Jonathan Chait writes today:

Religious Right Now Judgment-Free, Thanks to Donald Trump

Yeah, yeah, I know. They support Trump even though he's obviously not religious. Been there, heard it before.

But wait! Chait points to a new PRRI survey that's genuinely intriguing. It turns out that over the past five years, pretty much all religious groups have steadily given up on the idea of holding politicians accountable for their personal morality. However, the biggest change by far has come from white evangelicals. In 2011, they were the least willing to accept personal lapses. Today, they're the most accepting.

Is this purely political? In 2011, after all, their touchstone was a liberal Democratic president. In 2016 their touchstone is a conservative Republican presidential candidate. Maybe their willingness to forgive moral lapses is purely transactional: they forgive conservatives but not liberals. There's considerable evidence to back this up if you look at congressional races.

Still, Catholics and mainline Protestants have also moved in the same direction. The religiously unaffiliated have stayed about where they were. Are Christians just steadily abandoning the whole idea that personal morality matters in public life?

Maybe, but I think there may be an alternative explanation. I suspect that a lot of respondents interpret "personal" to mean "sexual." If that's the case, this survey may show something much narrower: that even conservative Christians are loosening up on the sexual front. If "personal immorality" largely conjures images of divorce and premarital sex and gay marriage and so forth, then this survey result just means they don't care about that stuff so much anymore. Is it possible the culture wars have moved on?

As we all idly wait for the debate to start, here's an interesting question related to my previous post. I noted that "no matter how personally or politically destructive it is, Donald Trump is flatly unable to ignore an attack from anyone of influence." Nobody disputes this as a general proposition, but several people pointed out to me that there have been a few folks who attacked Trump and avoided return fire. Michelle Obama is one. Mark Cuban is another. Warren Buffett is a third—and Trump even publicly acknowledged he planned to leave Buffett alone. "There's no counter-punch," he said.

There aren't a lot of examples of this, and I suppose you could say that even Donald Trump doesn't have enough hours in the day to attack everyone who's been nasty to him. But these are all big names, of the kind that he'd normally respond to. So what stopped him? It's not gender: he attacks both men and women. It's not power: he attacks plenty of powerful people. It's not money: he's taken on Michael Bloomberg and Carlos Slim.

So what's the deal? How does that feverish brain of his decide who not to attack? Is it popularity? Maybe he's careful to only counterattack people who aren't especially popular. Ideas?

There are lots of theories about what truly drives Donald Trump, but with 20 days to go before Election Day, I think my colleague David Corn finally nails the single most most important trait that motivates Trump's behavior:

Revenge—it's a big part of Trump's life. Following the first presidential debate, he spent days of valuable campaign time (and hours of valuable sleep time) slamming Alicia Machado....Rosie O'Donnell....Judge Gonzalo Curiel....Khizr and Ghazala Khan....Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly.....Gov. John Kasich....Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco.

Why all the insults, bullying, and grudge matches? There is a reason. Trump fervently believes in retaliation. How do we know? Because he has said so numerous times that he is driven by revenge and that it is a basic tool to use in business. He is obsessed with payback.

Pretty much everything else flows from this. The bullying is always in service of revenge. The narcissism is a way of elevating himself above his adversaries. The dominance games are always aimed at real and perceived enemies.

But there's a flip side to this: Anyone who is nice to Donald Trump is a great guy. The best. One of the smartest people you'll ever meet. And this can flip in a minute. This explains why he was inexplicably pleasant to so many of his primary opponents for so long: they hadn't attacked him. Once they did, though, the gloves were off. Ditto for Vladimir Putin. As long as Putin is personally nice to him, Trump is almost literally incapable of attacking him. This will change the moment Putin says anything even mildly derogatory about Trump.

There are two ways this plays out. The first is obvious: it's aimed at people Trump needs revenge on. The second is less obvious: it's aimed at people and things that are ipso facto enemies of the United States. This includes Mexico, China, ISIS, and so on. It doesn't include the Syrian regime, because apparently Trump doesn't consider them a threat. Ditto for Russia, I suppose.

Lots of people are obsessed with scorched-earth retribution against anyone or anything that attacks them. The weird thing about Trump is that it seems to be almost hardwired. No matter how little sense it makes to play nice with, say, Vladimir Putin, Trump simply can't attack until Putin attacks him first. Likewise, no matter how personally or politically destructive it is, Trump is flatly unable to ignore an attack from anyone of influence. It's as if he has a special revenge neuron in his brain, and it flips back and forth and forces him to attack regardless of anything else. It's as automatic for him as jerking your knee is for you when a doctor taps it with a hammer. It's not something that's under Trump's conscious control.

Needless to say, this is a big part of his appeal. Lots of people—and conservatives especially—are driven by showy displays of in-group loyalty, and that includes lashing out at anyone who criticizes the group. This includes personal attacks, attacks on family, attacks on friends, attacks on religion, attacks on race, attacks on country, or anything else they identify with. And whatever else you can say about him, Donald Trump is definitely not a guy who will turn the other cheek. That's what Trump's base likes most about him.

