Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, a gnawing sense of dread that has helped lift Donald J. Trump to a new high among Republican primary voters, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll…

Mr. Trump, who has called for monitoring mosques and even barring Muslims from entering the United States, has been the clear beneficiary of this moment of deep anxiety. More than four in 10 Republican primary voters say the quality most important to them in a candidate is strong leadership, which eclipses honesty, empathy, experience or electability. These voters heavily favor Mr. Trump…

“He’ll keep a sharp eye on those Muslims,” Bettina Norden, 60, a farmer in Springfield, Ore., said in a follow-up interview. “He’ll keep the Patriot Act together. He’ll watch immigration. Stop the Muslims from immigrating.”

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Mrs. Clinton also strove to recognize something stirring in the electorate that Mr. Trump had clearly tapped into. “It’s O.K., it’s O.K. to be afraid,” she said. “When bad things happen, it does cause anxiety and fear,” she added. “But then you pull yourself together and, especially, if you want to be a leader of our country and you say, ‘O.K., what are we going to do about it? How are we going to be prepared?’”…

[S]ince Mr. Trump’s response to the Dec. 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., Mrs. Clinton and her campaign, confounded by his continued strength in the polls, have had to rethink how they handle Mr. Trump and what his candidacy, and the anger in the electorate that has fueled it, means for her chances in 2016…

Bennie Stickley, a 75-year-old in Gilbertville, Iowa, who retired from a John Deere factory, said he was supporting Mrs. Clinton but agrees with Mr. Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims. “I’m for him on that,” he said. “We shouldn’t be letting those people into the country,” he added. “That deal in California should have never happened.”…

“The elite political community has been struggling to figure out how to deal with him because they don’t fundamentally understand the phenomenon,” said David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama. “He’s speaking to something that they’re just getting their arms around.”

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Donald Trump is renewing his threats to run as a third-party candidate — and it looks like he could keep top Republican officials sweating a potential independent bid all the way through next summer.

As backlash grows over Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, he is apparently reconsidering his September pledge not to run as an independent should he lose the GOP nomination.

Trump tweeted a poll citing the support he would garner as an independent. On “Live With Kelly and Michael,” he said that he would consider splitting from the Republican Party if he wasn’t “treated fairly.”

“The people, the Republican Party, have been — the people — have been phenomenal,” Trump said. “The party — I’ll let you know about that.”

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Over three hours Wednesday in Alexandria, Luntz lobbed dozens of Trump-seeking missiles. All 29 in the group had voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. All either supported Trump or had supported him earlier in the year. To Luntz’s amazement, hearing negative information about the candidate made the voters, only a few of whom gave their full names to the press, hug the candidate tighter…

Only eight members of the group disagreed with Trump’s proposal for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. One of the holdouts said he was hosting an exchange student from Saudi Arabia and did business in that country but could disagree with Trump about Muslims and vote for him anyway…

Luntz moved on to questions about Trump’s claim that “thousands of Muslims” had “cheered the collapse of the World Trade Center.” Almost no one doubted Trump; more than a few people wondered why this was controversial…

All that really mattered was that the Republican establishment had failed, badly, and that Trump was offering a way out. Asked whom they would back in a three-way election with Rubio, Hillary Clinton and an independent Trump on the ballot, just 10 said they would support the Republican nominee. When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was swapped into the question, a bare majority — 15 — said they would stick with the party.

“The Republican establishment just had a heart attack,” Luntz said.

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Three candidates for the Republican nomination have broken away from the rest of the pack, and two of them — businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — give the GOP establishment nightmares

Trump’s comments calling for a “shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. have been condemned by many Republicans, as well as Democrats and unaligned observers. Included among his critics are Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who both lambasted him on Tuesday. The condemnation of a party’s presidential front-runner by that same party’s most senior members of Congress is without precedent, at least in modern times…

“Donald Trump says he might make a third-party run if he is mistreated by the party, but Donald Trump has severely mistreated the Republican Party with his outlandish and over-the-top statements against Hispanics, women and now against religion in terms of Muslims,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP consultant and former aide to House and Senate Republican leaders.

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Evangelical leaders are signaling an urgency to find someone other than businessman Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination, releasing endorsements and talking behind closed doors…

“It’s suddenly becoming serious for a lot of people,” Moore said. “I know evangelicals and others who laughed along the Trump clownishness in the summer and into the fall who are now taking this seriously because they can’t believe this is happening in our country.”…

Many leaders believe Cruz has a chance to beat Trump, since he has raised the most money after former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Burress said leaders are especially eager to find a way to defeat Trump.

“He is scary. He’ll lead us into World War III in a heartbeat,” Burress said. “He thinks he’s such a great negotiator, but he’s a bully.”

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As hate group monitors at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League warn that Trump’s rhetoric is conducive to anti-Muslim violence, white nationalist leaders are capitalizing on his candidacy to invigorate and expand their movement.

