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First Read: Trump’s Negative Impact on the GOP Race

Donald Trump, Ben Carson under fire as Carly Fiorina surges 2:42

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's negative impact on the GOP race

If you wanted another example of how Donald Trump -- who helped lead the "birther" movement against President Obama during his first term in office -- has negatively impacted the Republican presidential race, look no further than the last 72 hours. After Trump declined to correct a New Hampshire man's anti-Obama, anti-Muslim claims, the subject became another topic for GOP candidates to address. Then Ben Carson received this question on "Meet the Press": Should faith matter at all when judging someone to serve as president? Carson's answer: "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that." Carson's campaign later tried to clarify his remarks. "He did not say that a Muslim should be prevented from running, or barred from running in any way," spokesman Doug Watts told NBC's Hallie Jackson. "Dr. Carson is a strict adherent to the 1st Amendment -- freedom of religion. That includes people of all faith. He has great respect for the Muslim community, but there is a huge gulf between the faith and practice of the Muslim faith, and our Constitution and American values." And Carson's comments became fodder for the rest of the GOP field, forcing the other candidates to respond.

Would we even be discussing Obama's faith (again) without Trump in the race?

This is what happens when a party welcomes with open arms someone who continues to espouse "birther" views -- and when that someone leads the party's presidential nominating race. Would we be discussing President Obama's religion (again) and whether a person of Muslim faith can/should be president without Trump? Doubtful. We'll quote from that RNC after-election report from 2013: "If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity." Trump has certainly been an asset to the GOP when it comes to generating excitement about the Republican presidential race -- just look at the debate ratings. But there's also a price to pay when Trump is at the center of attention in that race. As Trump said on "Meet" in response to whether a Muslim should/could be president: "You know, it's something that could happen. Would I be comfortable? I don't know if we have to address it right now... I mean, some people have said it already happened, frankly. But of course you wouldn't agree with that."

Ben Carson Scouting Report: A Mix of Charm & Controversy 2:56

Trump still leading the GOP race after the second debate, while Fiorina moves up

Meanwhile, Donald Trump continues to lead the GOP race, according to both an NBC online survey and a CNN poll. Per the NBC/Survey Monkey online survey (conducted Sept. 16-18), Trump gets support from 29% of Republican voters -- followed by Carson at 14%, Fiorina at 11%, Jeb Bush at 8%, and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio tied at 7%. And per a CNN poll (conducted Sept. 17-19), it's Trump at 24% (though that's down eight points since last month), Fiorina at 15%, and Carson at 14%.

CNN poll: Hillary increases her lead in Dem field

CNN is out this morning with numbers in the Democratic race: Hillary Clinton 42%, Bernie Sanders 24%, and Joe Biden 22% Clinton's lead over Sanders is up eight points from CNN's early September numbers: Clinton 37%, Sanders 27%, Biden 20%. More from the poll: "Biden's support comes almost entirely from Clinton's camp. Without the vice president in the race, Clinton's numbers climb by 15 percentage points, while Sanders' increase by only 4 points -- giving Clinton a nearly 2-to-1 lead at 57% to 28%, with O'Malley moving up to 2%."

Jill Biden is fully behind her husband making another White House run

Speaking of Biden, here's what one of us reported yesterday: "Contrary to reports suggesting Vice President Joe Biden's wife remains an obstacle to his potential presidential run, sources [say] that Jill Biden is fully behind him for another bid. And that looks more likely by the day. Sources have indicated that Biden's been meeting with Democratic leaders during his travels around the nation over the past week to tell them he wants to do it and thinks there's room for him to make a credible bid if he does." All that said, as we've continued to point out, Biden still has no fundraising account to pay for travel and staff. And if believe endorsements from elected officials are important in the "Invisible Primary," Hillary Clinton has already locked up more than half of the party. Here is another thing to consider: While the CNN poll is just one poll, Hillary has had a nice last 10 days (after all, when is the last time the political press has mentioned the email story?) If you're Biden, would have been smarter to get in a month ago (when Hillary's campaign was being bombarded by negative story after negative story), or now (when it's finally starting to flex its muscles)?

Biden: "We're just not ... quite there yet, and it may not get there in time to make it feasible to run"

And in yet another example of how the reporting is in one place and Biden's words are in another, here is what he told the Catholic organization America Media in an interview: "We're just not - it's not quite there yet and it may not get there in time to make it feasible to be able to run and succeed because there are certain windows that will close," he said. "But if that's it, that's it. But it's not like I could rush it."

Here comes Pope Francis

Outside of the presidential race, Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. is the big political story this week. "Pope Francis will arrive at a military base outside the capital on Tuesday afternoon to open his first visit to the United States, and President Obama will be there to welcome him. It is a gesture the president has extended to virtually no other foreign visitor," the New York Times writes. "And little wonder. For Mr. Obama, there may be no more potent ally in the world in his quest to bend the arc of history, to use a favorite phrase, than a pope who helped him restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and who has spoken out on issues like economic inequality, immigration, climate change and criminal justice reform. "Yet if the pope's visit seems likely to bolster Mr. Obama on some of his top priorities, it also comes at a moment of sharp focus on moral questions where the two differ. For conservatives assailing the jailing of a clerk who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples and for abortion foes now mounting a bid to cut off federal money for Planned Parenthood, Francis and the teachings of the church offer a timely boost."

Dimon warns against another government shutdown

Also on "Meet the Press" yesterday, JP Morgan Chase's Jamie Dimon had some tough words for Washington, especially as it lurches toward another government shutdown:

DIMON: I give President Bush, President Obama, Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke enormous credit for stopping it from getting worse. And I think if they had not taken a lot of those actions it likely would've gotten worse. And they didn't wanna take the risk, nor do I think they should have. I think that since then, I'm not gonna blame any side here, we've had a series of things which I think just slowed things down. And for example, the debt ceiling crisis, government shutdowns gridlock on taxes, budgets we didn't finish immigration policy, those things are not good for America...

TODD: So you're blaming Washington. You're basically saying the economy, we would be at 3.5%, 4% growth without Washington gridlock?

DIMON: Yeah, I-- I'm not gonna blame Washington because, you know, remember we elect those people. So-- you know--

TODD: Do you blame us?

DIMON: Blame all of us. You know, that if you--if we want people in Washington to collaborate let's-- let's elect people who are gonna collaborate.

TODD: We might be on the verge of another government shutdown. What do you say to conservatives in the House that are--that are thinkin' about doin' this?

DIMON: I think that people, you know, I tell them you guys compromising your family, you compromise with your friends, you compromise what you eat for dinner. A democracy is a compromise by its nature. It's not a dictatorship. So anyone who says, "my way or the highway on one issue," isn't necessarily thinking about the United States of America. And so I wish people to overcome that kind of stuff. A government shutdown is just bad management.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton stumps in Louisiana and Arkansas… Jeb Bush hits Texas and Iowa… Marco Rubio is in Georgia and South Carolina… And Rand Paul holds a rally at American University in DC.

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