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First Read: The Clinton Conundrum

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.

The Clinton Conundrum

The latest controversy over the Clinton Foundation -- the allegation that special access was given to Foundation donors when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state -- follows a familiar pattern: The entire arrangement appears sloppy, careless, and seedy. As New York magazine's Jonathan Chait writes, "What [new emails] show is that people who donated to the foundation believed they were owed favors by Clinton's staffers… [Former staffer Doug] Band, for instance, called the crown prince of Bahrain, who donated millions to the foundation, a 'good friend of ours.'" But there's another familiar pattern to the discussion, especially regarding the AP report showing that Foundation donors met with Clinton when she was secretary of state: This kind of behavior is standard operating procedure for any politician. If you're a sitting congressman, senator, or governor -- raise your hand if you've never granted meetings with big donors (either ones you've known before or after the donation). This is a practice that happens ALL of the time in American politics. And as a result, none of it is illegal or demands a special prosecutor. So two things can be true at the same time: One, what the Clintons are doing can be sloppy, careless and seedy. And two, they're not the only ones doing it.

Of course, the "they're-not-the-only-ones-doing-it" reasoning isn't always sufficient in a political campaign, especially one for the highest office in the land. The Clinton Foundation was always going to be a target in this campaign. And if you're scratching your head as to why the Clintons didn't have a better plan for dealing with it -- like having well-devised exit strategy months ago -- remember that the decisions are usually coming from the principals rather than the political advisers.

Why it's going to be so hard for Trump to woo minority voters

The Washington Post last night published this provocative story: "Trump is planning trips to urban areas — with stops at churches, charter schools and small businesses in black and Latino communities — and is developing an empowerment agenda based on the economy and education, aides said. Under consideration is an early September visit to Detroit, where retired neurosurgeon and former Republican primary rival Ben Carson would guide him on a tour of the impoverished neighborhoods where he grew up." And NBC's Hallie Jackson reports that Trump is set to meet with black and Latino activists on Thursday. But here are two reasons why such an effort will be such a tough sell. First are the poll numbers from this month alone among African American voters:

  • Latest national NBC|SurveyMonkey: Clinton 87%, Trump 8%
  • August national NBC/WSJ: Clinton 91%, Trump 1%
  • Ohio NBC/WSJ/Marist poll: Clinton 89%, Trump 1%
  • Pennsylvania NBC/WSJ/Marist poll: Clinton 94%, Trump 1%
  • North Carolina NBC/WSJ/Marist poll: Clinton 80%, Trump 9%
  • Florida NBC/WSJ/Marist poll: Clinton 82%, Trump 9%

The second reason is Trump's long complicated history with race. As NBC's Adam Howard recounts, Trump and his family were accused of "systematically discriminating against black tenants seeking rentals in their buildings"; Trump snubbed attending the recent NAACP conference; and Trump led the birther crusade against President Obama, questioning the citizenship of the nation's first African-American president. "To many African-Americans, Trump's insistence that President Obama was not an American citizen was an racist appeal, as was his unsubstantiated claims that the president had such a poor academic record that he should never have received the Ivy League degrees he earned at Columbia and Harvard, respectively," Howard writes.

Donald Trump courts African-American voters, adjusts immigration stance 2:27

Trump backs away from "deportation force," but holds firm on rest of immigration platform

The news from Trump's discussion on immigration yesterday was the fact that he appears to have indeed retreated on his previous "deportation force" to round up the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. When asked by Fox's Sean Hannity, who is also advising his campaign, what happens to law-abiding and productive undocumented immigrants, Trump replied: "I had a meeting with great people, great Hispanic leaders. And there certainly can be a softening because we're not looking to hurt people, we want people -- we have some great people in this country. We have some great, great people in this country." So that's new. But Trump also held firm to the other parts of his immigration agenda.

The Wall Street Journal: "[T]he event was dominated by raucous audience support for Mr. Trump's policies aimed at stopping illegal immigration, such as his promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. After taping the interview in Austin, Texas, Mr. Trump appeared at a rally, where he was greeted with loud chants of 'Build the wall!' and brought to the stage the parents of children who had been killed by illegal immigrants. 'Your children did not die in vain, because we are not going to allow it to happen to others,' he told the parents."

Legalization and deportation have always been the flimsiest parts of Trump's immigration platform

As NBC's Benjy Sarlin points out, Trump has never seemed to have as firm of a take on the legalization issue compared with the other parts of the immigration debate. "In 2012, for example, he floated a "permanent solution" on Fox News in which some immigrants would remain. 'We have to have some compassion, we can't just throw everybody out,' he said. After Romney lost that November in thanks in part to strong Democratic margins with Latino and Asian voters, Trump lashed out at his 'crazy policy of self-deportation' in an interview with Newsmax. As late as August 2013, Trump told NBC News' Kasie Hunt he wasn't sure about his position on the recently passed 'Gang of Eight' bill or whether he might support portions of it. 'I actually think it's too early to say,' he said."

New Bernie Sanders group feels the burn

NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald writes up the new Bernie Sanders-backed group, Our Revolution, which is set to debut tonight. "But eight of the group's 13 or so staffers resigned over the weekend after former campaign manager Jeff Weaver was brought in to run the group. The remaining staffers, some of whom stayed for personal reasons, all sent letters to Sanders expressing concerns with Weaver and solidarity with those who quit... The dispute is both strategic and personal. The staffers who quit had clashed with Weaver on the campaign, calling him domineering and questioning his judgment, and they joined Our Revolution only on condition he would not be involved. They say they envisioned Our Revolution as a small-dollar-funded group that would use grassroots organizing to help elect progressive candidates...Weaver has other ideas. He wanted to supplement the group's organizing and online fundraising efforts with independent expenditure TV advertising and larger checks from major donors.

Ad spending update: Clinton camp $68 million, Trump camp $4 million

Donald Trump's presidential campaign is finally airing its first TV ad of the general election, but Hillary Clinton's camp is still outspending him by a 17-to-1 margin over the airwaves, according to ad-spending data from Advertising Analytics. To date, the Clinton campaign has spent $68 million on ads in the general election, while the Trump camp has now spent $4 million after airing its first ad was released late last week. When outside groups are added into the mix, it's Team Clinton at $114 million, and Team Trump at nearly $19 million. That's a 6-to-1 advantage for Democrats. And here's the complete look at the ad spending in battlegrounds between Team Clinton and Team Trump:

The Top 10 advertising markets

And here's our weekly look at the Top 10 advertising markets in the 2016 presidential race. The I-4 Corridor markets in Florida once again are No. 1 and No. 2.

  1. Orlando-Dayton Beach-Melbourne, FL: $11.2 million
  2. Tampa-St. Pete-Sarasota, FL: $10.2 million
  3. Cleveland-Akron, OH: $8.2 million
  4. Las Vegas, NV: $6.1 million
  5. Columbus, OH: $5.8 million
  6. Charlotte, NC: $4.9 million
  7. West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, FL: $4.7 million
  8. Denver, CO: $4.4 million
  9. Philadelphia, PA: $3.9 million
  10. Raleigh-Durham: $3.8 million

On the trail

Donald Trump holds rallies in Tampa, FL at 1:00 pm ET and in Jackson, MS at 8:00 pm ET… And Mike Pence hits North Carolina.

Countdown to Election Day: 76 days