THE BIG IDEA, with David Weigel:

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Frank Luntz. “There is no sign of them leaving. He has created or found the magic formula.”

“He” was Donald Trump. “They” were 29 voters from the D.C. metro area who either supported Trump, were considering it, or had once supported Trump and then cooled on the idea. It was not the first Luntz focus group with Trump voters, but over three hours in an Alexandria conference room Wednesday night, he found them hugging their candidate tighter than ever.

The 29 subjects were asked to pick a number between one and 10 to gauge the likelihood that they’d support Trump. At the start of the night, just 10 people said they were at nine or 10. After one hour of mostly negative questions about Trump, 16 said they were that likely to back him. After a barrage of negative ads, the number fell to 15  — and only because an attack on his business record was seen as a potential “killer” in a general election.

But nothing else dented the Republican front-runner. Asked what they liked about Trump, the subjects echoed what he’d said about himself. “He offers things that can’t be bought,” said a middle-aged man named Michael. “He’s not coming from these Monsantos, Kochs or Soros. He doesn’t have any skin he owes to anyone else.”

Asked about Trump’s proposal for a ban on Muslim immigration, 17 of the 29 in the focus group backed it. Several pushed back on the question to say that Trump has only proposed this as a temporary, short-term measure. Several cited the same dubious evidence that Trump does to argue that up to a quarter of Muslims around the world are radicalized.

One big problem for Trump’s opponents: establishment Republicans hold no sway whatsoever with his base. Asked who they’d back in a three-way election between Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton and an independent Donald Trump, 19 of the 29 said they would still back Trump. When Ted Cruz was swapped into the question, 14 stuck with Trump. Only after being asked to imagine a scenario where that vote would ensure a Clinton victory did the support fall off.

There was just as much resilience during the negative ad test. A spot from Jeb Bush’s super PAC Right to Rise, which portrayed Trump and Clinton as ideological soulmates, was judged totally unconvincing — “old news.” A web ad from John Kasich’s campaign, which compared Trump to Adolf Hitler, was viewed as embarrassing for Kasich. Only a commercial with angry ex-Trump employees was seen as damaging, evoking memories of Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss. (Coincidentally, at least one anti-Trump group is developing a spot about workers who were left stranded by Trump business deals.)

Ads – and tweets – that displayed Trump’s most outrageous quotes generally strengthened the group’s support. One super-cut of Trump’s insults of his fellow Republicans had the group in stitches. “What he said about Jeb is what I think — low energy,” said a middle-aged man named Ray. The only Trump “gaffe” that stung was his mockery of reporter Serge Kovaleski, whose physical disability Trump seemed to be imitating as he derided him. “Not his best moment,” said a retiree named Tina. Yet Greg, a young Trump supporter whose confidence rose from 8 to 10 over the course of the night, said the media had used the gaffe only to distract from the candidate’s winning message. A longer story about last night’s focus group will post on later today.

Fresh polls show Trump’s continuing strength after his call for a ban on Muslim travel: 

  • A New York Times national survey finds Trump commanding the support of 35 percent of Republican primary voters, leading his closest competitors, Cruz (16) and Carson (13) by a more than 2-to-1 margin. Key line from the paper’s write-up: “Overall, 24 percent of voters expressed concern and 40 percent fear about what Mr. Trump would do if elected president, whereas 23 percent said they are concerned and 34 percent scared about the possibility of a Clinton presidency.”
  • Fox News was in the field with a poll when Trump announced his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country. “It looks like his comments help him in South Carolina,” the cable channel reports. “Support for Trump increased eight points after his statement — from 30 percent the first two nights vs. 38 percent the last two nights.” The final tabulation puts him in first place at 35 percent among likely GOP voters to 15 percent for second-place Ben Carson. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz tied at 14 percent. From Fox’s write-up: “National security is the most important issue for GOP primary voters in deciding their vote. Trump holds a wide lead among voters who say national security is their top issue. … GOP primary voters think Trump is the Republican most likely to beat Clinton in the general election next year. Some 42 percent feel that way. Next is Rubio at 14 percent.”