UPDATE: Apparently even Newt Gingrich agrees:

The former House speaker and top Trump surrogate told the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker that the Republican nominee loses his cool in response to “anything which attacks his own sense of integrity or his own sense of respectability, and he reacts very intensely, almost uncontrollably, to those kinds of situations.”

....“There’s also a part of his personality that sometimes gets involved in petty things that make no sense, and I think that that’s what I was talking about when I talk about there’s a big Trump and a little Trump,” Gingrich said.

Actually, big Trump and little Trump have the same personality. They just express it at different targets. Gingrich doesn't see this because he's basically big Trump himself when it comes to politics.

Some of you may have heard that James O'Keefe is back with yet another hidden camera bombshell. It shows a couple of Democratic operatives—Robert Creamer and Scott Foval—allegedly boasting about disrupting Trump rallies and committing voter fraud. O'Keefe's record on this stuff is dicey enough that I'm not willing to waste any time with it myself, but here is Dave Weigel's summary:

For now, that's my take too. The video is heavily edited, and O'Keefe has refused to release the raw footage. I think we can all guess what that means.

Happy birthday to me! I'm 58 today. I plan to celebrate by liveblogging tonight's debate, which begins at 9 pm Eastern. My prediction: Donald Trump will show up to the debate bald as an egg. Like Lex Luthor before him, he will then embark on a life of crime and revenge aimed at Hillary Clinton, who he blames for destroying his hair because she was jealous of his genius.

Well, why not? It makes as much sense as anything else he's done.

Yesterday, the "quid pro quo" that totally should have landed Hillary Clinton in a Supermax for life was all the rage in Trumpian circles. J'accuse! She had one of her minions try to pressure the FBI into declassifying an embarrassing email! Today, Matt Zapotosky interviews FBI official Brian McCauley to get his take on his conversation with State Department official Patrick Kennedy last year. It started when Kennedy called him:

“He said, ‘Brian. Pat Kennedy. I need a favor,’ ” McCauley recalled in an interview Tuesday. “I said, ‘Good, I need a favor. I need our people back in Baghdad.” Then Kennedy, a longtime State Department official, explained what he wanted in return: “There’s an email. I don’t believe it has to be classified.”

....In an hour-long interview with The Washington Post, his first public comments on the matter, McCauley acknowledged that he offered to do a favor in exchange for another favor, but before he had any inkling of what Kennedy wanted....McCauley [] said he asked Kennedy to send him the email in question and then inquired with another bureau official about it....McCauley said that when he learned the missive concerned the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, he told Kennedy he could not help him.

“I said, ‘Absolutely not, I can’t help you,’ and he took that, and it was fine,” said McCauley.

Is this really how things went down? There's no telling. Obviously McCauley has an incentive to make this conversation sound routine and harmless. That said, McCauley's account is the only one we have, and it sounds perfectly plausible. This is how people talk.

What's more, it also sounds as if the FBI took another look at the email, turned down Kennedy's request, and that was that. There was no pressure and no further calls about it. Nor is there any evidence that Hillary Clinton or any of her staffers had anything at all to do with this.

This is what passes for a scandal in Trumpland. It's also what passes for a scandal in Republicanland these days. Is it any wonder that the public never took seriously Solyndra or Fast & Furious or IRSgate or Benghazi or any of the other manufactured conservative outrages of the past eight years? You can't keep crying wolf forever. Eventually everyone but the true believers just tunes you out.

Donald Trump's response to the tsunami of women saying he groped or attacked them is to flatly call them liars. The problem with this strategy is that it motivates his victims to defend themselves, thus keeping the stories in the news even longer.

Take Natasha Stoynoff, the People writer who accused Trump of attacking her after a photo shoot at Mar-a-Lago in 2005. Trump's response? "She lies! Look at her, I don't think so." As a result, this week People is running a second story quoting six colleagues and friends who have corroborated Stoynoff's account. That's 3 million readers who will see this story again, plus another gazillion or so who will see it from the inevitable follow-up on every gossip show and website in the country. And this helps Trump how?

If you read to the very end, Stoynoff gets in the final dig:

Stoynoff admits there’s a chance Trump simply pushed her own incident from his mind. “It’s possible he just doesn’t remember it,” Stoynoff says. “It was over 10 years ago and I assume I am one of many, many women.

In other news 21 days before we go to the polls, President Obama took on Donald Trump over his repeated remarks about the election being rigged:

Obama accused Trump of “whining before the game is even over” and described Trump’s remarks as “unprecedented.”

“I have never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place,” Obama said....The president, clearly troubled by Trump’s claims of a fixed election, quickly decided not to hold back. He described Trump’s allegations as a threat to American democracy and to the “integrity and trust” of the country’s civic institutions.

