WHERE WE ARE RIGHT NOW: GOP elites just became even more nervous about a Trump nomination, reports David Weigel. Here's why: "If five of the remaining six Republican candidates win the nomination, they'll be well-positioned to argue that Obama lost Iraq. They can say as much to Sen. Bernie Sanders (who consistently voted to end the war) or former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jeb Bush, in particular, has built this case alongside Vietnam and Iraq veterans who often introduce him at rallies. He may well deploy George W. Bush to say this Monday in North Charleston.

"But a contest between Trump and any Democrat would pit against one another two people who agree that the Middle East was basically stable until the folly of removing Saddam Hussein. It would align Republican voters with what Trump has argued through the campaign -- that the last Republican president was a disaster and his advisers are discredited. ..." 

One establishment pushback line: that Trump is a 9/11 truther. Truthers would disagree: "In interviews since the debate, Trump has repeatedly said that he was referring to a lack of coordination between government institutions and that better 'management' might have stopped the attacks," notes Weigel. "That is simply not what people who doubt the official story of 9/11 believe."

In South Carolina, Trump opponents are sounding a fatalistic note. “The choice between [Trump] and Hillary Clinton would be like the choice of being shot or poisoned. Either way we’re all dead.” 

A protester there flipped Donald Trump the bird today as he was led out of the campaign rally in North Augusta. The Los Angeles Times hed on a Trump voters story earlier in the day had the hand pointed in the other direction: "We're voting with our middle finger," a Trump supporter told the paper.

A new CNN/ORC poll today found Hillary Clinton grabbing 65 percent of South Carolina's black Democratic voters, to 28 percent for Sanders. (On a related note: Clinton followed up her meeting with civil rights leaders with the release of a new plan to end "overly punitive school discipline policies that disproportionately affect people of color.") The breakdown among women was Clinton 60, Sanders 33. Both numbers helped Clinton to an 18 point lead among likely voters: Clinton 56, Sanders 38.

More good news for Clinton: Her campaign says they're seeing a small donor boom, reports Tom Hamburger. "Since the beginning of the year, Hillary Clinton has seen increased contributions from donors giving less than $200 to her campaign, thanks in part, according to campaign figures, to a dramatic increase in people giving online."

New Clinton campaign data reveals a change in the campaign's fundraising model, he says -- a shift from one that relied on large donations last year to one that leans more heavily on small dollar donations in 2016. During the last three months of 2015, Clinton raised just 18 percent of her campaign money via the Web. Last month, more than half was donated online for the first time.

The generation gap we talked yesterday about appeared on the trail today: Here's Eric Garner's daughter, out campaigning for Bernie Sanders. (Ganer's mother is planning to stump for Hillary Clinton.)

Here's Clinton today, on who Al Sharpton might endorse: "My lips are sealed." (It's not just what she said -- it's...seriously, just watch the clip.) (VIDEO)

TRAIL MIX: Bernie Sanders is... not thrilled with Bill Clinton's apparent comparison of the Vermont senator to the tea party. "I do understand -- obviously -- he’s trying to do his best to get his wife to win the nomination. But we should not be making silly remarks," he told Bloomberg's "With All Due Respect." (Of course, Bill Clinton never actually mentioned Sanders by name; he just said that the tea party had won because it would "just tell people what they want to hear" -- and that Democrats were now "rewarding people who tell us things we know they can't do because it pushes our hot button.")

—The latest Clinton theme: Bernie Sanders is a single-issue candidate in a multi-issue world. Today, John Wagner counted 20 issues mentioned by Sanders during a Michigan campaign stop. 

—Jonathan Tasini in the NYDN: 'Superdelegate veto? Hell no: A Bernie Sanders surrogate warns against insiders swaying the nomination' 

—Chelsea Clinton thinks people not eating ugly food is a big problem. So do some other people

—Jon Ralston has more on why "Nevada is no longer a ‘lock’ for Hillary Clinton" (and why the GOP's caucuses there are "a strange animal.") No one knows knows with any certainty which Democrat will win in Nevada, and if they tell you they do, they’re either lying to you or to themselves: "So far, polling in Nevada has been scattered and sketchy... [but] even if we had lots of good polling, it's not clear how informative it would be." It isn't just about the the quality of the polling, or lack thereof: the Democratic caucuses in Nevada operate a lot like Iowa's, "with horse-trading and negotiating built in." There's no way to game all that out in advance.

—Democrats continue to dominate the Grammy spoken word category.


Here's the backdrop for Marco Rubio's rally today in Summerville, S.C., via Philip Rucker.

Rubio's family stars in his new ad... "Family":

The other Rubio ad today: Not quite so warm and fuzzy -- it's a Trey Gowdy endorsement spot titled "Fear" (VIDEO)


(Your guess is as good as ours)

A CAMPAIGN MEME TIMELINE: First came the Jeb tweet.

Variations on the theme emerged.

Here's some backstory from T. Rees Shapiro on the gun itself, which was apparently photographed during a Bush tour of a gun manufacturing plant in South Carolina:

"...the manufacturer of the handgun shown in Bush's picture has a history of its own. While the company is known as FN America, it is actually a subsidiary of FN Herstal, a foreign corporation based in Belgium. And for decades, the company was known as Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre.

