The Memo: Democrats debate Trump response – 'Being righteous and losing sucks'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE is set to ramp up his rhetoric at a rally in Greenville, N.C., on Wednesday evening.

Democrats, in turn, are weighing how to respond. 

They almost uniformly believe there is a moral imperative to hit back at what they see as blatant racism on Trump’s part. 

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But they also want to avoid getting into a fight on his preferred territory of visceral, race-based appeals — especially if doing so would take the spotlight off topics such as health care and the economy, where they believe they hold the advantage.

“Being righteous and losing sucks,” one Democratic strategist fretted, asking for anonymity to speak candidly. “If people really want their vengeance on Trump, beat him.”

On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that he would talk at the rally about “people who love, and hate, our country.”

The reference to hatred was yet another contentious allusion to four Democratic congresswomen whom he took aim at on Twitter on Sunday. 

Trump also indicated be believes the battle is good for his political brand, telling the Daily Mail he’s pleased with the fallout.

“Well, let's put it this way,” Trump said in an interview with DailyMail.com “I’m not unhappy.”

Trump’s original attack has been widely condemned as racist, including by some Republicans. 

Trump wrote of the four minority congresswomen that they should “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came."

The four women are on the left of the Democratic Party and refer to themselves as the squad: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTlaib says Trump 'scared' of 'Squad' The Memo: Dangers loom for Trump on immigration Students retreating from politics as campuses become progressive playgrounds MORE (N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTrump to return to North Carolina to stump for special election candidate Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support MORE (Minn.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyFormer GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Poll: Voters split on whether it's acceptable for Israel to deny Omar, Tlaib visas NJ college censures trustee over posts targeting 'the squad' MORE (Mass.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibMichigan city declines to renew contract with ICE to hold detainees Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support MORE (Mich.).

Omar came to the United States as a child refugee from Somalia; the other three were born in the U.S. All four are American citizens.

In the firestorm that followed his original tweet, Trump has accused the women of speaking “so badly of our country,” of being “anti-Israel,” of using “disgusting language,” of having committed unspecified “horrible & disgusting actions” and of “endorsing Socialism, hatred of Israel and the USA.” 

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He has also repeatedly asserted that people who are not satisfied with the current state of the United States “can leave.”

Trump’s escalation suggests he believes he is on a favorable political course, despite the opprobrium his remarks have attracted. 

“The only thing they have, that they can do is, now, play the race card, which they’ve always done,” he told the Daily Mail.

Trump won the presidency in 2016 after a campaign that created furors with attacks on immigrants from Mexico and a judge of Mexican heritage, as well as a promise to stop all Muslim immigration to the United States.

Karen Finney, who worked as a senior adviser for Trump’s opponent, Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump takes aim at media after 'hereby' ordering US businesses out of China Trump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Taylor Swift says Trump is 'gaslighting the American public' MORE, hearkened back to that campaign when asked about this week’s controversy.

“We know that, in 2016, the president’s campaign relied heavily on race-baiting, fearmongering and preying on the fear of change. That is what he campaigned on, so this should come as no surprise,” she said.

Even though Trump won in 2016, Finney argued that there would be electoral blowback in 2020 — not just to Trump’s remarks about the squad but in relation to the various controversies that he has ignited during his tenure.

“Americans are starting to understand after two-plus years of Donald Trump that this kind of behavior and hostility to half the country actually is damaging,” she asserted. “That’s where I think the moral and the political intersect. ... Part of the reason you see the president have such low favorable ratings is that people realize this is bad. This is not who we are.”

The evidence for that is not entirely clear-cut, however. 

A Reuters/IPSOS poll released Tuesday evening showed support for Trump among Republican voters ticking up 5 points in the wake of the latest firestorm, even as it fell among independents and Democrats. His overall approval rating remained low but unchanged from a week before: 41 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval.

Those overall ratings mean one of Trump’s plausible routes to victory may involve trying to tie Democrats nationally to the squad, who are much further to the left than the general public, or most of the other members of their own party. 

The Republican National Committee sent out an email highlighting controversial remarks by the congresswomen on Wednesday with the subject line: “Squad Goals: Anarchy.”

A number of prominent Republicans, asked about Trump’s attacks, have pivoted to attack the congresswomen instead. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.), for example, accused Omar of having “bitterness and anger toward the country” during an interview with Wave 3 News in his home state Monday.

The Democratic strategist who wished to remain anonymous outlined the balance Trump critics need to strike as they push back against the president.

“I don’t think you are ever going to get in trouble for condemning racist rhetoric or behavior," the strategist said. “The issue here is, who is defining the message and priorities of the Democratic Party? Is it going to be four freshmen in Congress whose views are very different from the majority of Americans?”

Some Democrats, however, take a more optimistic tone. They argue that the squad will be much less important, in terms of defining the party, once a presidential nominee is selected. 

And, more broadly, they assert that the continuing demographic changes to the nation benefit their party — and put an expiration date on the “America First” brand of nationalism espoused by Trump.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg took the issue of immigration as a prime example.

“The immigration stuff? Trump understood it, and it was a major factor in his election in 2016,”  Greenberg said, “But it misses both the short- and long-term trends. The country is increasingly immigrant, foreign-born and accepting of it.”

In 2018, Greenberg added, “The president focused on the border ’caravans’ coming in, talked about terrorists embedded in the caravans and sent troops to the border. He waged the war on immigration — and lost.”

Left-wing activist Jonathan Tasini, referring to Trump’s tweets about the congresswomen who should “go back” to where they came from, put it even more sharply.

“The Tiki torch carriers want to hear that,” Tasini said, alluding to the kind of neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017, “But they’re not the majority of voters in this country.”

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