THE MORNING PLUM:

Donald Trump continues to rage against Hillary Clinton over her suggestion during the Democratic debate that Trump has become “ISIS’s best recruiter.” Clinton argued that terrorists are using videos of Trump insulting Islam to “recruit more radical jihadists,” and Trump has demanded an apology.

The Clinton camp has since walked back the video comment, though her advisers continue to point to social media evidence of the broader claim that Trump’s rhetoric has become a terror recruiting tool. The Clinton camp has refused Trump’s demand for an apology.

Make no mistake: Both Trump and Clinton must be very happy to be embroiled in this spat. Indeed, the Clinton camp has cheerfully fed the flames of this fight, in what appears to be a concerted effort to boost Trump among GOP voters. The theory may be that Trump benefits among those voters if he is perceived as a chief antagonist of Clinton, thus helping him spread more intra-GOP damage.

Here’s the latest on this: Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told a conference call of Clinton supporters that the Clinton camp takes the possibility of a Trump nomination “very seriously.” The Wall Street Journal reports on the call:

One person on the call mentioned the extent to which Mr. Trump’s name came up in the Democratic debate Saturday and asked if that represented a “shift” in the Clinton campaign’s view of his “viability” as a candidate.
Mr. Podesta said that Mr. Trump has “demonstrated to be a serious” candidate for the Republican nomination, and that he is “someone who could very well be successful in their nominating process. People have come around to the conclusion that this isn’t just…going to go away at some point.”

It’s hard to know whether the Clinton camp really believes this. But one obvious possibility is that the Clinton camp is signaling to top supporters that they should publicly make the case that Trump now looks like a genuinely viable candidate to win the GOP primary. If so, this takes the Clinton camp’s trolling of GOP voters to another level: Hillary is attacking Trump because Democrats are afraid that he’ll become the nominee!!!

But there may be a deeper rationale here, too. As I reported the other day, Democrats plan to increasingly make the case that Trump’s simplistic bluster and belligerence are forcing the other GOP candidates to dumb down their rhetoric to match his, thus revealing Clinton to be more prepared to lead in complicated and dangerous times than any of the GOP candidates.

This is a political and policy argument: Democrats are claiming that Trump’s rhetoric has become a threat to national security, which in turn makes the other GOP candidates’ efforts to match it — or at least, fail to condemn it in a full-throated fashion — more consequential, and reveals Clinton to be a steadier, more reliable presence. (The bet is that, while all the bluster may appeal to GOP primary voters, it will taint the party in the eyes of the general election audience.) Clinton’s increasing efforts to highlight Trump’s reckless anti-Muslim demagoguery not only gives Trump a way to boost himself among Republican voters, by arguing that he has emerged as Clinton’s chief foe; it’s also designed to advance that larger argument.

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* TRUMP STILL LEADS, BUT CRUZ IS CLOSING IN: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Donald Trump still leads with 28 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents nationally, while Ted Cruz is a close second at 24 percent. Marco Rubio has 12 percent and Ben Carson has 10 percent.

Notable details: Trump leads Cruz among non-college voters (another sign that’s where his base of support lies) while Cruz dominates Trump among Tea Partyers and white evangelicals, suggesting his assiduous courting of that demographic might be working. Also: Where’s that Rubio-mentum?

* CLINTON HOLDS VAST LEAD OVER SANDERS: The new Quinnipiac poll also finds that Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by 61-30 among Democrats and Dem-leaning independents nationally. Clinton leads among those who self describe as “very liberal” by 52-42, and among those who are “somewhat liberal” by 60-31, suggesting her campaign may be in the process of patching up whatever problems she had with the Democratic Party’s left flank.

Indeed, only 10 percent of “very liberal” Dems say they definitely won’t support Clinton.

* AMERICANS WOULD BE ‘EMBARRASSED’ BY PRESIDENT TRUMP: One last fun nugget from the Quinnipiac poll: 50 percent of Americans say they would be “embarrassed” by having Donald Trump as president, while only 23 percent say they would be “proud” and another 24 percent say they would be neither.

But a plurality of Republicans, 44 percent, say they would be “proud” to have President Trump in the Oval Office, while only 20 percent of them would be embarrassed by it.

* TALK RADIO CONSERVATIVES RALLY TO CRUZ: Politico reports on all the conservative talk radio hosts who are rallying to Ted Cruz’s defense, fending off attacks on the Texas Senator from Trump and Marco Rubio. Notably, radio conservatives are defending Cruz against Rubio’s false claim that Cruz once supported legalization, as Rush Limbaugh does here:

“At the end of the day when people go vote, people are gonna remember, of the two, it was Marco Rubio that was a member of the Gang of Eight and Ted Cruz that wasn’t, and that’s as complicated or simple as it’s gonna end up being.”

Conservative radio is determined not to let GOP voters forget Rubio’s heinous support for comprehensive immigration reform, which could give a big boost to Cruz over the long haul.

 * SANDERS HITS HILLARY OVER WALL STREET: At Saturday’s Dem debate, Clinton said she wants to be loved by everyone, including Wall Street. On the campaign trail in Iowa, Sanders went after Clinton over this:

“In the real world, if we’re going to transform America, if we’re going to stand up to the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street…and the greed of corporate America, I accept their not liking me….I don’t need to be loved by everybody.”

Clinton has not embraced as robust a Wall Street reform agenda as the Sanders/Elizabeth Warren wing of the party has wanted. But Paul Krugman, for one, has argued that Clinton’s plan for Wall Street is better than the one Sanders has offered.

* CLINTON ROLLS OUT PLAN TO FIGHT ALZHEIMER’S: CNN reports:

Hillary Clinton will roll out a plan to combat Alzheimer’s disease in Fairfield, Iowa, on Tuesday, pledging to spend $2 billion annually to fight the disease and research a cure, according to a Clinton aide….The proposal would be paid for by tax reform proposals and other savings, the aide added.

It will be interesting to how the GOP candidates attack this. It’s likely they’ll blast the plan for hiking taxes.

* AND THE TRUMP VULGARISM OF THE DAY: At a rally in Michigan, the Donald deconstructs Hillary Clinton’s debate bathroom break:

“I know where she went — it’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk about it,” Trump said, screwing up his face, as the crowd laughed and cheered. “No, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting.”

Trump then described Obama’s 2008 Dem primary victory over Clinton this way: “She was favored to win, and she got schlonged.” All this should give him another poll bump!