Respect must be paid: Trump continued flirting with an independent run last night: “If they don’t treat me with a certain amount of decorum and respect, if they don’t treat me as the front-runner … if the playing field is not level, then certainly all options are open,” he said on CNN, referring to the GOP establishment. “But that’s nothing I want to do…. I’ll know that over a period of a couple months. We’ll go through the primaries. We’ll see what happens, and I’ll make a determination.”

Important reality check – Trump knows exactly what he’s doing. Paul Schwartzman and Jenna Johnson write on today’s front page: “While it may seem like a lurching, chaotic campaign, Trump is, for the most part, a disciplined and methodical candidate, according to a Washington Post review of the businessman’s speeches, interviews and thousands of tweets and retweets over the past six months…. The Post’s analysis found several qualities to Trump’s approach. First is a pattern of experimentation that suggests that he is testing his insults and attacks as he goes along. Like a team of corporate marketers, Trump understands the value of message-testing — but he appears to do it spontaneously, behind the lectern and on live television.… For all his apparent ad-libbing, Trump’s presentation is rife with words he often repeats.”

Apology: Yesterday’s edition included a dead link to Steven Ginsberg and Bob Costa’s interview with Trump over breakfast. It’s still a delicious read, and you can find it here.

HATEFUL RHETORIC HAS CONSEQUENCES. This is a very scary time to be a Muslim in America: 

Thousands of Muslims who have courageously served our country in uniform are struggling to come to grips with the hate that they’re now experiencing stateside: “There are roughly 5,900 U.S. service members who self-identify as Muslims,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports. “Now they are finding a climate that is significantly worse than anything they experienced after the Sept. 11th, 2001, attacks. ‘The rhetoric is definitely different, it’s very alarming,’ said Cpl. Ibrahim Hashi, a Marine who left the service in 2011 and now attends American University in D.C. ‘And I’m concerned for myself and my family’s safety.'”


— Trump just canceled his trip to Jerusalem that was scheduled for over the holidays. “I have decided to postpone my trip to Israel and to schedule my meeting with @Netanyahu at a later date after I become President of the U.S.,” he tweeted. Bibi Netanyahu said yesterday that he would still meet with Trump, even though he disagrees with his idea to ban Muslims.

Congressional negotiators are still trying to hammer out a long-term deal on government spending before Friday’s deadline. Lawmakers will pass a short-term extension until Dec. 16 in order to keep the government open. A vote on a longer-term package could come as early as Monday. Our budget reporter, Kelsey Snell, relays that there are still differences over a host of policy riders that Republicans want to include, from efforts to “roll back some clean air and water act regulations, make changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill and end a 40-year old ban on crude oil exports.” The process is also being hampering by a push to attach extenders for 50 tax breaks that Congress renews annually, with House Democrats demanding more be done for low-income people.

— A federal judge in Texas denied the state’s request to ban Syrian refugees from settling in Dallas, ruling that there is no threat to the public. Meanwhile, the first planeload of the 10,000 Syrian refugees coming to Canada this month is about to land in Toronto, the CBC reports.

— Federal authorities are expected to bring charges against the former neighbor of San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook, who bought two of the guns that were used in the attack, Fox News reports. The FBI said yesterday that it is investigating whether Farook and the neighbor intended to commit an act of terror back in 2012 and then got spooked. FBI director Jim Comey said the bureau has uncovered evidence showing the couple discussing jihad at least two years ago, before they were married. (Adam Goldman and Mark Berman)

— Australian police arrested a 15-year-old and a 20-year-old in a counterterrorism operation. Authorities say they were part of a conspiracy, which included others who are now in jail, by Islamic extremists to plan random killings around Sydney. (BBC)

— Leaders of Syria’s deeply divided opposition groups met in Saudi Arabia to try to unite ahead of likely peace talks next year with President Bashar al-Assad. (Liz Sly)


