This man tells it like it is. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

THE MORNING PLUM:

At last week’s GOP presidential debate, in a line that has gotten too little attention, Donald Trump boasted: “We’ve opened up a very big discussion that needed to be opened up.”

What Trump meant is that, by calling for things like mass deportations and Muslim registries and temporarily banning non-citizen Muslims from entering the U.S., and claiming thousands of American Muslims celebrated 9/11, Trump has forced a discussion about the true causes of American decline that had previously been precluded or suppressed by politically correct niceties.

New polling suggests that Trump may be justified in this boast: It shows that large numbers of Republican voters may be glad that Trump has forced this discussion out into the open.

A CBS/You Gov poll released over the weekend asked GOP primary voters in the early states: “Whether or not you agree, do the things Donald Trump says generally make you glad someone says them,” because “they needed to be said and discussed?” Or, the poll asked, are these voters “unhappy that someone says them,” because “they don’t belong in a presidential campaign?”

Huge majorities of GOP voters in the two early states — Iowa and New Hampshire —  say they are glad Trump says the things he says because they need to be said and discussed:


This is only one poll. But a Post/ABC News poll released last week found that sizable percentages of Republican voters nationally — particularly supporters of Trump or Ted Cruz — agree with Trump’s call for a Muslim ban; agree with the notion that mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims; and don’t believe U.S. Muslims face unjustified discrimination. Previous polls have found broad support among Republicans for Trump’s various prescriptions and pronouncements on immigration, including his call for mass deportations. The new CBS polling adds a nuance: Large percentages of GOP voters in the two earliest states are grateful that Trump has forced such ideas into the public discussion.

This perhaps helps shed new light on the debate over what is really driving Trump’s appeal. Some right-leaning writers, such as Ross Douthat and Matthew Continetti, have argued that Trump’s message is resonating with GOP voters who have legitimate worries about terrorism and the impact of immigration on their economic prospects, but no longer trust GOP leaders (who along with GOP-aligned business elites frown on demagoguery about Muslims and restrictionist rhetoric about immigration) to seriously address them. Thus they are attracted to Trump’s gut-level American greatness appeals, which sound like something new and different in the European nationalist mold. Some on the left, such as Brian Beutler, have taken a harsher view, arguing that even if the racial and cultural resentments Trump is stoking are rooted in legitimate economic insecurities, one mustn’t airbrush away the possibility that those resentments are also rooted in, well, deep antipathy towards immigrants and Muslims.

Obviously this is a hard question to settle. Everyone agrees that Trump is engaged in full-blown demagoguery and bigotry against Muslims and immigrants. But are GOP voters responding because Trump is speaking to their economic insecurities and fears of terrorism with a proportional emotional bluntness and urgency that GOP leaders have failed to muster? Or are they responding to Trump precisely because of the bigotry and xenophobia at the core of his message? Put another way, is Trump successfully speaking to anxieties about the country’s changing demographics that are fundamentally irrational, rather than rooted in reasonable assessments by these voters of the economic and terror threats they face? Even if worries about those threats are understandable, what does it mean that the viciously xenophobic strain of Trump’s message appears to be necessary to get these voters to believe those worries are being adequately spoken to? How do you even settle these questions, anyway?

The latter interpretation is an uncomfortable one, to be sure. But the new CBS polling discussed above does raise the unpleasant possibility that many GOP voters may be glad that Trump is giving voice to these sentiments in precisely the way he has done.

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* TED CRUZ RAILS AGAINST ‘UNDOCUMENTED DEMOCRATS’: The New York Times examines Ted Cruz’s rhetoric on the campaign trail, finding that he is making overt efforts to appeal to Donald Trump’s supporters with stuff like this:

He has coined a new phrase, “undocumented Democrats,” to describe those in the country illegally, and beefed up sections of his stump speech focused on immigration….And in a turn that called to mind, for some, Gov. George Wallace’s famous 1963 refrain in praise of segregation during the civil rights movement, Mr. Cruz pledged to oppose legal status for undocumented immigrants “today, tomorrow, forever.”

Slick! It’s worth noting that in addition to trying to capture that Trump energy on immigration, Cruz is also sidling up to Trump’s anti-Muslim demagoguery while pretending not to.

* REPUBLICANS STILL HOPE TO KILL CLIMATE DEAL: The Hill reports that Congressional Republicans are still hoping to use the appropriations process next year to limit U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund, which is designed to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, as a way to undermine the Paris climate deal.

Alternatively, as the Hill also notes, their best hope is to elect a GOP president, who could either pull out of the deal or undermine Obama’s Clean Power Plan, whose carbon reduction targets will be key to the U.S. meeting its commitments to the global deal. Both of those, however, could prove more easily said than done.

* RUBIO KEEPS MUDDYING WATERS ON IMMIGRATION: On CBS yesterday, Marco Rubio claimed there “isn’t that big a difference” between him and Cruz on immigration. But as Byron York reports Rubio supported the comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a path to citizenship, while Cruz at the time publicly outlined a range of objections to that bill.

It is also simply false of Rubio to claim that Cruz ever explicitly supported legalization, but Rubio needs to keep up this line to blunt Cruz’s attack on him for backing reform and citizenship. The Cruz camp predicts conservatives will not forgive Rubio for his apostasy.

* WILL TRUMP’S VOTERS SHOW UP? Some good reporting on this question from Bloomberg’s John McCormick:

An unscientific survey of more than 100 people, conducted by Bloomberg Politics during brief interviews scattered throughout an auditorium where Trump spoke Saturday in eastern Iowa, suggests his fans in the critical early state aren’t all political newcomers, with about half saying they’ve attended the caucuses before….A smaller number—44 of 101—were able to name the date for the caucuses, Feb. 1.

One of the big questions is whether Trump is merely activating a new but passing interest on the part of Americans who remain unlikely to show up at the polls, or whether he’ll actually bring them into the process.

* WHY DON’T GOP VOTERS CARE ABOUT TRUMP’S LIES? Paul Krugman answers the question:

Part of the answer has to be that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for any kind of measured response, dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the “liberal media” didn’t suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. On the contrary, they have long been key elements of the party brand…he isn’t someone who suddenly intruded into Republican politics from an alternative universe. He, or someone like him, is where the party has been headed for a long time.

Trump’s core insight is that the details don’t matter in the least. When corrupt media elites and their pointy-headed fact checking lackeys object to Trump’s claims, that only confirms that they want to stymie Trump’s efforts to do what it takes to make America great again.

* DEMS BLEW IT WITH THEIR DEBATE SCHEDULE: E.J. Dionne argues that the Saturday Dem debate actually showcased the folly of the DNC’s decision to opt for a schedule that essentially guaranteed fewer viewers:

This debate should embarrass the Democratic National Committee for scheduling so few of them, and for shoving some into absurdly inconvenient time slots that confined their audiences to political hobbyists. Debates are a form of propaganda in the neutral sense of the word: They are occasions for parties to make their respective arguments. Given that the divide between the parties this year is so fundamental, it’s shameful that Democrats did not try to make their case to as many Americans as possible.

Yes! But once again, it is important context that the Hillary Clinton campaign actively lobbied the DNC for fewer debates.

* OBAMA: TRUMP IS ‘EXPLOITING’ ECONOMIC INSECURITIES:  In an interview with NPR, President Obama argues:

“When you combine that demographic change with all the economic stresses that people have been going through because of the financial crisis, because of technology, because of globalization, the fact that wages and incomes have been flatlining for some time, and that particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy….you combine those things and it means that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear. Some of it justified but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that.”

The singling out of blue collar men in particular is notable. But, as noted in our lead item, this explanation only gets you so far.