trump told the Washington Examiner newspaper that he might even “sit down, perhaps as a fireside chat on live television, and I will read the transcript of the call” to the nation.
But House committees have heard from a stream of witnesses saying they were concerned by the way Trump dealt with Ukraine, bolstering the Democrats’ case that he abused his office.
Trump did get some help Thursday when Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s just-resigned top advisor for Russian affairs, said he “was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed.”
At the same time, Morrison confirmed that he had seen a link between the request for a probe against Biden’s family and the granting of badly needed military aid.
A new Washington Post/ABC poll found that Americans remain almost evenly split on the crisis, with 49 percent saying he should be impeached and removed from office while 47 percent say he should not.
Even more telling, Democrats are 82 percent in favor of Trump’s removal and Republicans 82 percent opposed.
The key for Trump is whether he can keep Republicans in lockstep — a big reason why he will maintain a steady pace of rallies like the one in Tupelo over the coming weeks.
According to the poll, the long sky-high approval within the Republican electorate for Trump’s performance has slipped to 74 percent. This is down eight percent from September’s findings by the same pollsters.