"During World War II, the company was requisitioned by the Nazi military and its factories produced thousands of weapons for Axis troops, including pistols carried by Nazi officers and pilots. One model, the Browning-designed Hi-Power, was used by both the Allies and Axis powers during the war, with FN factories manufacturing a version of the popular handgun for the German military.

"But that was in the past. Today, FN Herstal supplies countless arms to the U.S. military, including the popular M4 carbine as well as the M240 machine gun and the MK19 automatic grenade launcher. ..."

The Rubio campaign is accusing Cruz supoprters of using an "underhanded tactic" in the South Carolina primary; where there's smoke -- by way of the Ben Carson, Trump, and Rubio complaints about Cruz team tactics -- they're clearly hoping voters see flames. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz's campaign is dismissing Trump's lawsuit threats. (Rick Tyler to BI: "There is [a] reason 'Trumped up' means phony. He should look hard in the mirror.") 

MORE TRAIL MIX: For paid speeches, Jeb Bush drew less -- and demanded less -- than Hillary Clintonreports Rosalind Helderman. Buried lede: Jeb Bush likes Chardonnay.

#Math! The Cruz tax plan would cost $8.6 trillion, second only to Trump's. 

—Today in "Things You're Supposed To Think In Your Head, But Not Say Out Loud, Ben Carson Edition": Carson told a South Carolina radio station that if a Republican were president, Congress would not put the brakes on the Supreme Court nomination process in the final year of that president's term. He also said the court is now a "political tool." (Meanwhile: Chuck Grassley won't rule out confirmation hearings -- and some leading Democrats are predicting they'll get their Senate vote.)

—Presidential candidates: stock photos are not your friends. The latest to get nabbed for using a foreign country -- this time, CANADA -- to impersonate the United States is Marco Rubio. Callum Borchers says Rubio’s use of foreign imagery isn’t as bad as Donald Trump’s was: he wasn't using the Vancouver skyline to make a political point, the way Trump did with footage of Moroccan refugees. 

—Another billionaire in Rubio’s corner, reports Sean Sullivan -- it's Texas oil investor L.E. Simmons, who was on Romney's national finance committee.

POINT: via both Donald Trump and his team today: Former Sen. Tom Coburn echoes the Trump line on Cruz's trustworthiness, they said.

Q&A TIME: Is 2016 the 'race to the bottom' election? "Conventional wisdom dictates that the presidential race is typically won by the candidate best able to appeal to the collective better angels of the American public, the person who can make us believe that hope and change, for example, is actually possible," says Chris Cillizza. "...In 2016, that bit of conventional wisdom is wrong."

Could a robot run for president in 2020? (This is not a Rubio joke. A fan of IBM's supercomputer "Watson" predicts that within the next four years, there will be machines who want to debate and discuss policy. He also says they wouldn't actually be capable of the job for another eight years.)

Are millennials taking over politics? The important thing isn't just the obvious answer (no), but why that's the answer. Unsettling detail buried deep in the story: The youngest agre group eligible to vote this year was born in 1998. Some of us may or may not still have television sets older than that.

BEYOND THE TRAIL: icymi, Here's what 43 decaying president heads look like. The backstory -- an abandoned open-air museum concept) is sort of interesting. The pictures themselves are very, very interesting. (The damage to the Lincoln head was unintentional -- and very, very eerie.)

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“When I left Springfield, I asked the people to pray for me, I was not a Christian. When I came to Washington, I was not a Christian. When my beloved son Willie died, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg, and there looked over those thousands of white crosses, I then and there consecrated my heart to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus.” -Abraham Lincoln. __________________________________________________ “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” ‭‭(Romans‬ ‭10:9‬) __________________________________________________ Photograph ©@abandonedearth On Assignment #JesusChrist

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Here's another shot:

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“And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.” ‭‭(1 Samuel‬ ‭17:8-10) ____________________________________________________ President busts from the (closed) Presidents Park in Virginia. They stand fifteen to twenty feet in height and are being preserved by Williamsburg's Howard Hankins. For more information please visit the Williamsburg Presidential Museum Project at https://m.facebook.com/presidentsinwilliamsburg/ or see link in bio. Photograph by © @abandonedearth 2016 #AbandonedEarth

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Early voting in the great state of Texas begins...

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Early voting begins in Texas... (Abby Livingston/Texas Tribune)


OFF THE TRAIL: Abandon all hope, Beltway dwellers.

THE NIGHTLY TRAIL: Enjoy your last townhall-free night until Friday. There will be dueling presidential townhalls on both Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday: a Trump-only townhall on MSNBC, and one on CNN featuring half the GOP field. On Thursday: the other half of the Republican field -- including Trump -- will be on CNN, as Clinton and Sanders appear at an MSNBC/Telemundo town hall.

On both nights, all or most of both events will air simultaneously.

Tonight, Trump dials into The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (11:35 p.m. ET)

YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: Donald Trump has, in the past, scored his arrivals and departures to classical sounding tracks like the overture from the movie Air Force One. Today, his staff tweeted a clip of the arrival of "Trump Force One," to which they have added the Ode to Joy, from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. (VIDEO)