Over the weekend, Donald Trump continued to dig in behind his assertion that “thousands and thousands” of people in New Jersey cheered the fall of the Twin Towers. But the argument remained in a kind of he-said-she-said netherworld that skirted the debate’s actual subtext. It was about whether any actual evidence exists of Trump’s claims, and not about his deeper implication that you should fear the violent intentions of huge numbers of American Muslims.

Now Trump’s demagoguery has taken a new turn that could focus the debate a bit more directly on this implied message.

On Morning Joe today, Bloomberg’s John Heilemann asked Trump directly whether he thinks Islam is an inherently violent or peaceful religion. Trump declined to answer, and instead suggested that there is a “lot of hatred” coming out of a “big part” of Islam:

HEILEMANN: “Do you think that Islam is an inherently peaceful religion that’s been perverted by some? Or do you think Islam is an inherently violent religion?”

TRUMP: “All I can say is there’s something going on. I don’t know that that question can be answered. It could be answered two ways. It could be answered both ways. But there’s something going on there. There’s a lot of hatred coming out of at least a big part of it. You see the hatred. We see it every day. You see it, whether it’s in Paris, or whether it’s the World Trade Center….

“There’s something nasty coming out of there. You could answer it any way you want. But at least we have to know the problem.”

How will the other GOP presidential candidates react to this? It seems plausible that Jeb Bush might forcefully denounce it, since Bush has unequivocally condemned Trump’s vow to close mosques and his suggestions that we may need a Muslim registry.

Ted Cruz is beginning to escalate his attacks on Trump, apparently in hopes of winning over Trump’s evangelical supporters. But Cruz was very quick to claim after the Paris attacks that Muslim refugees in particular should be barred from entering the United States.

Marco Rubio at first tiptoed carefully around Trump’s mosque comments, and while he subsequently came down a bit harder on them, he plainly has exercised caution around Trump’s gradual ratcheting up of demagoguery, perhaps out of fear of alienating Trump supporters.

By declining to say whether Islam is a violent religion, and by suggesting that “hatred” is coming out of a “big part” of Islam, Trump has exposed the xenophobic subtext of his rhetoric about Muslims, much the way his previous comments about Mexicans helped illuminate the true intended appeal of his immigration prescriptions. Of course, for all we know, this might only help him further with his supporters.

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UPDATE: A recent Bloomberg poll found that Americans think by 64-28 that Islam is an “inherently peaceful religion, but there are some who twist its teachings to justify violent acts.” Even among Republicans those numbers are 61-32.

So perhaps Trump’s evasions will resonate with the small minority who think that Islam is an “inherently violent religion, which leads its followers to violent acts.

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* CLIMATE TALKS OPEN IN PARIS: With the U.N. climate talks set to begin today, Coral Davenport has a very good guide to what to look for. One crucial question is whether participating countries agree to “ratchet up” carbon reduction commitments in future years:

A key word in the Paris talks is “ratchet,” meaning that negotiators want to schedule countries to reconvene every five to 10 years with more stringent emissions plans to ratchet up their Paris commitments….Many countries say that any “ratchet” meetings should not come until at least 10 years out, but American negotiators are pushing for tougher new targets every five years.

Even if negotiators do achieve mutual carbon reduction commitments, it is all but certain that they won’t nearly be enough to meet the goal of keeping warming at two degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels. Thus, pledges to build on this later will be key over the long term.

* MAJORITY SEES GLOBAL WARMING AS SERIOUS: A new Post/ABC News poll finds that 63 percent of Americans see global warming as a serious problem. But only 47 percent say the federal government needs to do more to address the problem. And 51 percent say there is “a lot of disagreement among scientists” over the existence of global warming. One question is whether an agreement in Paris might produce more urgency for action and a clearer understanding of the scientific consensus.

The poll also finds that nearly six in 10 Republicans think global warming is not a serious problem, and fewer than one in four want increased government action. It’s likely that Republicans will widely oppose any Paris agreement, no matter what’s in it.

 * REPUBLICANS PLOT TO UNDERMINE GLOBAL CLIMATE TALKS: Carl Hulse reports:

The House is scheduled to vote this week on legislation that would undo new Environmental Protection Agency rules on power-plant emissions — a major element of the administration’s efforts to address climate change. The legislation is unlikely to become law, but Republicans hope it shows the international climate negotiators that the nation is not united politically behind the president’s proposals.

Thus, Republicans are hoping to discourage any climate deal from being reached by sending a message to other countries that the U.S. will not be able to meet the commitments it makes. (For more on this, see my big piece on the current state of GOP climate skepticism.)

* HILLARY ROLLS OUT SPENDING PLAN: Bloomberg’s Jennifer Epstein reports on Hillary Clinton’s coming economic proposals:

Hillary Clinton is calling for a $275 billion boost in federal infrastructure spending over five years and the creation of an infrastructure bank, arguing that the measures will help create jobs while modernizing the nation’s ailing roads and bridges…The Democratic presidential front-runner plans to spend the next month laying out what her campaign is calling her “jobs agenda,” including ideas for upping federal support for research and manufacturing.

That $275 billion falls well short of the $1 trillion in infrastructure spending that Bernie Sanders wants, another sign Clinton is not embracing the robust economic agenda favored by the Sanders/Warren wing of the party.  Oh, and seven in 10 Americans back this sort of spending.

* GOP BRACES FOR LONG PRIMARY BATTLE: Robert Costa takes a detailed look at how all the GOP presidential campaigns are preparing for a very long GOP primary battle. Insiders no longer expect Trump to fade:

After months of waiting for the popular outsiders to implode, numerous Republican strategists no longer expect them to do so. Instead, opponents are angling to position themselves for what could become a protracted primary fight.

Though I still think the most likely outcome is that Trump does eventually fade, it now looks at least possible that he could win at least one early state contest, which will set off epic panic.

 * WHY TRUMP’S SUPPORTERS ARE SO ANGRY: E.J. Dionne digs into the question, and highlights a really important finding from a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll that helps illuminate the answer:

We are divided evenly, 49 percent to 49 percent, on the question of whether “America’s best days are ahead of us or behind us,” according to the PRRI poll. Among liberal Democrats, 67 percent think our best days are yet to come; only 40 percent of conservative Republicans share this confidence.

No wonder the vague promise to “make America great again,” which can mean whatever listeners want it to mean, is resonating for so many Republicans…

* TRUMP ISSUES VEILED THREAT TO GOP: Trump has pledged not to run a third-party candidacy, provided he is treated “fairly” by the GOP. On Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked Trump whether he’d been treated fairly thus far, and Trump replied:

“I have no opinion right now. I can say that many, many people think that I’m not being treated fairly…I have no real feeling as to whether or not I’m being treated fairly. But I promise you I will let you know at some point. I hope I’m being treated fairly. Because that was my deal. My deal. I signed a pledge. My deal was that I would be treated fairly. And I hope that’s going to be the case.”

The beauty of this is that Trump gets to decide what being treated “unfairly” means. That’s a nice general election strategy you got there, Republicans. You wouldn’t want to treat Trump unfairly, now would you?