“Demoralization has been the biggest enemy and Trump is changing all that,” said Stormfront founder Don Black, who reports additional listeners and call volume to his phone-in radio show, in addition to the site’s traffic bump. Black predicts that the white nationalist forces set in motion by Trump will be a legacy that outlives the businessman’s political career. “He’s certainly creating a movement that will continue independently of him even if he does fold at some point.”…

Black of Stormfront said Trump’s rhetoric has been a boon to white nationalists. “He has sparked an insurgency and I don’t think it’s going to go away,” he told POLITICO of Trump.

Black, who said his site receives a million unique visitors a month, said Trump has helped drive a steady increase in traffic in recent months – including 30-40 percent spikes when the businessman makes news on immigration or Muslims – that is compelling him to upgrade his servers.

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Donald J. Trump occupies his strongest position yet in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, yet nearly two-thirds of American voters say they are concerned or frightened about the prospect of a Trump presidency, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News nationwide poll…

Over all, 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. Not surprisingly, voters were sharply divided along partisan lines.

While Republican voters were most likely to say they were excited (24 percent) or optimistic (41 percent), a full one-third of Republicans say they are concerned or scared about Mr. Trump. Mrs. Clinton’s base views her potential presidency more favorably than does Mr. Trump’s. Twenty-two percent of Democratic voters are excited and 54 percent are optimistic, while only 23 percent said they were concerned or scared.

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Paraphrasing Dole’s comments about Cruz, Graham applied it to Trump.

“If Donald Trump is the nominee, I’m liable to oversleep [on election] day,” he said. “That goes for me, too.”…

“I’ve called him every name I know to call him,” Graham said, “from race baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. I’m running out of adjectives.

“Do I want to buy a ticket on the Titanic? No. Do I believe that Donald Trump will get his clock cleaned by Hillary Clinton? Yes…

“I’m trying to be a good Republican and even a better American,” Graham said, insisting that Trump will not be the nominee. “He’s not a Republican.”

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A number of Trump’s enablers in the conservative media firmament (some of whom loudly expressed contempt for him not long ago) are caught up in the same sort of feedback loop they routinely ridicule when it exists on the Left or within the GOP establishment. Here’s how the coy game has worked: When Trump is right, they praise him. Fine. When Trump is factually wrong, while making an argument that may contain a “larger truth,” they justify his inaccuracies. When Trump lies, they deflect and excuse. And when Trump does something indefensible, they side-step the substance, resorting to marveling at how masterful he is at “driving a narrative,” playing the media, and aggravating all the ‘right’ people. Sure, he may be a sloppy, impulsive, non-conservative ignoramus on actual policy, but at least “he fights” in a manner that gratifies our audience’s political id; plus, “without him, we wouldn’t even be talking about [fill in the blank]!” There’s never an explicit endorsement, mind you, just loads of adulation. And airtime…

I, for one, harbor no secret desire to ingratiate myself with the Ruling Class. I couldn’t care less if media elites disdain my existence or sneer at my beliefs as the stuff of antediluvian knuckle-draggers. I refuse to comply with the Left’s insipid, cynical identity politics regulations. I’m not a dogmatic conservative on every issue, but I lean decidedly and transparently to the right, without apology. I regularly critique Trump not as a means of signaling to the Left that I’m a “sensible conservative” or whatever, though I do strive to be sensible. I do it because I sincerely believe Trump lacks the character, temperament, mastery of issues, and ideological underpinnings to be a viable general election nominee against a dishonest Statist who must be beaten. If I’m proven wrong on that count, I’m convinced he would not preside over an effective or conservative presidency, for the same reasons. Bluntly, I view the man who currently leads the contest to carry my worldview’s flag into political battle as a net threat, not a net asset, to that worldview.

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But in Trump, liberals have finally found a Republican candidate who embodies everything they’ve been saying about the party’s voters all along

His life has been a reality show since before reality TV formally existed. His campaign has been more about flash than substance. He hasn’t waded too deeply into policy beyond provocative statements and boasts that every national and international problem can be cured by his sheer awesomeness. To the extent that he has outlined a policy vision, it’s been incoherent and largely unworkable…

Republicans and conservatives dread the idea of liberals, for years, being able to throw Trump back in their faces every time they explain that conservatism is really about reforming and shrinking the federal government so its size and scope is closer to its constitutionally limited role. The idea of Trump as the nominee will overpower polling evidence that his support is not coming from ideological conservatives.

Should Trump lose Iowa and collapse thereafter, his foray into presidential politics will likely end up being more associated in the public consciousness with his brand and ongoing celebrity saga than with the Republican Party. But should Trump start winning primaries and eventually capture the nomination, he will do lasting damage to the image of Republicans and conservatives.

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