And it's not just Obama. Even Republicans are getting spooked by Trump's talk:

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former Oklahoma secretary of state, said he is worried about the alarm bells that Trump is ringing. “I just don’t believe there is any risk of massive voter fraud in the elections,” Cole said. “...It does concern me, because you’ve got a national platform running for president, and you delegitimize the process by which presidents are chosen when you raise doubts.

GOP leaders, who are fighting to preserve a fragile Senate majority and hold their wider advantage in the House, worry that Trump’s attacks could cast doubt on wins by other Republicans. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Republican, declined through a spokeswoman to be interviewed. In a statement, his office said, “Security during elections and encouraging 100% voter participation in Florida” are Detzner’s “top priorities.”

And of course, Mike Pence himself repudiated his own running mate, saying on Sunday, "We will absolutely accept the result of the election." I sure hope so. It would be quite a spectacle if the vice presidential candidate conceded on Election Night but the presidential candidate didn't.

A friend emails:

I'm curious. The term "dumpster fire" has been thrown around a lot throughout this campaign, particularly as an unflattering description of the Trump campaign. Before this year, I have never heard this phrase used about anything or anybody. Am I just getting old and un-cool? Has the term been out there for awhile and I just haven't noticed? Or, maybe it's just a regional thing and dumpster fires are just not as common in Deputy Dawg-land as they are in, say, New York City.

Please help me out here. Where did this term come from?

I have good news: my friend is undoubtedly getting old and uncool, but that's not why he's confused. It really is a fairly new term of derision. Claire Fallon wrote an immensely long investigation of this topic a few months ago at the Huffington Post. There are two takeaways:

First, the word dumpster was originally trademarked by its inventor, a guy named George Dempster. Who knew? But it's now a generic noun.

Second, aside from its use in local news reports to describe actual dumpsters actually catching fire—a surprisingly frequent occurrence—Fallon figures that its origins as a put-down come from the sports world:

Linguist Mark Liberman, who works at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a recent blog post, “A few years ago, I noticed hosts and callers on sports talk radio using the phrase ‘dumpster fire’ as a metaphor for chaotically bad situations.”...Another source, Mike Wise’s colleague Liz Drabick, agrees. When I spoke to Drabick on the phone, she remembered, “It definitely became a sports talk radio catchall phrase, I want to say around 2010, 2011.”...“I’m almost loathe to admit this,” she said, “because it’s not the same personality that I enjoy now, but it was definitely the Herd. It was Colin Cowherd.”

....Some more clues point to Cowherd as the popularizer, if not the coiner: a 2008 blog post by Joel Anderson, now a Buzzfeed reporter, opined, “to borrow a phrase from Colin Cowherd, McCain is turning into a dumpster fire right before our eyes.” In September 2008, an SBNation Syracuse blog quoted him slamming the college town like so: “That place is a dumpster-fire. It should be noted, one of the least-attractive college campus in the country [sic].”

It turns out there are a few earlier uses of dumpster fire, but they're scattered and never had any influence. It was, apparently, Colin Cowherd, circa 2008-11, who turned it into a phrase du jour. Then, earlier this year, the now-iconic GIF of a dumpster fire became an internet meme, and that was that. It fit the Trump campaign so perfectly that it made the leap into the mainstream.

Today brings bad news, good news, and more good news. On the bad news front, it's the second anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Boo! On the good news front, it's been two years and I'm still alive and kicking. On the more good news front, here are the three latest polls out today:

This post is dedicated to my sister, who calls every day wanting to know if Donald Trump is really going to lose. Oh yes indeed. He's really going to lose. I hope these poll results are enough to bring peace and serenity to Drum households everywhere.

By the way, I attribute Hillary Clinton's strong results to her consistent outreach to women and her newfound outreach to cats. Until recently, our cats didn't care. But now they do—the female of the species, anyway. Here is Hopper diligently keeping an eye out for ruffians who might be inclined to vandalize a, um, local resident's Hillary yard sign.

In Pennsylvania yesterday, campaigning for fellow Republican Pat Toomey, John McCain made a promise:

I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up, I promise you. This is where we need the majority, and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.

McCain later "clarified" that he didn't actually mean what he plainly said, and by the rules of American politics that means we are now supposed to pretend he never said it.

But he did say it. The question is whether he really meant it, or whether it was just campaign blather that went a little too far in the heat of the moment. This is especially salient since McCain was one of the original Gang of 14 who promised to forestall Republican threats to end judicial filibusters back in 2005. If even McCain is on board with endless blind filibusters, we're in trouble.

My personal guess is that this was, in fact, just campaign rhetoric. After all, at some point government has to work. The Supreme Court needs nine members. The federal government needs a budget. The country has to pay its debts. Even Republicans get that.

Then again, maybe they don't. It's a little hard to tell these days. It might be safer all around to simply make sure Democrats get a majority in the Senate and not take any chances.