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First Read: Obama’s Two Main Messages on Terrorism

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.

Obama’s two main messages from last night

President Obama’s Oval Office address in response to the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, CA didn’t contain a lot that was new, especially for political observers. But he had to give that speech for an American public on edge (particularly because he didn’t give that kind of primetime speech after Paris). And the address had two main messages. One, as the 2016 campaign season heads into the final Iowa/New Hampshire sprint, don’t discriminate against Muslim Americans, because that plays right into ISIS’s hands. Two, the Muslim community needs to confront those who are using Islam in a perverted way to harm and kill others. “Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes -- and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that,” Obama said. But the president added, “Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.” As we remarked last week, 2016 candidates -- led by Donald Trump -- have been filling a vacuum after Paris and San Bernardino. Obama’s primetime address last night was a way to reclaim that space.

Watch Obama's Full Address to the Nation 12:57

2016 GOP field reacts to Obama’s speech

Not surprisingly, the 2016 Republican field reacted negatively to President Obama’s speech last night. Some examples:

  • Donald Trump: “Well, Obama refused to say (he just can't say it), that we are at WAR with RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS,” he tweeted.
  • Marco Rubio: “I think not only did the president not make things better tonight; I fear he may have made things worse in the minds of many Americans,” he said on Fox News.
  • Ben Carson: “President Obama's declaration tonight that his policies are working was strange. Strange that it took four days from the attack to respond and even more strange that somehow the attack on our soil is proof his policies are working,” he said in a statement, per NBC’s Shaquille Brewster.
  • Jeb Bush: “This is the war of our time. It should not be business as usual. We need a war-time Commander-in-Chief who is ready to lead this country and the free world to victory,” he said in a statement.

Yet what was striking is that we didn’t hear any reaction last night to Obama’s call NOT to discriminate against Muslim Americas -- with one exception. That exception: “Where is there widespread evidence that we have a problem in America with discrimination against Muslims?” Well, Rubio might want to start with the rhetoric coming from the current GOP frontrunner.

Trump, GOP candidates sharply criticize Obama address 1:47

Public split on biggest worry -- terrorism vs. gun violence

Meanwhile, Americans are split on their biggest worry — with 36% saying it's a terrorist attack and 31% saying it's gun violence in general, according to a new MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist poll. Another 17% said their biggest worry is being a victim of police brutality. The results break down along partisan and racial lines: 60% of Republicans say being a victim of a terrorist attack is their biggest concern, versus just 22% of Democrats who say that. Conversely, 40% of Democrats single out being a victim of gun violence as their biggest worry, compared with just 20% of Republicans saying that. And 41% of African Americans indicate their biggest concern is being a victim of police brutality, versus just 11% of whites who say that.

Hillary leads in 2016 match-ups, with Carson and Rubio running the closest

Also in our new MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist poll: Hillary Clinton leads the Republican presidential field in hypothetical general-election matchups, with Ben Carson and Marco Rubio running the closest to her. And with just one exception, the margin of Clinton's lead among Latino voters determines just how competitive each match-up is.

  • Clinton's biggest lead is against current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump: She's ahead of him by 11 points among all voters, 52%-41%, and a whopping 42 points among Latino voters, 69%-27%.
  • Clinton leads Ted Cruz by seven points nationally, 51%-44%, and by 27 points among Latinos, 61%-34%.
  • Clinton holds a four-point advantage over Jeb Bush, 49%-45%, and a 26-point lead among Latinos, 61%-35%.
  • Clinton’s ahead of Marco Rubio by three points among all voters, 48%-45%, and 19 points among Latinos, 57%-38%.
  • And Clinton leads Ben Carson by just one point, 48%-47%, and she holds a 26-point edge among Latinos, 61%-35%.

But the Latino margins are closer than Obama’s against McCain and Romney

The MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist poll also finds that a generic Democratic presidential is tied with a generic Republican at 45%-45%, while that lead expands to 20 points among Latino voters, 56%-36%. To put these Latino poll numbers into perspective (the poll had an oversample of 264 Latino voters), Barack Obama defeated John McCain among Latinos by 36 points in 2008, 67%-31%. And he beat Mitt Romney by 44 points in 2012, 71%-27%. While this is just one poll, it should produce a little caution in Democratic circles that Democrats will need to boost these Latino numbers to win in 2016.

Hillary explains in NYT op-ed how she’d rein in Wall Street

In other 2016 news today, Hillary Clinton is out with a New York Times op-ed responding detailing how she would rein in Wall Street. The op-ed comes after last month’s Democratic debate, where Clinton appeared to defend the donations she’s received from Wall Street by invoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “My plan proposes legislation that would impose a new risk fee on dozens of the biggest banks — those with more than $50 billion in assets... My plan would strengthen the Volcker Rule by closing the loopholes that still allow banks to make speculative gambles with taxpayer-backed deposits... And I would fight to reinstate the rules governing risky credit swaps and derivatives at taxpayer-backed banks, which were repealed during last year’s budget negotiations after a determined lobbying campaign by the banks.” And Clinton answers why a return to Glass-Steagall isn’t the end-all, be-all. “Some have urged the return of a Depression-era rule called Glass-Steagall, which separated traditional banking from investment banking. But many of the firms that contributed to the crash in 2008, like A.I.G. and Lehman Brothers, weren’t traditional banks, so Glass-Steagall wouldn’t have limited their reckless behavior.”

Rubio’s new TV ad: “We can’t [go] back to the leaders and ideas of the past"

Finally, Marco Rubio’s campaign is out with a new TV ad that will be airing in Iowa. "This election is a generational choice about what kind of country we will be,” Rubio says in the ad. “And before us now is the opportunity to author the greatest chapter yet in the amazing story of America. We can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past."

On the trail

Trump holds a 7:00 pm ET rally in Mount Pleasant, SC… Ted Cruz also stumps in the Palmetto State… Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum campaign in Iowa… And Bernie Sanders discusses his immigration plan at 3:00 pm ET.

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