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.
Trump on top: Here are six reasons how we got here
Another day, another poll (WMUR's of New Hampshire) showing Donald Trump leading the 2016 GOP horserace. So how did we get here? What explains Trump's rise and staying power, despite his political inexperience and his over-the-top rhetoric? Over the last 24 hours, we've seen conservative, liberal, and mainstream writers take a stab at this question. And here is a compilation of their thoughts — plus ours
- Terrorism fears: It shouldn't be lost on anyone that Trump's renewed rise in the polls comes after Paris and San Bernardino. From the NYT/CBS poll: "A month ago, only 4 percent of Americans said terrorism was the most important problem; now, 19 percent say it is, above any other issue… More than four in 10 Republican primary voters say the most important quality in a candidate is strong leadership, which eclipses honesty, empathy, experience or electability. These voters heavily favor Mr. Trump."
- Economic insecurity: Yes, the U.S. economy is adding 200,000-plus jobs a month. And, yes, the unemployment rate is down to 5.0%. But Trump -- who is campaigning against free trade and against attempts to cut/reform entitlements -- is tapping into the economic insecurity of Americans who haven't felt the recovery over the last couple of years.Remember, this recovery has been VERY uneven… good on the coasts and urban areas, less so in exurban and rural America.
- GOP's split between elites and the rank and file: If "the party decides," as the political scientists put it, well, the Republican Party finds itself at one of its weakest points. And as the Free Beacon's Matt Continetti writes, Trump has exploited the division between GOP elites and the party's rank and file. Trump's rise "has also been helped by the split between conservatives and Republican politicians amenable to bipartisan cooperation and gradual reform on the one hand, and conservatives and Republicans eager to make polarizing stands and wholeheartedly reject liberal premises on the other." What may be really going on is a battle to define the word "conservative."
- The country's changing demographics and the GOP stoking the resentment of white voters: This is the point that Paul Krugman makes in his column today: After GOP politicians have warned voters that President Obama is coming after their health care, that he's radically changing the America they know, and that he doesn't believe the country is "exceptional," Trump has trumped this rhetoric. "So along comes Donald Trump, saying bluntly the things establishment candidates try to convey in coded, deniable hints, and sounding as if he really means them. And he shoots to the top of the polls. Shocking, yes, but hardly surprising," Krugman writes. Remember, this country is gone through some dramatic cultural changes, and as we wrote just after the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, don't be surprised if there is a cultural backlash of some sort. We got a taste of it in Houston last month, when the campaign on an equal rights ordinance got turned into a referendum on bathrooms.
- The distrust in media: Trump's rise is a story about the political media, too -- given all of the attention he's received, as well as the fact that he's used the media as a foil. As one of us wrote recently, "[T]he people Americans distrust the most aren't the candidates — it's the fact-checkers. A new Pew Research Center study released last week showed that 65 percent of Americans say that the news media has an actively negative effect on the way things are going in America. That's nearly two-thirds of the country calling the Fourth Estate a bad thing for the U.S."
- The opposite of Obama: President Obama also has played a role in Trump's rise, though maybe not for the reason you expect. When Americans choose a new president, it's usually the OPPOSITE of the person leaving office. Consider: The confident, upbeat Ronald Reagan replaced the worried and troubled Jimmy Carter; the youthful and working-class Bill Clinton replaced the older blue-blood George H.W. Bush; and Obama's Mr. Spock replaced George W. Bush's Captain Kirk. And if anyone out there is an opposite to President Obama and his army of millennials and minority voters, it's Donald Trump and his band of disaffected whites.
More Trump introspection: Klein vs. Continetti
In one more effort to make sense of Trump, here are two competing columns by conservative writers. First, the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein: "n Trump, liberals have finally found a Republican candidate who embodies everything they've been saying about the party's voters all along… This has delighted liberals, who now feel vindicated. And it has rankled establishment Republicans and professional conservatives." The second (and opposite) point is from the Free Beacon's Continetti: Trump's rise is perhaps due to the fact that the Republican Party's membership has changed -- and they're changing the party. "Political parties are not static… A party is a reflection of its membership. And when the identities or character of that membership is altered, the party is too. The clearest sign that such a transformation has occurred is in the selection of a party's nominee."
Preparing for a contested convention
"Republican officials and leading figures in the party's establishment are preparing for the possibility of a brokered convention as businessman Donald Trump continues to sit atop the polls in the GOP presidential race," the Washington Post writes. "More than 20 of them convened Monday near the Capitol for a dinner held by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, and the prospect of Trump nearing next year's nominating convention in Cleveland with a significant number of delegates dominated the discussion, according to five people familiar with the meeting." A little caution here: Our understanding of that dinner is that the talk of a contested convention wasn't as dramatic as the Post article makes it sound. Still, there are some Republicans worried that the party isn't taking the thought of a deadlocked convention as seriously as they should be.
How Rahm might survive his tough political situation in Chicago
Let's be honest: These have been trying times for Chicago's Rahm Emanuel -- with calls for him to resign his post. But here's one reason he might be able to survive: Due to a lack of a contested Democratic presidential race, we aren't seeing much pressure among the candidates to demand Rahm's ouster. Think about it - if the Democratic race were as competitive as the GOP's, there would be incentive for a presidential candidate to call for Rahm's resignation, and that would lead to an avalanche of other resignation calls. But with Hillary Clinton leading by 20-plus points nationally, that same kind of incentive doesn't exist. Just something to think about.
On the trail
Clinton stumps in Oklahoma and Missouri… Trump holds a rally in Des Moines, IA at 8:00 pm ET… Ben Carson is also in the Hawkeye State… Chris Christie and John Kasich are in New Hampshire… So are Fiorina, Paul, and Graham.
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