As I’ve noted before, Marco Rubio has adopted a very careful straddle when it comes to dealing with Donald Trump’s views on immigration. Rubio has declined to endorse Trump’s call for mass deportations, but he has carefully avoided fully aligning himself with those candidates — such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich — who have forcefully criticized Trump’s immigration prescriptions as policy fantasy and political suicide.

Now Rubio has responded directly to Trump’s vow to close down mosques in the wake of the Paris attacks, and a similarly cautious approach was on display. Pressed last night by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly to say whether he agreed with Trump on that score, Rubio said:

“It’s not about closing down mosques. It’s about closing down anyplace — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired. The bigger problem we have is our inability to find out where these places are, because we’ve crippled our intelligence programs, both through unauthorized disclosures by a traitor, in Edward Snowden, or by some of the things this president has put in place with the support even of some from my own party to diminish our intelligence capabilities.
“So whatever facility is being used — it’s not just a mosque — any facility that’s being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States, should be a place that we look at.”

Read in one way, Rubio may be trying (if gingerly) to move the discussion away from a focus on mosques, arguing, in effect, that we should not be focused on them in our efforts to root out what he earlier described as “radicalism.” If that’s his primary intent, then that’s a responsible approach, as far as it goes. However, Rubio’s lumping in of mosques with “any” facility that inspires radicalism — all of which he says we should “look at” — calls for further clarification. What does this mean, exactly?

It’s perfectly possible Rubio completely disagrees with Trump, and didn’t quite manage to get that point across. Still, in this answer, Rubio plainly stops short of denouncing Trump’s call for closing mosques in response to the attacks. And the broader point here is that he seems to be exercising caution with respect to Trump’s overall ratcheting up of demagoguery towards American Muslims, in keeping with his general approach to Trump’s demagoguery on immigration, which seems designed to avoid alienating conservative voters.

Contrast that with Jeb Bush, who had this to say early this morning:

“You talk about closing mosques, you talk about registering people, that’s just wrong….it’s manipulating people’s angst and their fears. That’s not strength. That’s weakness.”

Bush unequivocally declares Trump’s intentions towards Muslims to be “wrong,” and doesn’t shy away from labeling them demagoguery. Rubio’s approach suggests a reluctance to call out Trump in this fashion, which perhaps also reflects a desire to avoid alienating conservative voters. Of course Rubio is rising among GOP voters, and Bush is falling, so maybe Rubio’s apparent calculation is right.

By the way, it would be interesting to hear from Constitutional scholar Ted Cruz on these questions, given that he is positioning himself as the natural heir to Trump’s supporters, particularly evangelicals, if and when (okay, only “if”) Trump collapses.

The problem with tiptoeing around Trump’s various prescriptions is that he is perpetually engaging in “demagoguery inflation,” which is to say that he’s always calling for something worse than what preceded it. At some point you’d think exercising such equivocal caution towards Trump would become untenable. Indeed, now Trump has confirmed that he would require Muslims to register in a national database. But that brings us to our next item.


* TRUMP WOULD REGISTER MUSLIMS IN DATABASE: NBC News reports that Donald Trump has now confirmed that he “absolutely” would require Muslim Americans to be registered in a nationwide database. Yesterday it wasn’t clear where exactly he stood. But now it is very clear:

“I would certainly implement that. Absolutely,” Trump said in Newton, Iowa, in between campaign town halls….When asked whether Muslims would be legally obligated to sign into the database, Trump responded, “They have to be — they have to be.”

This comes after Trump said that when it comes to Muslims and “the enemy,” “certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country,” and that “we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

* HILLARY WIDENS LEAD OVER SANDERS: A new Bloomberg poll finds Hillary Clinton now has a 25 point lead over Bernie Sanders among likely Democratic voters nationally, at 55-30.

The poll also shows that Clinton holds a wide lead over Sanders on many major issues, including managing the economy and combating climate change (a major Sanders preoccupation), though Sanders leads on reining in Wall Street.

* TRUMP’S JOBS DISCUSSION IS LIGHT ON SPECIFICS: The New York Times has an amusing account of Trump talking to Iowa voters who hit him with a series of questions about the economy. Asked about child care, he noted that his hotels have a “Trumpateers” child care program for employees. And:

How would he help low-wage workers who want to learn a technical skill but need financial aid for tuition and books at community college? Lots of people “have lost their mojo to go to community college,’” Mr. Trump said. “We have to give people their spirit back.”

Trump’s solution to the problems of college affordability and the need for new job skills: Restore people’s “mojo.”

Rather than go after Trump for his business dealings or his past support for liberal causes, as some of his opponents have tried to do, the super PAC will depict Trump as someone who would be a deeply ineffective commander-in-chief and ill-suited for the demands of the Oval Office.

And yet, polls have shown that GOP primary voters think he would be an effective commander in chief. Good luck!

* DEMS VOW TO FIGHT GOP REFUGEE PLAN: After the GOP bill to stiffen verification procedures for Syrian refugees passed the House overwhelmingly, Senate Democrats are vowing to filibuster it:

Senate Democrats believe they can flip the issue by shifting the debate to the roughly 20 million people who come into the country each year through the visa waiver program. They also want to put Republicans on the spot by forcing a vote on a provision to bar people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns.

As noted here yesterday, the long Thanksgiving recess before the Senate acts may cool passions, perhaps allowing Dems to hold off the GOP push or force some kind of compromise.

Remember the great Ebola scare of 2014? The threat of a pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real. But it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger….at this point panic is what the right is all about, and the Republican nomination will go to whoever can most effectively channel that panic. Will the same hold true in the general election? Stay tuned.

Of course, far too many House Dems also voted yesterday to get tough on the Syrian refugees, but the most likely outcome remains that Obama and Senate Dems will force a moderately acceptable outcome. Meanwhile, the GOP frontrunner is calling for registering all Muslims.