  1. The man who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic, admitting guilt during a Colorado court hearing, said he did it because he is a “warrior for the babies.” His public defender raised questions about his client’s competence to stand trial. (Denver PostAP)
  2. The Senate passed an education bill that replaces the No Child Left Behind Act 85-12. Jeb and Hillary supported it. Rand and Cruz opposed it. Rubio, who skipped the vote, did not take a position. (Lyndsey Layton)
  3. Alaska’s independent governor, Bill Walker, wants his state to levy its first income tax in 35 years to offset lost revenue from plunging oil prices. (Alaska Dispatch News)
  4. The first Baltimore police officer to stand trial for Freddie Gray’s death said on the witness stand that he didn’t buckle Gray into a seat belt because he feared it would let him get too close to his gun, that Gray gave no indication to him that he needed a medic and that Gray had a history of faking injuries. (Matt Zapotosky, Justin Jouvenal and Rachel Weiner)
  5. Saudi Arabian women will both get to vote and be on the ballot for the first time in municipal elections this Saturday. More than 900 female candidates are running. It’s an exciting, if incremental, step forward for the ultraconservative kingdom. (Brian Murphy in Riyadh)
  6. Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee accused the White House of using Bowe Bergdahl’s prisoner swap with five Taliban members as a ploy for President Obama to shut down Guantanamo Bay. (Missy Ryan)
  7. The Taliban killed more than 50 people in a 20-hour assault at an airport in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Sayed Salahuddin)
  8. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter testified that the U.S. is prepared to send attack helicopters and advisers to help the Iraqi army retake Ramadi. (Karoun Demirjian)
  9. John Kerry announced that the U.S. will give $800 million to help poor countries struggling with climate change, double our current contribution, in a bid to make headway at the U.N. talks in Paris. (Joby Warrick and Chris Mooney)
  10. Kim Jong Un claimed that North Korea has developed a hydrogen bomb, but experts think he’s bluffing. (Reuters)
  11. Lynchburg University will allow its students to carry guns in their dormitories, with president Jerry Fallwell Jr. saying it will help deter shootings on campus. (Nick Anderson)
  12. Apple will release a new version of the Apple Watch and iPhone in March. (9to5 Mac)
  13. United Airlines is bringing back free snacks for all North American and Latin American flights. (ABC News)
  14. Gun rights groups will stage “a mock mass shooting” near the University of Texas at Austin this weekend. (Austin American-Statesman)
  15. The number of American children diagnosed with ADHD jumped 43 percent in the last decade. More than one in 10 kids is now being diagnosed with the disorder. (AFP)


  1. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that it won’t charge former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray with any crimes in connection to the illegal financing of his 2010 campaign. (Keith Alexander, Spencer S. Hsu and Ann E. Marimow)
  2. In New Hampshire, Bernie holds a 10-point lead over Hillary (50-40) in a CNN/WMUR poll. In South Carolina, Hillary has a massive 44-point lead among likely primary voters (65-21) in the latest Fox News poll.
  3. Ben Carson’s new health care plan calls for raising the Medicare eligibility age to 70. (Jose A. DelReal)
  4. Protesters marched through Chicago’s streets demanding Rahm Emanuel resign as mayor over his botched handling of the police in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. (Chicago Tribune)
  5. Paul Ryan will meet with Israeli President Rueven Rivlin at the Capitol, his first sitdown with a foreign leader since ascending to the Speakership. (Politico)
  6. Argentina’s new pro-market, pro-U.S. president, Mauricio Macri, is being sworn in today, ending the 12-year rule of President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband, who cozied up to Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. (AP)


— Jeb Bush’s super PAC burning through money with little to show for it,” by Matea Gold: “The group, Right to Rise, has already gone through nearly half of the $103 million it brought in during the first half of the year, records show. It raised only about $13 million in the five months that followed, according to a person familiar with the figure. … In all, Right to Rise has reported spending more than $49 million so far to bolster Bush’s White House run, according to campaign finance filings. The total — which does not include any money the group has spent on staff, polling and other operating expenses since the end of June — is close to five times more than what any other candidate-aligned super PAC has reported spent this year.”

