(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll confirms it: Donald Trump is losing the argument over terrorism. That isn’t supposed to be possible, of course, since Trump is promising to be strong and tough and smash the enemy, and pundits assured us again and again that a terrorist attack would help him politically, because when people are frightened, they gravitate helplessly towards the authoritarian figure offering simplistic displays of strength and manly power.

Yet it’s true — in the wake of the Orlando attacks, Hillary Clinton’s advantage on the terrorism issue has grown substantially larger than it was last month, when Trump clinched the GOP nomination:


The crucial point here is that Clinton’s advantage on the issue has grown after the American public had a very close up look at the two candidates’ responses to an attack that claimed 49 lives. Back in March, Clinton held a wide 54-40 lead on the issue, but one could argue that the broader public hadn’t been fully exposed to Trump, who was still battling in the GOP primaries. As it became more obvious in early May that Trump was securing the nomination, he began getting more national media attention, and Americans only gave Clinton a three point edge (47-44) on the issue.

But then the Orlando shooting happened. Trump doubled down on his Muslim ban and gave what TV networks chose to describe as a “major speech” in which he blamed the massacre on the fact that we had let in the shooter’s family, and for good measure added this: “We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer.” In other words, the enemy is everywhere among us; we have to fundamentally rethink basic American values to deal with it; and if we don’t, we won’t have a country anymore (as Trump loves to say).

Clinton responded by denouncing Trump’s religious test, standing up for American pluralism, and claiming Trump’s relentless demagoguery against Muslims weakens our ability to fight terrorism, by alienating moderate Muslims and furthering a narrative that Islam and the west are at war, which “plays into ISIS’s hands.”

And guess what: Today’s WaPo poll finds that Americans prefer Clinton’s handling of the Orlando shooting in particular by 46-28, an edge of 18 points. And note this:


As this chart shows, the result of both candidates’ response to the Orlando attacks was also that Clinton holds a 34-point edge on which one showed the better temperament in response (it’s 59-25); a 19-point edge on which could handle the situation as president (it’s 53-34); and a nine-point edge on which has the best proposals to prevent future attacks (it’s 44-35).

As Emily Guskin and Scott Clement note, all this actually amounts to an unusual advantage on the terrorism issue for a Democrat. Some of that likely has to do with the fact that Clinton, as Secretary of State, has international experience. But much of it also probably has to with Trump. It isn’t just his frighteningly volatile temperament, though that is surely important. It’s also that Trump is calling on the public to scrap its commitment to American values, pluralism, and tolerance.

It’s true that Trump’s anti-Muslim xenophobia and demagoguery did cause his numbers to rise among Republican primary voters in the wake of the Paris attacks. But in the wake of the carnage in Orlando, and even in spite of the raw public emotion it produced, the broader public has been treated to a vivid look at his approach, and Americans have recoiled.

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* CLINTON WIDENS LEAD OVER TRUMP: The new NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking Poll finds Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by eight points among registered voters nationally, 49-41, up from six points last week. Note this:

Clinton…continues to make gains among white voters. Although Trump is still ahead among this group of voters, he dropped from a 12-point advantage last week to an 8-point advantage this week; 41 percent of white voters now support Clinton and 49 percent support Trump.

If accurate, this might complicate Trump’s hopes of winning the White House by unleashing the fearsome power of white backlash. The polling averages show Clinton up by 45-39.

* REPUBLICANS GIVE THUMBS DOWN TO ‘NEVER TRUMP’: The new NBC/Survey Monkey poll also delivers some bad news to those who still hope to somehow snatch the nomination from Trump:

A majority of Republican and Republican leaners — 67 percent — said if it were up to them, they would have the delegates nominate Trump at the Republican convention. Three in 10 Republicans said they would open the convention and choose another candidate.

Republican voters are making things so damn inconvenient for the GOP this cycle, aren’t they.

* TRUMP IS SHIFTING HIS ‘TONE’: CNN reports that Trump is about to soften two of his most controversial proposals, the ban on Muslims and the call for mass deportations:

His campaign is putting the finishing touches on a policy memo that would change his proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. Instead of focusing the ban on Muslims, Trump would ban immigrants coming from countries with known terrorism links, training and equipment. Meanwhile, he’s eased off his hardline language calling for deporting all undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

Wow, a policy memo explaining how his ban on immigration from countries with “known terrorism links” would work! I’m sure that will clarify a lot.

* TRUMP CAN’T ESCAPE HIS OWN POSITIONS: NBC News has a good piece that recaps a lot of Donald Trump’s own rhetoric on the Muslim ban and mass deportations, showing that Trump is repeatedly and unequivocally on record in favor of those things.

If Trump really thinks he’s going to “soften” his positions, he’ll have to contend with his own words on video. And, of course, even if he does soften them, he’ll likely backslide at some point at five in the morning on twitter.

* REPUBLICANS ATTACK CLINTON FOR PRAISING ‘FREE TRADE’: The Republican National Committee and Trump are now attacking Clinton for previously praising the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal:

The Republican National Committee recently obtained video of Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, on an overseas trip in 2012 praising the TPP, a deal she said she could not support this past October. It appears that Donald Trump…will pounce on her reversal when he delivers a speech on trade policy Tuesday afternoon. “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field,” Clinton said in 2012.

Of course, Clinton subsequently came out against the TPP once it was finalized, and many Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, now support it.

* VULNERABLE GOP SENATORS MAY CUT TRUMP LOOSE: Stuart Rothenberg reports that top GOP strategists are mulling a new approach to Trump:

Long-time Republican strategists and campaign consultants privately acknowledge they are so certain of Hillary Clinton’s victory – and so worried about its impact on Senate races and GOP control of the Senate – that they are already considering a controversial tactic that explicitly acknowledges Donald Trump’s defeat. The tactic…involves running television ads that urge voters to elect a Republican Congress so that Clinton won’t have “a blank check” as president.

Of course, the problem here is that if they do that, it could weaken Trump even further, translating into still more down-ticket damage.