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Opinion Morning Plum: The Paris attacks are making Donald Trump ‘stronger’

In a development that will surprise no one who has been paying even scant attention to what is actually driving Donald Trump’s appeal, the polls are not showing that the Paris attacks have diminished his strength by inducing GOP voters to look towards the more “experienced” and more “serious” candidates. As the Hill reports this morning, the polling on Trump is once again “confounding Beltway wisdom.”

And here’s something else that will further test the true nature of Trump’s support. In an interview with Yahoo News, Trump once again upped the ante when it comes to how the U.S. should respond to the attacks, when it comes to the treatment of Muslims in particular:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.
“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.
“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

We’re going to have to do things that are “frankly unthinkable,” says Trump, while declining to rule out warrantless searches of American Muslims or identifying American Muslims by their religion in some kind of database or national I.D. scheme, however such things might work.

What’s really striking is how the ante keeps getting increased with abandon. First Trump said he would “strongly consider” closing some mosques in America in response to the attacks. Then that morphed into the suggestion that we would have “absolutely no choice” but to take such steps. Trump continues to say that President Obama wants to bring 250,000 Syrian refugees to the United States, and when pressed to justify this claim, he brushes off such queries by attributing the number to a “pretty good source.” Trump also says Republicans should be willing to stage a government shutdown fight to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees here. Now we’ve crossed over into the “frankly unthinkable,” whatever that might entail.

As Peter Suderman notes, Trump’s call for closing mosques not only flouts the Constitution; it also shows he “cares little for the most basic and fundamental principles upon which the country he says he wants to lead was founded.” But in the endless Trumpathon that the GOP primaries have become, every idea, no matter how startling at first hearing, must always be superseded, or Trumped, by a new, yuuuger idea.

And in a way, this endless demagoguery inflation sheds light on Trump’s big insight. In a revealing moment, Trump’s campaign manager, asked to explain why he seems to be polling better in the wake of the Paris attacks, said simply that voters “want a strong leader.” That’s pretty much all that needs to be said. The details don’t matter in the least. What matters is the vague impression that Trump is “strong,” i.e., that he has the sheer will to solve whatever problems his voters see as the most pressing ones at any given second. Only Trump is willing to say what all the others, particularly the puny politicians, won’t say: we may have to resort to the “frankly unthinkable.” This can’t possibly keep working. Can it?


* TRUMP-MENTUM CONTINUES TO RAGE: A new Bloomberg poll finds Donald Trump continues to lead among Republicans nationally: He has 24 percent; Ben Carson has 20 percent; Marco Rubio has 12 percent; Ted Cruz has nine percent; and Jeb Bush has six percent.

Trump has edged up since September. This new poll was taken from November 15-17 — entirely after the Paris attacks, which (pundits assured us) would hurt “outsider” candidates like Trump. Yet, shockingly, that hasn’t happened yet.

* REPUBLICANS THINK UNEMPLOYMENT WORSE THAN JANUARY 2009: Here’s a fascinating tidbit from the new Bloomberg poll: Republicans say by 53-38 that the unemployment rate today is worse than when Obama took office. Americans overall say the opposite by 56-34.

In January of 2009, the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate rose to around 10 percent by October of 2009, then declined steadily to 5.0 percent last month.

* AMERICANS SUPPORT OBAMA’S DEPORTATION RELIEF: One last finding from the Bloomberg poll: 63 percent of Americans say Obama’s action to grant a reprieve from deportation to some undocumented immigrants should continue. Strikingly, that includes 50 percent of Republicans.

Also of note: 54 percent of Republicans say mass deportations is the wrong way to address the immigration situation, versus 37 percent who say it’s the right way. One imagines that Trump is drawing his support largely from that latter group.

 * REPUBLICANS WANT ELECTION TO BE DRIVEN BY FEAR: E.J. Dionne’s column today notes a fascinating disconnect: New polling shows that surprisingly large majorities of Republicans agree with Democratic ideas on economic issues such as requiring paid sick and family leave, yet GOP politicians appear to want the 2016 elections to be less about the economy than about fears of immigration and terrorism.

As Dionne concludes: “For the moment, dreadful and genuinely frightening news is making the GOP’s job easier.” For the moment.

* GOP PRIMARY SCHEDULE LOOKS DAUNTING FOR ESTABLISHMENT: Nate Cohn raises a tough question: What if some of the candidates the GOP establishment doesn’t want, such as Trump, Carson, and Cruz, win in Iowa and New Hampshire? Here’s what’s next:

This year, the “outsider” candidates, like Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz and Ben Carson, possess as much organizational, financial and personal strength as the establishment candidates, or maybe more. This year’s schedule affords the party few opportunities to make a comeback: The contests after Iowa and New Hampshire — the Nevada caucuses, South Carolina and the predominantly Southern states on Super Tuesday — are all relatively favorable to conservatives.

Mwahahahahahahaha! It’s still early, and there’s plenty of time for things to change dramatically. But right now, the once-unthinkable looks surprisingly possible.

* GLOVES COME OFF IN CLINTON-SANDERS BRAWL: The Wall Street Journal has the overview: After Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie Sanders’ single payer health care plan for raising middle class taxes, Sander’s campaign is now claiming that her attack is designed to distract from her “coziness” with Wall Street.

Single-payer, of course, has long been a Dem policy goal. But the Clinton camp is betting that her robust support for building on Obamacare will be enough to keep Dem primary voters happy.

* GLOVES COME OFF IN RUBIO-CRUZ BRAWL: The Post reports on the evolving battle between Rubio and Cruz: The Texas Senator is attacking the Floridian as soft on “amnesty” for (previously) backing the sensible Senate immigration bill, while Rubio slams Cruz as soft on terror for supporting sensible NSA surveillance reform. Bottom line:

They are aiming for different parts of the GOP electorate: Cruz…is aiming for evangelicals and tea-party conservatives; Rubio is positioning himself as a bridge-builder who can appeal to a broader electorate.

At some point they may battle for supporters of Trump and/or Carson. Which will they prefer more: Cruz’s demagoguing about “amnesty,” or Rubio’s demagoguing about terrorism?