— “Supreme Court seems divided over University of Texas race-conscious admissions,” by Robert Barnes: “The Supreme Court on Wednesday once again displayed its deep divide over when race can be considered in college admission decisions, in a contentious hour and a half of oral arguments about a limited race-conscious plan used by the University of Texas at Austin. There seemed little doubt that the decision would come down to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. He has never voted to uphold an affirmative action program but seemed less convinced than the court’s other conservatives that he had all the information needed to pass judgment on UT’s program. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., for instance, questioned whether the small benefit that the university derived was worth ‘the extraordinary power to consider race.’ … Justice Antonin Scalia questioned the benefit of trying to include more minority students at the nation’s selective universities. ‘Really competent blacks’ would win admission without special considerations, he said.”

A NEW MILESTONE IN THE MIDDLE CLASS SQUEEZE: The number of households that are middle class is now matched by those that are either upper or lower income. Michael Fletcher on a new Pew study: “The nation has arrived at this tipping point in part because more Americans are moving up the income ladder. In 1971, just 14 percent of Americans were in the upper income tier, which Pew defined as more than double the nation’s median income. Now, 21 percent of American households are in that upper earning category — at least $126,000 a year for a three-person household. But at the same time, many Americans are falling behind, helping to deplete the middle. In 1971, a quarter of American households fell into the bottom earning tier, which Pew defined as less than two-thirds of the nation’s median income. By 2015, 29 percent of American households fell into that category, which for a three-person household meant they earned $42,000 a year or less. Overall, the share of Americans living in middle-class households has declined from 61 percent in 1971 to 50 percent.” Story here. Report here.


— Pictures of the day:

President Obama shares a laugh with House Speaker Paul Ryan during a ceremony to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

Women of the Congressional Black Caucus posed around the Sojourner Truth bust in Emancipation Hall:

Yesterday was The Post’s final day at our 15th Street building. By the evening, everyone (including Executive Editor Marty Baron) was scribbling on the walls:

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who spoke at a “decommissioning ceremony,” also joined in:

Filmmakers behind the documentary “Racing Extinction” projected images of wildlife onto the face of St. Peter’s Basilica:

— Tweets of the day:

Time Magazine named German leader Angela Merkel as Person of the Year. She beat out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Trump.

Trump was predictably upset that he got passed over:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), or his social media coordinator, is getting clever with Bitmoji:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) posted a great picture of last night’s vivid sunset:

— Instagrams of the day:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) spotted an unusual white squirrel on the Capitol grounds:

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) shared a photo of her office dogs, Gizmo and Storm, dressed in their holiday sweaters:

A woman caught a picture of Bernie Sanders taking the train back to D.C. with coffee that was far too hot. It went viral on Reddit:


— Bloomberg, “Joe Biden: I made the right decison,” by Margaret Talev: Biden says he wants to honor Beau by spending much of his last year in office and his post-political life making cancer research and treatment a bigger national priority. Right now, he’s trying to learn the science, the finance, the politics and complexities of a disease that is dreaded and yet ubiquitous. He hopes it will soon be treatable with an arsenal of new discoveries. He meets with cancer experts. He attends conferences. He carries his red folder with him to Ukraine and back.
‘What I’m doing now, I’m meeting with every center of power within the cancer world. I’m meeting with billionaires who have set up foundations. I’m meeting with everyone from the Mayo Clinic to one of the largest outfits that took care of Beau,’ he said, as well as ‘all the researchers.’ …He admits he hasn’t let the 2016 election go, sometimes measuring the candidates’ actions and statements against what he would have done.”

