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First Read’s Morning Clips: GOP Points Fingers Over Trump’s Rise

OFF TO THE RACES: Who's to blame for Trump's rise?

Republicans are trying to figure out who to blame for letting Trump maintain his frontrunner status this long. "Receiving much of the blame is Right to Rise, the cash-flush super PAC that broke records when it announced last year that it had raised more than $100 million in support of Jeb Bush. The group has directed relatively little of that sum toward attacking Trump — instead focusing its efforts on taking down Bush's establishment rivals, above all Marco Rubio. To date, the group has spent about $5 million on TV commercials going after Trump, while dropping four times as much in negative ads against Rubio."

TRUMP: He says he's skipping Thursday night's debate on FOX News, the latest salvo in the long-running feud between the two.

The New York Times' take: "It was the most intense confrontation yet between two mutually dependent but increasingly antagonistic powerhouses of media and politics. Mr. Trump, who has made the presidential race into a riveting television spectacle, was overtly exploiting the ratings leverage his candidacy has created to try to bend Fox News to his will."

Cruz is seizing on the moment, challenging Trump to a "mano-a-mano" debate without a moderator.

Analysis from the AP: "The billionaire Republican's decision to tangle with Fox News and skip the final presidential debate before Iowa's kickoff caucuses all but ensures that he — and he alone — will dominate the conversation in the closing moments of campaigning in 2016's leadoff state. It's a move that for any other candidate would probably be viewed as un-presidential. But for Trump, it's more likely to serve as fresh evidence that he's successfully redefining the art of presidential politics."

The LA Times reports on how Latino organizers are using Trump's surge to mobilize.

BUSH: His campaign is up with a new video with highlights from his Q&A sessions on the campaign trail.

He suggested last night that he does not think Trump is a Christian. "No, I don't know what he is," he told reporters.

Right to Rise is hammering Marco Rubio over the old controversy surrounding Rubio's use of a Florida Republican Party credit card.

CRUZ: He won the endorsement of Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.

HUCKABEE: A superPAC backing him is questioning Ted Cruz's faith in a new ad.

RUBIO: He's working hard to try to sell his message to Iowa Christians, the Washington Post writes.

Writes POLITICO: "With his establishment rivals seemingly ceding Iowa and campaigning in other states and the two candidates in front of him focused on one another, Rubio suddenly has more space to maneuver. He is amping up his Iowa schedule, holding three or four events a day. While he presses his case for generational change, Rubio is openly relishing the damage Trump is doing to Cruz, whose Iowa support has dipped five points since the start of the year, according to the Real Clear Politics average."

SANDERS: He'll hold an "informal" meeting with the president today, the White House announced.

So, what's the relationship between Sanders and Obama? The Washington Post writes that there really isn't one.

He has a big decision to make: Attack Hillary Clinton or stay positive?

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Wednesday's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" line-up: Andrea Mitchell interviews at 12:00pm ET - NBC's Hallie Jackson, Kasie Hunt, Katy Tur and Kristen Welker on the campaign trail five days out from Iowa, MSNBC's Chris Matthews on the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, MSNBC's Jacob Soboroff shows us how a caucus actually works and MSNBC's Joy Reid will join us to preview Rachel Maddow's town hall tonight in Flint, Michigan (9pm ET on MSNBC).