First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Can the GOP really sink Donald Trump?
As Donald Trump leads yet another national poll, the New York Times' Jonathan Martin asks a question that has consumed the political world: Can anyone inside the Republican Party -- via negative TV ads or a scorched-earth campaign -- stop Trump? And if so, do they even have the will do it? "Almost everyone in the party's upper echelons agrees something must be done, and almost no one is willing to do it," Martin writes. (Where have we heard that one before? Sounds a lot like foreign policy in the Middle East, right?) But here is our follow-up question: Even if there's the will to take down Trump, can you do it when there is almost perfect information out there about him? After all, you can't say that Trump's background, claims, and positions have gone unchallenged over the past six months. And he has perfect name identification in our NBC/WSJ polls: All Americans know who he is. When past presidential insurgents have failed -- see Howard Dean, Herman Cain, or Ben Carson (at least for now) -- it's been because voters get new information about them. But what new information stops Trump? And does it even exist?
Can electability and fitness for office work against Trump when Republicans think Hillary is beatable and unfit for the presidency?
Given the perfect information on Trump, if establishment Republicans truly want to stop him, we can see them making these two arguments: One, he's unfit for the presidency. Two, he can't beat Hillary Clinton (today's Quinnipiac poll has Clinton topping Trump by six points, 47%-41%). But here's the thing: Can these arguments work when most Republicans believe that Clinton herself is unfit for the presidency (from the GOP rhetoric, many Republicans probably expect to see her in handcuffs), and that she's easily beatable. There's also one more consideration about Republicans trying to sink Trump, per that New York Times story: "[S]ome Republicans repelled by Mr. Trump feel little urgency to attack him because, they say, he is preventing what they see as an even less desirable standard-bearer — Senator Ted Cruz of Texas — from consolidating the votes of hard-line conservatives. 'He's keeping Cruz where he is,' Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist, said of Mr. Trump."
Trump on ISIS terrorists: "You have to take out their families"
Add this one new controversial comment from Trump: Asked during a Fox News interview about civilian casualties in the fight against the terror group, Trump replied that terrorists are "using them as shields." He added, "But we're fighting a very politically correct war," he added. "And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don't kid yourself. But they say they don't care about their lives. You have to take out their families."
TV ad money isn't buying GOP establishment candidates love
The campaigns and allies for three establishment presidential candidates -- Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich -- have spent a combined $47.5 million in TV ads in the 2016 race so far, according to ad-spending data from NBC News partner SMG Delta. By contrast, the campaigns and allies for the three Republicans who have been leading or surging in the most recent polls - Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz - have spent just $2.9 million. That's a 16-to-1 advantage that these establishment candidates have over their outsider rivals. (And it's more than 18-to-1 when you add another establishment Republican, Chris Christie, into the mix.)
Total TV ad spending so far (through this week)
- Team Bush: $28.9 million ($28.4M from Right to Rise Super PAC, $460K from campaign)
- Team Rubio: $10.6 million ($8.5M from Conservative Solutions 501c4, $640K from Conservative Solutions Super PAC, $1.5M from campaign)
- Team Clinton: $9.7 million ($9.5 million from campaign, $200K from Priorities USA Super PAC)
- Team Kasich: $8 million (all from two outside groups)
- Team Christie: $6.4 million ($6M from America Leads Super PAC, $400K from campaign)
- Team Sanders: $4.9 million (all from campaign)
- Team Carson: $2 million ($1.9M from campaign, $73K from 2016 Committee outside group)
- Team Paul: $869,000 ($743K from America's Liberty Super PAC, $125K from campaign)
- Team Cruz: $665,000 ($462K from campaign, rest from Super PACs)
- Team Trump: $217,000 (all from campaign)
TV ad spending for just this week (Nov. 29-Dec.5):
- Team Bush: $4.3 million
- Team Rubio: $1.8 million
- Team Sanders: $858,000
- Team Clinton: $598,000
- Team Graham: $496,000
- Team Christie: $470,000
Breaking down the new Quinnipiac poll
As for that new national Quinnipiac poll we mentioned above, it shows Donald Trump leading the GOP race at 27% (up three points from last month), Marco Rubio at 17% (up three), Ted Cruz at 16% (up three), and Ben Carson at 16% (down seven). So Trump, Rubio, and Cruz all have upward momentum, while Carson is moving down -- which confirms what we've seen in other polls. In the Democratic race, meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is leading Bernie Sanders by 30 points, 60%-30% -- up from 53%-35% last month.
Lindsey Graham faces a looming '16 deadline in his home state
Finally, here's a piece by NBC's Kasie Hunt: "South Carolina's State Election Commission has warned the state's Republican Party: If a candidate wants to stay off the ballot for the Feb. 20 presidential primary, they have until Dec. 21 to get out of the race. It's set a potentially critical deadline for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who will have to weigh whether it's worth continuing his long shot presidential bid in the face of a potentially embarrassing showing in his home state. And it has the state's political class -- many of whom have been sitting on the sidelines of the First-in-the-South primary out of loyalty to Graham -- buzzing at the possibility they'll soon be able to take sides in a competitive and lucrative presidential race.
On the trail
Hillary Clinton campaigns in Orlando, FL… Donald Trump holds a rally in Manassas, VA at 7:30 pm ET… Ben Carson spends his day in South Carolina… Carly Fiorina also is in the Palmetto State… And Mike Huckabee stumps in Iowa.
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