— Wall Street Journal, “Fed plans to signal gradual, cautious path on rate hikes,” by Jon Hilsenrath: “Traders in futures markets are putting an 85% probability of the Fed raising its benchmark federal-funds rate by a quarter-percentage point from near zero when the two-day meeting concludes Dec. 16. Officials, including Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen, have encouraged this expectation, in light of the jobless rate falling to 5%. … Fed officials want to signal they expect to proceed slowly and cautiously before raising rates again. Yellen has emphasized in recent speeches that the economy won’t be able to bear very high interest rates in the years ahead. … Minutes of the Fed’s October policy meeting showed most officials agreed ‘a gradual increase in the target range for the federal-funds rate will likely be appropriate.’  Some language to that effect could find its way into the Fed’s policy statement.”

— New York Times, “Marco Rubio quietly undermines Affordable Care Act,” by Robert Pear: “Mr. Rubio’s efforts against the so-called risk corridor provision of the health law have hardly risen to the forefront of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but his plan limiting how much the government can spend to protect insurance companies against financial losses has shown the effectiveness of quiet legislative sabotage. … The risk corridors were intended to help some insurance companies if they ended up with too many new sick people on their rolls and too little cash from premiums to cover their medical bills in the first three years under the health law. But because of Mr. Rubio’s efforts, the administration says it will pay only 13 percent of what insurance companies were expecting to receive this year. The payments were supposed to help insurers cope with the risks they assumed when they decided to participate in the law’s new insurance marketplaces. Mr. Rubio’s talking point is bumper-sticker ready. The payments, he says, are ‘a taxpayer-funded bailout for insurance companies.'”

— Politico, “Christians press to call ISIL violence ‘genocide‘” by Nahal Toosi: “Christian leaders are pressing the Obama administration to declare that the Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians, a designation that could increase pressure on the president to take action to protect victims of the terrorist group.
The State Department has spent months debating whether to label the Islamic State’s murderous rampage against members of a different religious minority, the Yazidis, a ‘genocide,’ a designation that carries legal, political and historical implications and which the U.S. has rarely invoked. But now, with a decision expected soon, the administration faces growing pressure to include Iraqi and Syrian Christians under that same heavy label. … Around 30 Christian and other leaders, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., wrote to John Kerry last week to request a meeting to make the case that Christians in territory controlled by the Islamic State face genocide.”

Remarkable stat: “Nineteen potential judges, a half-dozen ambassadors, a terrorism financing specialist and two high-ranking State Department nominees are awaiting confirmation votes on the Senate floor, a backlog that has this GOP-led Senate on track for the lowest number of confirmations in 30 years,” Politico’s Burgess Everett reports. “The Senate Banking Committee hasn’t moved on a single nominee all year.”

— People Magazine asked all the presidential candidates to talk about their GUILTY PLEASURES:

  • Clinton’s favorite guilty pleasure TV show is “Madam Secretary.” “Sometimes us ex-diplomats need our fix!” she said. Her favorite thing to eat on the campaign trail is jalapenos. “I started during the ’92 campaign and I believe they keep me going,” she said.
  • Rubio loves to watch “The Walking Dead” and snack on chicken quesadillas.
  • Trump’s TV show is “Saturday Night Live” when he hosts. “They got great ratings,” he said. “The best ratings in years. It was a terrific success. I enjoyed doing it. It was 50 percent more than Hillary [Clinton]’s show. That makes me feel good.”
  • Mike Huckabee likes to watch Bill Maher.


Scalia: Affirmative action sends African Americans to schools too advanced for them. From TPM: “In the oral arguments Wednesday for a Supreme Court affirmative action case, Justice Antonin Scalia—a well known critic of affirmative action—suggested that the policy was hurting minority students by sending them to schools too academically challenging for them. Referencing an unidentified amicus brief, Scalia said that there were people who would contend that ‘it does not benefit African-Americans to — to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well.'” More on the brief he was referring to here.


Pew: Muslims are “fastest-growing religious group.” From the Washington Examiner: “Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world, with 23 percent of the global population, and will take over Christianity as the top religion by the end of the century, according to the Pew Research Center. A review of Muslims by the nonpartisan organization also found that Muslims comprise a growing share of the immigrants granted permanent residency in the United States each year. Their share doubled from 5 percent of the annual permanent residency flow in 1992 to 10 percent in 2012, representing 100,000 Muslim immigrants granted permanent residency in the U.S. each year.”


