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First Read’s Morning Clips: Trump Rips GOP Nominating Rules

OFF TO THE RACES: Trump rips GOP nominating process

In a strongly-worded Wall Street Journal op-ed, Donald Trump is doubling down on the idea that the Colorado delegate selection system and other contests are undemocratic and flawed. "My campaign strategy is to win with the voters. Ted Cruz’s campaign strategy is to win despite them. What we are seeing now is not a proper use of the rules, but a flagrant abuse of the rules. Delegates are supposed to reflect the decisions of voters, but the system is being rigged by party operatives with “double-agent” delegates who reject the decision of voters. The American people can have no faith in such a system. It must be reformed... My campaign will, of course, battle for every last delegate. We will work within the system that exists now, while fighting to have it reformed in the future. But we will do it the right way. My campaign will seek maximum transparency, maximum representation and maximum voter participation."

In a memo blasted out this morning, the RNC lays out the rules for delegate allocation for some of the upcoming contests, writing "It ultimately falls on the campaigns to be up to speed on these delegate rules. Campaigns have to know when absentee ballots are due, how long early voting lasts in certain states, or the deadlines for voter registration; the delegate rules are no different."

NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald wraps last night's Democratic debate: "In what could have been the final Democratic presidential debate of the 2016 election, Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old socialist insurgent, positioned himself as the future of the Democratic Party, while Hillary Clinton steamrolled her rival with a steady stream of facts and pragmatism... The debate reminded voters that Clinton has been in the center of politics for a long time and has had to abandon a lot of former positions to get here."

The New York Times' take: "Senator Bernie Sanders, seizing on potential vulnerabilities for Hillary Clinton in the coming New York primary, repeatedly savaged her ties to wealthy donors and Wall Street banks during their debate on Thursday night, delivering a ferocious performance that Mrs. Clinton countered with steely confidence and her own sharp elbows."

The Washington Post's headline: "Clinton and Sanders reach the limits of their patience"

A new NBC 4 New York/Marist poll shows Clinton's lead over Sanders growing in New York, one of us(!) reports.

Wyoming Democrats are knocking the state party for the way its caucus was run and its delegates allocated, per the Casper Star-Tribune.

CLINTON: Some Obama donors are still dragging their feet on giving to Clinton's campaign. Bloomberg: "At least 33 of the 145 political donors who gave $25,000 or more in 2012 to Priorities USA, the super-PAC that backed Obama's re-election and now supports Clinton's bid, have yet to contribute to either Clinton's campaign or affiliated outside committees, according to a Bloomberg analysis of the most recently available Federal Election Commission records." (On the other hand, doesn’t that mean that about 75% of the 2012 donors have already contributed – before the general begins?)

CRUZ: “Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during a MSNBC town hall on Thursday doubled down on an accusation that Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lied to him, all the while insisting that he would work well with congressional leadership.”

He was ignored by hundreds of Republicans as he spokes at last night's New York GOP gala.

KASICH: He won the endorsement of former 2016 candidate George Pataki, NBC News's Kailani Koenig first reported.

He said of the efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: "I'm not for doing it. I'm for moving on."

SANDERS: He's up with his toughest ad yet, NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald scooped.

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, he said his presence at a Vatican conference does not mean that the Pope is endorsing him.

Indeed, a Vatican spokesman says there will not be a meeting between Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders, the New York Times reports.

POLITICO notes that he suspended his Jewish outreach coordinator for a profanity-laced rant on Facebook against Netanyahu.

TRUMP: The New York Times op-ed page takes Trump's side when it comes to his children's inability to vote for him because of strict registration deadlines in New York. "Ivanka and Eric Trump ran afoul of New York’s overly restrictive voting laws. New York does not allow same-day registration, party primaries are open only to registered Democrats and Republicans, and new voters must register at least 25 days in advance in order to participate. Most absurdly, anyone registered to vote who wanted to change their party registration to vote in Tuesday’s primary needed to have done so by Oct. 9 of last year. This is the rule that tripped up the unaffiliated Trumps. Six months before the primary? What purpose does that serve beyond suppressing democracy?"

The New York Post endorsed Trump, even as it acknowledged that he's a political "rookie" who sometimes uses language that is "amateurish, divisive -- and downright coarse."

Sarah Palin abruptly cancelled an appearance as a surrogate for Trump at the Wyoming Republican Party convention this weekend.

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Andrea Mitchell interviews at 12:00pm ET – NBC’s Kristen Welker, Katy Tur and Hallie Jackson to preview their Road Warriors special. Former Republican presidential candidate and Trump supporter Dr. Ben Carson, Sanders’ top strategist Tad Devine and former head of the DNC Howard Dean will also join. Anne Thompson will also report live from Vatican City where Bernie Sanders is delivering a speech this morning.