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 brutal last seven days
How brutal have the last seven day been for Donald Trump's presidential campaign? Let us count the ways: There was 1) his rough debate performance last Monday night; 2) his feud with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado; 3) his poll numbers showing him losing ground to Clinton after the debate; 4) his infamous 3:00 am tweetstorm on Clinton and Machado; 5) his lashing out at Clinton Friday over her husband's sexual past; 6) the bombshell New York Times report on Trump's 1995 taxes, in which he declared a $916 million loss, potentially allowing him to avoid paying federal income taxes for 18 years (!!!); and 7) a brand-new AP report that Trump "repeatedly demeaned women with sexist language" during his years as boss of "The Apprentice," according to show insiders "who said he rated female contestants by the size of their breasts and talked about which ones he'd like to have sex with." Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. NBC's Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald write that Trump may have had the worst week in recent presidential campaign history, though we'd argue that John McCain having to deal in late Sept. 2008 with the economic collapse, as well as Sarah Palin, was probably worse.
How Trump responds to bad news is often worse than the bad news itself
Regardless of how you rank it, however, Trump has had a terrible week. The good news for him: The storyline will likely change on Tuesday (with the vice presidential debate) and Sunday (with the second presidential debate). The bad news: All of those stories above will likely be fodder in these upcoming debates. And on "Meet the Press" yesterday, the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter pointed out how Trump responds to bad news is often worse than the news itself. "As we've seen in the history of certainly this week, but in the history of this campaign, it's Donald Trump's reaction to difficult stories or difficult situations that gets him in trouble."
Trump surrogates: He's a "genius" for avoiding federal income taxes
As for the story about Trump declaring a $916 million loss in 1995 and potentially paying no federal income taxes for 18 years, Trump surrogates responded by saying how it proves how smart Trump is. "I mean, the reality is he's a genius," Rudy Giuliani said on "Meet the Press" yesterday. "What he did was he took advantage of something that could save his enterprise." Added Chris Christie on Fox, per NBC's Ali Vitali: "There's no one who has shown more genius in their way to maneuver around the tax code and rightfully use the laws to do that." But to us, the real story here isn't that Trump avoided paying federal income taxes -- instead, it's that someone who portrays himself to be an economic and business wizard lost nearly $1 billion in one year. And that he ultimately profited from that loss, while others (investors, contractors) took a hit. "Ordinary investors in the new company … saw the value of their shares plunge to 17 cents from $35.50, while scores of contractors went unpaid for work on Mr. Trump's casinos and casino bondholders received pennies on the dollar," the Times writes.
Trump campaign responds to the AP's "The Apprentice" report
And as for the AP's report that Trump demeaned women on "The Apprentice," the Trump campaign issued this response: "These outlandish, unsubstantiated, and totally false claims fabricated by publicity hungry, opportunistic, disgruntled former employees, have no merit whatsoever. The Apprentice was one of the most successful prime time television shows of all time and employed hundreds of people over many years, many of whom support Mr. Trump's candidacy."
Clinton returns to Ohio
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton today campaigns in Ohio -- her first visit to the Buckeye State since Sept. 5, per NBC's Monica Alba. On "Meet" yesterday, Clinton Campaign Manager Robby Mook said Team Clinton wasn't writing off Ohio. "Ohio's a battleground state. I think either candidate can win it. We're working incredibly hard. I think Secretary Clinton can win it. And we're going, we're going to keep working to make sure that happens." But here's the reality for the Clinton campaign: Among the toss-up states, it's likely to win North Carolina and Florida BEFORE winning Ohio. And winning North Carolina and Florida puts her above 300 electoral votes. So Ohio is a luxury for the Clinton campaign, not a necessity.
LeBron James dishes an endorsement assist to Clinton
Ahead of her visit to Ohio today, Clinton picked up the endorsement from Akron's own LeBron James. "I support Hillary because she will build on the legacy of my good friend, President Barack Obama. I believe in what President Obama has done for our country and support her commitment to continuing that legacy," he writes in the Akron Beacon Journal, which was first reported by Business Insider. "Like my foundation, Hillary has always been a champion for children and their futures. For over 40 years, she's been working to improve public schools, expand access to health care, support children's hospitals, and so much more."
Sanders doesn't criticize Clinton over leaked audio
The Clinton campaign found itself in hot water as well over the weekend with this Politico report: "Hacked audio of a conversation between Hillary Clinton and donors during a February fundraising event shows the Democrat nominee describing Bernie Sanders supporters as 'children of the Great Recession' who are 'living in their parents' basement.'" Yet on CNN, Sanders went out of way not to criticize Clinton. "If you listen to the whole discussion that she had, a very important point that she made is that a lot of young people who went into debt, worked very hard to get a good education get out of school and can't find jobs commensurate with the education that they received. And there's a lot of unhappiness about young people. And this is an issue that we must address," he said. By the way, Sanders stumps for Clinton today in Iowa.
On the trail
Hillary Clinton campaigns in Ohio, making stops in Toledo at 1:30 pm ET and Akron at 3:30 pm ET… Donald Trump is in Colorado, holding rallies in Pueblo at 5:00 pm ET and Loveland at 8:00 pm ET… Mike Pence stumps in Ashland, VA… Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Florida for Clinton… Bill Clinton hits Michigan… And Bernie Sanders makes three stops for Clinton in Iowa.
Countdown to VP debate: 1 day
Countdown to second presidential debate: 6 days
Countdown to third presidential debate: 16 days
Countdown to Election Day: 36 days