— What’s happening today on the campaign trail: Donald Trump appears at an event in Portsmouth, N.H. Hillary Clinton is a guest on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” Ted Cruz speaks about national security at the Heritage Foundation. Marco Rubio speaks in West Des Moines, Ames and Iowa City, Iowa. Ben Carson holds a fundraiser in Chicago and a rally in Fort Wayne, Ind. John Kasich attends events in Manchester and a town hall in Merrimack and Jeb Bush holds a town hall in Milford, N.H. 

— On the Hill: The Senate meets at 9:30 a.m. The House meets at 12 p.m. for legislative business and considers seven bills under suspension of the rules.

— At the White House: President Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I had a Latin American affair before I got a degree in it,” Jeb Bush said in New Hampshire last night, a reference to his Latin American studies degree from the University of Texas that came after meeting his future wife, Columba, during a high school trip to Mexico. (Ed O’Keefe)


— “Clouds are likely to have the upper-hand through at least mid-morning, but breaks should appear by early afternoon for periods of mostly to partly sunny skies into the evening,” the Capital Weather Gang forecasts. “This should allow highs to pop into the mid to upper 50s — maybe the lower 60s if we get enough sunshine. A lack of any significant breeze makes it even more inviting to be out and about.”

Bigger picture, the continental U.S. just ended its warmest autumn on record. September through November saw “record and near-record warmth” almost everywhere, NOAA announced.

The Houston Rockets beat the Wizards 109-103, dropping Washington’s home record to 4-7.  (Jorge Castillo)

The Nationals signed relief pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, who spent the last four years with the San Francisco Giants. (James Wagner)

— D.C. police have made arrests in a dozen homicide cases over the past month. “The announcement comes in the final days of a year in which homicides have soared to numbers not seen since 2008. As of Wednesday, 152 people have been killed in the District, up from 96 at this time in 2014, a 58 percent increase,” per Peter Hermann.

Metro is investigating a man’s complaint that his partner was physically attacked and called anti-gay slurs aboard a Green Line train in November. (Faiz Siddiqui)

You no longer have to go west of Rock Creek Parkway to find a million-dollar home. Neighborhoods in the city’s central corridor have seen home values increase by more than 275 percent over the past 15 years. (The city’s central corridor is considered to be neighborhoods located between Rock Creek Park and the Anacostia River.) “Trinidad, a neighborhood in Northeast near the H Street Corridor, saw the biggest jump, with the median sale home prices jumping 276 percent since 2001,” Perry Stein reports. “LeDroit Park — a neighborhood in Northwest between Shaw and Bloomingdale — Shaw and Columbia Heights also saw big bumps in home values: 256, 230 and 224 percent respectively.” Check out some cool heat maps on how much property values have gone up in different neighborhoods here.


Miss Piggy visited the White House:

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked Gen. Paul Selva during a hearing yesterday, “Can you assure the boys and girls of this country that NORAD and the Air Force is fully prepared to track Santa once again?” The vice chairman of the Joint Chief replied: “I don’t have a complete intelligence report, senator, but I understand that the reindeer have been in fact fed their quantity of oats and are prepared for the delivery of all of those gifts to those who have been nice and not naughty,” said the vice chair of the Joint Chiefs. Watch the exchange:

A marching band visited The Washington Post to mark our last day in the old building:

Jeb Bush answered a question from a fifth-grader:

Check out this orangutan’s reaction when he observes a magic trick:

Frank Sinatra would turn 100 on Saturday. George F. Will remembers in his column today.

Hilariously awkward: A man introducing Marco Rubio at a rally riffed on what a mistake it was to put a first-term senator in the White House. He was talking about Obama and seemed oblivious to the fact he was implicitly damning the guy he was bringing on stage. An ABC embed caught it on camera.