The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens

The swirling troubles around President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE got deeper this week thanks to a series of missteps.

Chaos and confusion in northeast Syria, an admission of a Ukrainian quid pro quo from White House Chief of Staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyFauci says positive White House task force reports don't always match what he hears on the ground Bottom line White House, Senate GOP clash over testing funds MORE, and the controversial decision to host a forthcoming Group of Seven (G-7) summit at Trump’s own resort in Florida all conspired to push the president even further back onto the defensive. Democrats are picking up speed in their efforts to impeach him.

The White House has been in damage control mode — with limited success.


Regarding Syria, Trump claimed on Twitter on Friday that there was a “really good chance of success” despite his abandonment of the Kurds — but his actions have garnered condemnation even from many members of his own party.

Similarly, on Ukraine, Mulvaney sought to back away from what he had originally said about aid being predicated on Ukrainian help investigating the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The aid had never had “any condition” placed upon it, he later insisted.

But none of that was enough to counter the sense that Trump was straining even the loyalty of a Republican Party that has mostly marched in step with him.

Rep. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Gohmert tests positive; safety fears escalate on Capitol Hill Pelosi to require masks on House floor Rooney becomes first House Republican to use proxy voting system MORE (R-Fla.) on Friday said he had been “shocked” by Mulvaney’s initial remarks, confirming the quid pro quo that Trump had repeatedly denied.

In a Washington Post op-ed published on Friday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell warns control of Senate 'could go either way' in November On The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks MORE (R-Ky.) called the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria “a grave strategic mistake.” 

Other Trump allies such as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick Republicans set sights on FBI chief as Russia probe investigations ramp up The Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement MORE (R-S.C.) have also been deeply critical of the move. In the House, most Republicans joined a measure expressing disapproval of the troop withdrawal. The measure passed by 354 votes to 60 on Wednesday.

“Even among his customary allies and supporters, there has been pretty blunt criticism, not only of the policy choice but of the way it was done and the way it is continuing to be done,” said Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University.

The Syria moves also weaken Trump with the GOP at a time when he can least afford it. 

Virtually no one expects the Republican-controlled Senate to vote to remove him from office even if he is impeached by the House. But even small cracks in Republican unity could give the Democratic-led impeachment effort a semblance of bipartisanship.

Numerous opinion polls have shown public opinion moving in favor of impeachment since Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiKamala Harris makes history — as a Westerner On The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks MORE (D-Calif.) joined that push last month. The catalyst for Pelosi’s shift was the revelation that Trump had pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe BidenJoe BidenNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along MORE and his son Hunter on a July 25 phone call.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted this week found a majority of registered voters in favor of an impeachment inquiry (51 percent to 45 percent), and disapproving of Trump’s response to that inquiry (59 percent to 32 percent). 

The same poll found 46 percent asserting that Trump should be removed from office, with 48 percent opposed. 


Trump has responded to the turning of the screw in characteristic style.

A meeting with congressional leaders broke up on Wednesday after Trump described Pelosi as either a “third rate” or “third grade” politician. As the Speaker and her allies exited, Trump reportedly called out, “I’ll see you at the polls.”

To his supporters, the president is in his usual combative spirit. To his critics, the same behavior is evidence of a volatility that makes him unfit for the office that he holds. 

In the wake of the White House contretemps, Pelosi said that the president had a “meltdown” and that “we have to pray for his health.”

Democratic strategist Robert Shrum predicted that Trump’s behavior “will get worse” in the coming weeks because, he contended, “he has no capacity to function under pressure.”

When it came to the impeachment process, Shrum acknowledged that the president had a “safety net” in the Senate, where GOP senators would be extremely reluctant to oppose Trump for fear of drawing a primary challenge. Trump’s approval ratings with Republican voters remain strong.

But when it comes to the broader electorate, Shrum argued that Trump faced a “very steep uphill climb” to reelection.

One of the oddities of the polling numbers in recent weeks, however, is that Trump’s overall approval ratings have not shifted nearly as much as the numbers on impeachment. On Friday afternoon, Trump stood at 42.6 percent approval and 54.1 percent disapproval in the RealClearPolitics national polling average.

Some Republicans insist that the media underplay the factors that could yet help the president out of his current morass.

“It’s like a split screen,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “One one side, you have Pelosi walking out, people trudging up to Capitol Hill [to testify about Ukraine] and the bipartisan backlash on Syria. But on the other side, the economy remains strong and the president had this immense crowd at his rally in Dallas.”

Still, there is no real doubt that some damage has been done by the succession of developments.

The confluence of events is leaving even independent observers wondering how the president can stop the downward spiral.

“In some ways we have seen this movie before,” said Reeher, “but the movie seems to be moving faster and faster.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.