The Memo: Trump's rage may backfire on impeachment

An enraged President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE is leaving no stone unhurled as he fights back against possible impeachment.

But there are big questions about whether Trump’s scorched-earth approach can work with voters beyond his loyalist base. And even some Republicans worry that new, damaging information may yet emerge.

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Trump called Democrats “maniacs” on Thursday, adding to a list of insults and jabs that has included suggesting House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House spokesperson: Media's 'obsession' with impeachment 'won't let up' Trump rips Chuck Todd for 'softball' Schiff interview Democrats, Republicans tussle over witnesses as vote approaches MORE (D-Calif.) has committed treason, that impeachment is an attempted “coup” and that the case being made against him is “bullshit.”

On Thursday morning, speaking to reporters at the White House before leaving for Florida, Trump explicitly asked China, as well as Ukraine, to mount inquiries into 2020 Democratic front-runner Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE and his son, Hunter.

The Biden campaign hit back with a statement arguing that Trump was “flailing and melting down on national television.” 

It’s not just Democrats who feel that Trump’s behavior in recent days has crossed a line.

John “Mac” Stipanovich, a longtime Republican operative in Florida, called Trump’s performance at a news conference with the Finnish president on Wednesday “unhinged.”

Stipanovich argued that such volatile moments were sure to raise questions in the minds of independent-minded voters and “soft” Republican supporters, even if Trump’s “MAGA” base remains solid.

“If you’ve got a shred of independent judgement, you cannot look at Donald Trump’s recent performances — and that’s what they are — and think that it’s alright for somebody like that to be president of the United States,” Stipanovich told The Hill.

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Trump’s open request to China and Ukraine on Thursday caused consternation across the political spectrum.

Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloRepublicans can't exploit the left's climate extremism without a better idea Progressive Latino group launches first incumbent protection campaign The Memo: Bad polls for Trump shake GOP MORE, the former Republican congressman who served two terms representing Florida’s competitive 26th District before being defeated last November, tweeted soon afterward that Trump’s words were “unacceptable.” 

“Republicans must condemn it unequivocally. Time is running out for them to get on the right side of history,” Curbelo added.

There are also signs of dissent from unexpected quarters in the media. In an op-ed published on the Fox News website late Wednesday night, the network’s senior judicial analyst Andrew NapolitanoAndrew Peter NapolitanoFox's Napolitano: There is 'ample and uncontradicted' evidence supporting Trump's removal from office Fox News legal analyst: There's 'undisputed evidence' Trump abused his power Fox's Napolitano predicts Trump will testify on own behalf at Senate trial MORE held that Trump had committed impeachable offenses.

Napolitano also asserted that Trump’s bellicose rhetoric was “palpably dangerous” and that his willingness to invoke the possibility of civil war was “a dog whistle to the deranged.” 

The reticence of many Republican officeholders to forcibly defend the president on television or elsewhere is also causing whispering in Washington.

Trump has received strong backing from some, such as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Trump defense team signals focus on Schiff Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president MORE (R-S.C.), but others have kept their heads down. 

On Thursday, Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Smaller companies testify against Big Tech's 'monopoly power' Living in limbo may end for Liberians in the US MORE (D-R.I.) highlighted a Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Des Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee MORE (R-Utah) tweet from Sep. 22 in which Romney had said it would be “troubling in the extreme” if Trump had “asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival.”

Cicilline noted that Trump had just done precisely this, on camera, on Thursday morning.

It was the kind of moment that only increases GOP resistance to getting too far out on a limb in support of the president. 

"The reality might change very quickly,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee. 

Heye said that a related problem for the White House was the lack of a disciplined message to repel the impeachment effort. There has been some talk of a dedicated pro-Trump “war room” in recent days, but it has not come to fruition so far. 

Referring to congressional Republicans, Heye said, “They haven’t seen any kind of a cohesive strategy, and what they have seen on TV frightens them.” 

A GOP strategist with ties to the White House made a similar point. 

The strategist, who did not want to be identified, said, “The nervousness that Republicans have is that there isn’t a formalized communications war room in order to really lead the charge, for the White House to coordinate with the Republican leadership and rank and file in the House and the Senate. Everyone needs to understand what the message of the day is.” 

The strategist, however, defended Trump’s attempt to turn his fire on the Bidens, arguing that such a gambit could be successful and that it was a much smaller deal outside the Beltway than within it.

“It’s another press concern that he’s ‘spiraling out of control,’ and he doesn’t follow Washington norms,” the strategist said. “You get outside the Beltway and people don’t care.”

That assertion seems questionable, though, given that several opinion polls have now shown sharp increases in public support for an impeachment inquiry.

Democrats, meanwhile, mock the idea that Trump’s anger could be effective. To their eyes, he is simply in trouble and lashing out. 

“Every now and then he says something that is truly off the rails but he seems to be having a good time doing it. Just watch one of his rallies!” said Democratic strategist Jess McIntosh. “This is not that. It is clear that he is deeply unhappy.”

Another Democratic strategist, Bob Shrum, said the president is treading in familiar territory.

“Donald Trump impeaches himself all the time.” 

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