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The Memo: Trump 'lynching' firestorm is sign of things to come

President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE created a firestorm on Tuesday when he deployed racially inflammatory language yet again — this time referring to the impeachment inquiry into his activities as a "lynching."

Democrats and other Trump critics anticipate a lot more in a similar vein, especially as the impeachment effort intensifies and the 2020 presidential election looms large.

“I think we can prepare ourselves for a lot worse,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist and MSNBC anchor, told The Hill. “I think he only knows how to go into the gutter — and he is going to go all the way.”

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Trump’s “lynching” comment came at a moment when he was facing immediate peril on another front.

He tweeted that “all Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching” shortly before William Taylor, the head of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, testified on Capitol Hill. 

The testimony was even worse than expected for Trump, with Taylor asserting that the administration had sought to make military aid to Ukraine contingent upon the Eastern European nation investigating former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus MORE and his son Hunter Biden.

The White House’s central defense of Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine has been that there was no quid pro quo involved. This argument has come to look increasingly untenable.

Other troubles are pressing in on Trump, too. 

Polls have shown that public opinion is shifting in favor of the impeachment inquiry and that a growing share of the population believes he should be removed from office. 

More broadly, Trump faces a difficult climb to reelection next year given that his average approval rating has never risen above 50 percent at any point during his tenure.

Even several Republicans expressed dissent about the “lynching” tweet on Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyRocky Mountain National Park closed due to expanding Colorado wildfire Trump is out of touch with Republican voters on climate change The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Iran, Russia election bombshell; final Prez debate tonight MORE (R-Calif.) said it was “not the language that I would use.” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFinger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session GOP power shift emerges with Trump, McConnell MORE (R-S.D.) called Trump’s reference “inappropriate.” And Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session Collins says running as Independent 'crossed my mind' Republicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote MORE (R-Maine), who faces a competitive reelection race next year, said the president “never should have made that comparison.”

But there were defenders of the president also. 

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley insisted that Trump was “not comparing what’s happened to him to one of the country’s darkest moments.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid MORE (R-S.C.) set off even more controversy by strongly backing Trump’s comments. 

The South Carolina senator called the impeachment inquiry “a lynching in every sense.” He also compared Democrats to “a mob taking over the rule of law.”

Liberals believe that the GOP will pay a price for such sentiments as well as for tying itself so closely to Trump through innumerable past controversies.

“It’s going to be a long time before the Republican Party can wash away this taint,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the chief public affairs officer at progressive organization MoveOn, adding that the GOP has been “enabling” racist rhetoric from Trump.

Trump has a long history of racially inflammatory words and actions. This includes his call for the death penalty for the now-exonerated Central Park Five, propagating the “birther” conspiracy theory against former President Obama, and referring to “very fine people on both sides” after racist violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

In July, Trump tweeted that four Democratic congresswomen, all of whom are nonwhite, should “go back” to the places “from which they came.” 

The tweet was widely condemned as racist, not least because all four women are American citizens, and only one was born outside the United States.

Democrats see cynical political strategy behind such moves — one reason they believe similar rhetoric will be heard more often as impeachment and the 2020 election campaign heat up.

“He knows that this kind of activity or language will not hurt him with his base. It is very clear that part of the strategy is to inflame his base and just keep them angry,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist who was Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBon Jovi to campaign with Biden in Pennsylvania The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Biden gets late boost with key union endorsement MORE’s senior spokeswoman during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“That was his strategy in 2016, and that is his strategy in 2020,” Finney added.

The “lynching” furor was the latest controversy in quick succession where GOP members of Congress have been more reluctant to back Trump than they were earlier in his presidency, however.

Trump’s decision to essentially abandon the Kurds in northern Syria as well as his initial desire to hold the forthcoming Group of Seven (G-7) summit at his own Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida both drew GOP criticism. Trump made an uncharacteristically swift U-turn on the G-7 idea.

Referring to those controversies and to the “lynching” tweet, Finney said, “From everything I have heard and seen, Republicans just didn’t want to defend that. It was just too much. There will be a cost to those who protected this person or didn’t speak out.”

Even so, Trump himself has drawn attention to his high approval ratings with Republican voters — something that will continue to give pause for thought to GOP members who might otherwise be tempted to distance themselves from him.

But Trump critics such as Sharpton have a different view. They look at the president’s behavior and are convinced he knows he is in trouble. 

“As someone who has wrestled him for the last three decades, it shows he is rattled,” Sharpton said. “He would never say that unless he was totally off his game.”

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