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.
Well, Jeb Bush was right about this: Donald Trump has been a chaos candidate -- for almost everyone involved in the 2016 contest. He created chaos in Bernie Sanders' backyard yesterday; he brought chaos into Hillary Clinton's campaign, raising an issue (Bill Clinton's past with women) that few had been willing to touch in quite some time; he introduced chaos for Ted Cruz, knocking the Texas senator off message with the "birther" issue for multiple days; and he's produced chaos within the entire Republican Party over the last six months. If you want to know why this 2016 presidential campaign has been so crazy, bizarre, and unpredictable, you can thank one person for that -- Donald Trump.
Last night's Trump-vs.-Obama split screen
Trump even intruded on President Obama's town hall last night on guns, with one cable network (MSNBC) taking Trump's Burlington, VT rally live and another (CNN) hosting a town hall with Obama on guns. The events couldn't have been more different. Trump was classic Trump: boastful, confident, and short of specifics. He also was viewing the world through a black-and-white lens, and he kicked out and hushed the protestors who interrupted his event. Obama, on the other hand, was classic Obama: measured, nuanced, and full with specifics. He also weighed both sides of the gun debate, and he took questions from several gun-rights supporters. Maybe one of the biggest reasons why Trump has grown more popular with GOP primary voters over the past year -- 58% said they could see themselves supporting him in the Dec. 2015 NBC/WSJ poll, up from about 20% in March -- is that he's the most profound polar opposite to Obama in entire GOP field. If Obama is Mr. Spock, Trump isn't Captain Kirk; maybe he's Khan.
Is Obama's op-ed on guns a warning shot to Bernie Sanders?
Speaking of Obama on guns, he penned a New York Times op-ed containing this declaration: "I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform." And as Politico notes, it appears Obama is singling out Bernie Sanders here. Why? Because Sanders voted to give immunity to gun manufacturers. As Obama writes later in the New York Times op-ed, the gun industry has "guaranteed that manufacturers enjoy virtual immunity from lawsuits, which means that they can sell lethal products and rarely face consequences. As parents, we wouldn't put up with this if we were talking about faulty car seats. Why should we tolerate it for products — guns — that kill so many children each year?"
Economy adds 292,000 jobs in December, unemployment rate remains at 5.0%
Turning away from the 2016 campaign trail to the economy, job creation in 2015 ended with a bang. Here's the AP: "American employers added a strong 292,000 jobs in December, suggesting that the U.S. economy is so far defying global trends and growing at a solid pace. The Labor Department says the unemployment rate remained 5 percent for a third straight month. More Americans started looking for work, and most found jobs. The government also said employers added a combined 50,000 more jobs in October and November than it had previously estimated. Hiring averaged 284,000 a month in the fourth quarter, the best three-month pace in a year." Folks, the story isn't getting the attention it probably deserves, but the last time the U.S. labor market was this good over two year (2014, 2015) was during the late 1990s.
Big trouble for Rick Snyder and Rahm Emanuel
In a time of such distrust of government, it's striking to us that two of the non-Washington politicians who are having a difficult time and who aren't inspiring confidence in government happen to be technocrats with bipartisan appeal: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The problem for Snyder: "Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder refused Thursday to say when he knew the Flint water crisis — children being poisoned by lead from their drinking taps — was being mishandled. At a press conference after a meeting with the city's mayor, Snyder said reporters and the public would have to wait for the final report on the public health debacle. 'We're going to do this in a comprehensive fashion, not a piecemeal fashion," Snyder said to repeated questions about his role.'" There's been a missing sense of urgency to how Snyder's handled this. Of course, we already know about the problems that Emanuel is facing over policing and race in Chicago. One's a governor; the other a mayor. And they were both elected (and re-elected) for being good-government technocrats, who shun ideology. Their incompetency in handling their own mistakes just means the public sees yet more elected leaders (not even from Washington, mind you), disappointing them and appearing to be more interested in saving their own jobs than doing their own jobs well.
Maine governor: Heroin dealers are coming into state to impregnate "white girls"
Another governor is in the news: Maine Gov. Paul LePage. "Gov. Paul LePage has drawn widespread condemnation for a racially charged comment he made during one of his regular town hall meetings to promote his policy agenda in Bridgton on Wednesday night," the Portland Press Herald reports. "About 30 minutes into the meeting, which was rebroadcast Thursday night, LePage responded to a question about how he was tackling substance abuse in Maine. He began talking about how much of the heroin is coming into Maine from out-of-state drug dealers. 'These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty - these types of guys - they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home,' LePage told a large crowd. 'Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.'"
Clinton blasts LePage's comment for being "racist"
Hillary Clinton seized on LePage's remarks. "Gov. LePage's comments tonight are not only offensive and hurtful but they try to cover up the very real epidemic of drug abuse facing people in his state and across the country. LePage's racist rants sadly distract from efforts to address one of our nation's most pressing problems," her campaign said in a statement. LePage's office said in a statement to NBC News that he wasn't making a comment on race. "The governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant," he said. "What is relevant is the cost to state taxpayers for welfare and the emotional costs for these kids who are born as a result of involvement with drug traffickers. His heart goes out to these kids because he had a difficult childhood too. We need to stop the drug traffickers from coming into our state."
Trump to appear on "Meet the Press" this Sunday
NBC's Chuck Todd will interview Donald Trump from Iowa.
On the trail
Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Rock Hill, SC… Marco Rubio hits both New Hampshire and South Carolina… Jeb Bush has a town hall in South Carolina… Ted Cruz has a whopping six events in Iowa… John Kasich and Carly Fiorina are in New Hampshire… Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders stump in Iowa.
Countdown to NBC/YouTube debate in SC: 9 days
Countdown to Iowa: 24 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 32 days
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