(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

THE MORNING PLUM:

The horrific terrorist attack in Nice, in which more than 80 people were slaughtered by a truck that plowed a bloody path of carnage through a Bastille Day celebration, has sharpened the contrast between the two presidential candidates’ responses to terrorism.

As always, the deeper dispute here turns on what really constitutes “strength.”

Trump responded to the attack in a long interview with Bill O’Reilly. He repeated again and again that we need to get tougher and stronger, opined that a big part of the problem is that our current weak leaders won’t describe the terror threat for what it is — i.e., “radical Islamic terrorism” — and said that he would ask Congress for a declaration of war against ISIS. But this was perhaps his most striking response:

O’REILLY: There will be by the end of the summer 10,000 Syrian refugees. Twenty percent women. Sixty percent children. Twenty percent men….do you consider those people threats? Do you consider them security threats?

TRUMP: Of course I do. We have no idea in many cases — and I’ve been studying the situation so closely, law enforcement says that you really can’t tell where they come from — they may be ISIS, this could be the great Trojan Horse of all time. This could be the ultimate Trojan Horse.

O’REILLY: So you consider the 10,000 refugees to be threats.

By contrast, in an interview on CNN, Clinton responded to the attack by rejecting Trump’s claim out of hand:

Clinton also dismissed the presumptive Republican nominee’s concern about the potential of terrorists infiltrating the U.S. by posing as Syrian refugees.

“I would not short-circuit the vetting process,” Clinton said. “If we are talking about women, children, orphans who are fleeing horrific violence, that’s a different category than young men or people who have some record that could be ferreted out as some concern.”

Clinton also once again refused to engage in Trump’s semantic game, rejecting the idea that using the words “radical Islamic terrorism” is an essential element to winning the war on terror, adding: “We’re at war against radical jihadists who use Islam to recruit and radicalize others in order to pursue their evil agenda.” (Once again, Trump and others who claimed that Clinton somehow caved to him by signaling openness to using his language, which she didn’t actually do, got this entirely wrong.)

Clinton also said on CNN that sending ground troops into Syria would be a dream scenario for terrorists, and argued that this new, evolving sort of terror threat should be combated with better intelligence and more collaboration among nations. All of this is in sync with her previous responses to terror attacks, in which she has argued that Trump’s demagoguing against Muslims and immigrants furthers a narrative in which Islam and the west are at war, which actually plays into ISIS’s hands.

There is plenty to worry about when it comes to Clinton’s overly hawkish instincts. But the stand she has taken against Trump’s efforts to whip up xenophobia in the wake of terror attacks has been welcome. And I want to suggest once again that there is no particular reason to assume that Trump will win this argument with the public. Though polls have been mixed on this point, some have shown that Clinton is more trusted than Trump to handle terrorism. Others have indicated that she is seen as more trusted to handle international crises. Still others have shown more public approval towards Clinton’s responses to past attacks than towards Trump’s responses to them. Still others have shown that only a minority of Americans believe barring Muslim immigration would be effective in the fight against terrorism, rejecting one of the core ideas animating his vision of “strength.”

It’s possible that Americans may not respond to terror attacks by helplessly gravitating towards Trump’s strongman allure. No, really, it is possible.

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* HILLARY LEADING IN KEY STATES, POLLS FIND: A new batch of NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls show Clinton leading trump by 44-37 in Florida; by 44-38 in North Carolina; by 44-35 in Virginia; and 43-35 in Colorado.

Those polls seem at odds with other recent polls showing the race tied nationally and especially with the Quinnipiac poll putting Trump way up in Florida. Stick to the averages, folks.

*HOW DEMS WILL ATTACK PENCE: NBC News’s Alex Seitz-Wald previews how Dems will go after Indiana governor Mike Pence, Trump’s apparent Veep pick:

Democrats plan to tag…Pence as a social conservative zealot who reflects Trump’s worst qualities….And while Trump is no Christian warrior — he has said he would champion gay rights and seems unfamiliar with the Bible — Democrats will say both Trump and Pence are divisive and discriminatory in their own ways. While Trump turns off people of color, Pence turns off women and LGBT people, they say.

A diversely divisive ticket — a twofer.

 * OBAMA DEFENDS BLACK LIVES MATTER: With luminaries like Trump and Rudy Giuliani suggesting that the mere phrase “Black Lives Matter” is inherently racist, Obama defended the concept at a town hall last night:

“The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ simply refers to the notion that there’s a specific vulnerability for African-Americans that needs to be addressed. It’s not meant to suggest that other lives don’t matter; it’s to suggest that other folks aren’t experiencing this particular vulnerability.”

It’s amazing that this needs to be said, but that’s where we are right now.

* TRUMP ADVISERS WORRY ABOUT CONVENTION: The New York Times reports:

Two Trump advisers…described planning for the convention as somewhat haphazard, saying that Mr. Trump’s focus on lining up speakers had been hot or cold on any given day, and that he had not spent much time making calls to convention speakers to strategize about their remarks and encourage them. The advisers…said they could not rule out Mr. Trump making decisions on the fly next week to try to influence the convention.

It’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be huge. It’s gonna be tremendous.

* REBELLION AGAINST TRUMP FIZZLES: The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker brings us the latest from Cleveland, where a measure to free delegates to vote their conscience, rather than for Trump, has been squashed:

The convention rules committee, a panel of 112 GOP convention delegates, defeated a key proposal to amend party rules that could have paved the way for delegates to oppose Trump’s nomination on the convention floor….That would appear to close the door on delegates opposed to Trump….Trump would appear to be saved from a potentially embarrassing vote on the floor of his nominating convention.

Never Trump never had a chance, but now it’s really over.

* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, OUT-TRUMPING-TRUMP EDITION: Newt Gingrich vomited forth this on Fox News last night:

“Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be. Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported. Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia, glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door.”

Someone needs to gently inform Gingrich that Trump is not picking him for Veep.