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Trump’s secret weapon in the battle over his presidency

  • President Trump is under fire every single day for everything from his tweets to allegations of colluding with the Russians during the election.
  • Trump can rise above it if he stays focused on one thing: The economy.
  • History has shown that no U.S. president has ever been defeated when the economy is perceived to be doing well.
Donald Trump
Olivier Douliery | Pool | Getty Images
Donald Trump

President Trump is under fire every day for everything from his latest Twitter tirade to allegations of colluding with the Russians during the election. And, less than six months into his term, there are already rumblings about an attempt to impeach him.

But Trump's most successful tactic in this battle isn't a countertweet or a Sean Spicer press conference. It's not Kellyanne Conway or his daughter, Ivanka. It's talking about the economy.

The president has been alternating between trumpeting the economy and defending himself from repeated allegations of Russian election collusion on Twitter. But his public schedule and official on-camera appearances are almost exclusively all about jobs all of the time. And President Trump's unabashed propensity to get maximum publicity out of decidedly micro economic developments like saving a few hundred jobs at Carrier, the opening of a new coal mine in Pennsylvania, or the announcement of often previously-planned foreign investments in U.S. industries guarantee the Trump team isn't going to let any positive economic news fall under the radar.

"When the U.S. economy does well, it's pretty much impossible to unseat or even damage the President of the United States politically."

Guess what? Despite repeated attempts to pour cold water on President Trump's boasting, it seems to be working. Love, hate, or ignore President Trump, the Gallup Poll continues to show a general trend of growing economic confidence since Election Day. And as long as the economy and stock markets remain at least stable, history tells us President Trump can ride this optimistic/talk up the economy horse a very long way.

Here's a little historical tip: When the U.S. economy does well, it's pretty much impossible to unseat or even damage the President of the United States politically.

Republicans learned that the hard way during the Bill Clinton impeachment drama. They may have succeeded in impeaching him, but failed to remove him from office. And President Clinton enjoyed his highest overall approval ratings during the impeachment period of 1998-99. Not coincidentally, that period also saw strong economic growth and unemployment numbers hitting 25-year lows. By contrast, when President Richard Nixon was forced from office in 1974, the economy was at a low ebb with unemployment and inflation spiking simultaneously.

With the exception of extreme cases mostly concerning all-out war, American voters usually remain laser-focused on the economy. And when the economy is doing well, the sitting president gets an enormous amount of leeway and vice versa.

That fact came shining through in an enlightening-if-unscientific new NBC News report. Several voices in key swing counties in the swing state of Iowa are documented in the article, almost all of whom make it clear their economic concerns far outweigh a general diminishing lack of interest in the Russia collusion story.

By contrast, it's hard not to notice that the Democrats who lost the 2016 presidential election and lost control of the Senate in 2014 are barely talking at all about jobs or the economy anymore. That leaves President Trump as the only major political figure praising and cajoling the economy. This is a fabulously lucky break for the White House.

President Trump's approval ratings may never soar to the 60 percent level and he may never become very personally likable for a majority of American voters. But if he remains the most effective or at least only relevant cheerleader for an improving economy, he'll be essentially bulletproof.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.