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First Read: GOP Facing Only Bad Choices

Donald Trump says 'riots' might happen if he's denied nomination 3:28

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.

A Republican Party that's confronting only bad choices

It increasingly appears that the Republican Party faces only bad choices when it comes to the two biggest political stories in America -- the 2016 presidential race and President Obama nominating Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. Regarding 2016, the GOP has two real options:

  • Acquiesce/surrender to Donald Trump, who is on track (though it's not a slam dunk) to obtain a majority of Republican delegates. The problem here? Almost every poll we've seen shows Trump to be the weakest GOP candidate to face Hillary Clinton.

  • Fight Trump to stop him from getting the 1237 delegates he needs. The problem? Trump has talked about "riots" if he's leading in delegates but is denied the nomination, and we don't think he's kidding.

It's a political Sophie's Choice for Republicans -- try to save the 2016 election, or save the party. And when it comes to the Garland Supreme Court nomination, the GOP faces these options:

  • Oppose the older and more moderate Garland (even hearings and consideration of his nomination), and hope that Republicans don't lose the 2016 election, which would result in, say, a President Hillary Clinton nominating younger and more liberal replacement.

  • Relent on Garland, knowing the opposition hurts your vulnerable Senate incumbents up for re-election (Kelly Ayotte, Mark Kirk, Ron Johnson, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey), but welcome the wrath of the GOP base.

Another political Sophie's Choice -- save your vulnerable incumbents, or save your base. We realize that in American politics, both parties experience plenty of ups and downs. Next week or next month, Democrats could find themselves in their own bind. But on these two big issues, we wouldn't want to be the Republican Party right now.

Democratic leaders: GOP 'gutless' for working against SCOTUS nomination 2:42

Republicans could have played a stronger hand on the Garland pick than the one they're currently playing

On the Supreme Court, Republicans could have played a stronger hand in retrospect. Instead of ruling out hearings and consideration from the get-go, why didn't they say, "Sure, we'll be fair and do our due diligence" -- and still vote against the nomination? By going down this road, they set themselves up for looking like they aren't being fair. As Obama said yesterday, "To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn't even deserve a hearing, let alone an up or down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise -- that would be unprecedented." Yes, the same Obama voted against now-Chief Justice John Roberts, and he voted to filibuster Justice Samuel Alito. But where Obama has the higher ground now is that there were hearings and votes for Roberts/Alito, while Republicans are promising none for Garland. By the way, the Democratic base isn't doing cartwheels over the Garland pick right now; many parts of it wanted a younger, more liberal, and more diverse nominee. But the GOP tactics against Garland might still fire up the Dem base.

Who are the delegates that could pick the GOP nominee? 2:40

Trump is on track (though it's not a slam dunk) to obtain the magic number of 1237 delegates

Crunching the latest numbers, Donald Trump needs to win 54% of the remaining delegates to obtain a majority. That's doable, but not necessarily a slam dunk. That said, consider that Trump won 60% of the available delegates from the March 15 contests. And that was with four candidates in the GOP field; now there are three. And you could argue that the map only gets better for Trump. Our current numbers:

Trump currently leads Cruz by 261 delegates

  • Trump 683 (47% of all delegates won)
  • Cruz 422 (29%)
  • Rubio 172 (12%)
  • Kasich 143 (10%)

Trump needs to win 54% of the remaining delegates to hit the 1237 magic number

Cruz needs to win 80% of the remaining delegates to hit the 1237 magic number

Kasich needs to win 107% of the remaining delegates to hit the 1237 magic number

The tough math for Sanders

He needs to win 65% of the overall remaining delegates to get a majority: And here are our numbers on the Democratic side:

Clinton leads Sanders by 305 pledged delegates

  • Clinton 1141 (58%)
  • Sanders 836 (42%)

Clinton currently leads Sanders by 718 overall delegates (including superdelegates)

  • Clinton 1577 (67%)
  • Sanders 859 (37%)

Clinton needs to win 35% of the overall remaining delegates to hit the 2383 magic number

Sanders needs to win 65% of the overall remaining delegates to hit the 2383 magic number

On the trail

Bernie Sanders campaigns in Arizona.