(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

At the Democratic convention, President Obama sought to absolve the GOP of blame for the rise of Donald Trump, largely for strategic reasons. The rage and hate on display at Trump’s own convention “wasn’t particularly Republican,” Obama said, in an effort to give GOP voters and GOP-leaning independents a way to support Hillary Clinton without feeling as if they were betraying party loyalty.

But now that Trump is in full meltdown mode, and beating him looks easier, Democrats are shifting hard into an effort to hold the GOP responsible for Trumpism’s rise — in order to translate Clinton’s gains into more support for Democratic Senate and House candidates. At a rally in Ohio last night, Obama sounded the new message, per reporter Sahil Kapur:

“The problem is not that all Republicans think the way this guy does. The problem is that they’ve been riding this tiger for a long time. They’ve been feeding their base all kinds of crazy for years, primarily for political expedience.”

Obama accused Republicans of relentlessly feeding a “swamp of crazy,” adding that they looked the other way while many base voters descended into delusions about Obama himself (birtherism) and about his presidency (claiming he founded ISIS and wanted to take away everyone’s guns).

Obama noted that GOP lawmakers had a choice — they could have differed with him on the issues while simultaneously telling their voters a more balanced story about the Obama years. Instead, Obama suggested, they decided it was their interests to keep the base as riled up as possible, so they looked the other way while the conspiracy-mongering took deep root. And Obama sought to pin this right on down-ballot Republicans (in this case, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who’s being challenged by Dem Ted Strickland), by arguing that they are only distancing themselves from Trump out of political expedience:

“People like Ted’s opponent, they stood by while this happened. And Donald Trump, as he’s prone to do, he didn’t build the building by himself, but he slapped his name on it and took credit for it. And that’s what’s happened in their party. All that bile, all the exaggeration, all the stuff that was not grounded in fact just kind of bubbled up, started surfacing. They know better, a lot of these folks who ran, and they didn’t say anything. So they don’t get credit.”

There is some truth to Obama’s broader claim. Republican leaders have long hyped genuine separation of powers disputes into exaggerated tales of Obama lawlessness. They have long fed versions of the lie that Obama has allowed the hordes to overrun the southern border, or that he “can’t be trusted” to “enforce our immigration laws.” They’ve played little wink-wink-nudge-nudge games around Obama’s identity, such as claiming they “take him at his word” that he’s a Christian. And they haven’t exactly killed themselves to knock down the idea pushed by some on the right that Obama secretly harbors ill will towards America. The degree to which this is responsible for the rise of Trump, however, cannot be settled here and will be debated for many years to come.

All of this said, the new effort to pin this on down-ballot Republicans will probably reignite a debate among Democrats over whether it’s coming too late. As Brian Beutler has recounted, Dems overseeing down-ballot contests badly wanted Obama and Hillary Clinton to say this months ago. Instead, they essentially extended an escape ladder of sorts to Republicans in hopes of getting more cross-over votes to build a large anti-Trump coalition at the top of the ticket, and are only pulling up the ladder now that Clinton seems to be comfortably ahead and the down-ballot Dems need help.

But even if this is coming late, it’s exactly what Democrats have been pushing for right now. Internal Democratic polling shows that GOP lawmakers who are only belatedly distancing themselves from Trump might not get credit for it from swing voters. Meanwhile, Dems think these Republicans are caught in a Trump Trap: Even as Trump’s escalating toxicity is further alienating those voters, they can’t distance themselves too much, because it will anger the Trump voters they need to turn out on election day. Trump himself is busily feeding this dynamic by pinning the blame for his own woes on the very Republicans who are fleeing him. So Dems want those with the biggest megaphones (Obama and Clinton) to tighten this trap, by amplifying the argument that Republicans now stiff-arming Trump deserve to be held accountable for him.

It’s hard to know whether this will work, and obviously each race is different. But as FiveThirtyEight notes, it’s now clear that down-ballot Democrats are running significantly behind Clinton in many contests, and it’s possible some voters are mulling purposely splitting their tickets. So something needs to change.

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* CLINTON LEADS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: A pair of new polls, one from UMass Lowell/7 News and the other from WBUR/MassINC, put Clinton up in New Hampshire by 45-39 and 41-37. Both show dead heats in the Senate match-up.

The polling averages show Clinton up in the state by five points. Remember, if Clinton holds Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Colorado, she can likely win with just one more — such as New Hampshire — while losing Ohio and Florida and North Carolina.

* AMERICANS REJECT TRUMP’S ATTACKS, POLL SHOWS: A new Huffpost/YouGov poll finds:

By a 14-point margin (52 percent to 38 percent), Americans who tuned into the debate say that it was inappropriate for Trump to threaten to jail Clinton if he’s elected president. ”Tuned into the debate” covers people who watched any part of it, saw clips of it afterward or followed subsequent news coverage….By an 18-point margin (55 percent to 37 percent), they say it was inappropriate to attack her by bringing up Bill Clinton’s past personal behavior.

Recall that Trump’s advisers have basically given up on expanding his appeal, and have decided his best hope is to wrestle Clinton down into the mud with him.

* RNC CHAIRMAN IS ‘DEEPLY SHAKEN’ BY TRUMP: The New York Times talks to people around RNC chair Reince Priebus:

For all Mr. Priebus’s public expressions of loyalty, he has been deeply shaken by revelations about Mr. Trump and the rifts within the party, seeing years of Republican organizational work potentially being undone, according to multiple people who described private conversations with Mr. Priebus on the condition of anonymity. He has said he feels adrift, fearing that Mr. Trump is headed for disaster, and told one longtime associate that he was having sleepless nights.

“Years of work potentially being undone.” The post-election recriminations should be interesting to watch.

* CLINTON PLOTS QUIET ENDGAME: As Trump rages at groping allegations and threatens lawsuits, the Associated Press reports that Clinton will opt for a low-key approach to the final stretch:

She rarely makes news or veers from her script. She keeps a plodding schedule of modest-size events. She relies heavily on her cast of loyal — and arguably more effective — surrogates. And she doesn’t overdo it…There’s little sign that the relatively low-key strategy is hurting Clinton,

But what about the size of Trump’s rallies??? Even as Trump basks in adoration from crowds, Dems are also contacting voters…and contacting voters…and contacting voters.

* DEMS OUTWORKING GOP ON GROUND IN FLORIDA: Marc Caputo reports this interesting nugget:

Remember when the GOP said it had this great ground game in Florida? Yeah. The Florida Dems are beating the GOP in voter-registration forms submitted by 503,000 to 60,000.

Meanwhile, Caputo reports that absentee ballots cast so far are tilting slightly more Democratic than in 2012. It’s all about the composition of the electorate at this point.

* WHY CLINTON NEEDS A BIG VICTORY: Paul Krugman says the size of a Clinton victory will help determine both control of the House and how expansive her agenda can be:

She would significantly strengthen the social safety net, especially for the very poor and children, with an emphasis on family-related issues like parental leave…she proposes, credibly, to raise that money with higher taxes on top incomes, so that the overall effect would be to reduce inequality. Democratic control of the House would also open the door for large-scale infrastructure investment….many progressive economists…will urge Mrs. Clinton to go significantly bigger than she is currently proposing.

It’s hard to see House Republicans supporting a big safety net expansion or the large scale spending progressives will want. But Dem control of the House still seems unlikely.

* AND THE POLL FINDING OF THE DAY: From the new Fox News poll of likely voters nationally poll :

Do you think Donald Trump is a good role model for children?

Yes: 20

No: 77

By contrast, Clinton is seen as a good role model for children by 54-43. Maybe Michelle Obama was on to something.