The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens

The swirling troubles around President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report 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 MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneySondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Schiff knocks Mulvaney over failure to testify in impeachment probe Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms 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.

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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 RooneyBipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members House Democrat: Taylor's impeachment testimony made 'very clear' there was a quid pro quo New bipartisan Senate climate caucus aims to take 'politics' out of the topic 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 McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera 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 GrahamGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens 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 PelosiSchumer calls on Trump to testify as part of impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Sondland ahead of impeachment inquiry testimony Perception won't be reality, once AI can manipulate what we see 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 BidenSondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Biden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Impeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP 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. 

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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.