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First Read: Trump Speaks to a Jittery Nation (And a Jittery GOP)

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 speaks to a jittery nation and a jittery party

CLEVELAND -- Donald Trump has two goals over the next four days at his convention here: to address (and satisfy) a jittery nation and jittery party. Indeed, today's theme -- "Make America Safe Again" -- plays right into yesterday's tragic violence in Baton Rouge, LA. As for the jittery party, when you talk to GOP operatives who are gathered here, few truly expect to win in November. So Trump has opportunities to calm the nerves of both a rattled public and a rattled Republican Party. Does he seize them?

A divided (and unpopular) GOP comes to Cleveland

As Republicans begin the first day of their convention here, we can safely say that the state of their party is, well, not so strong. In the new NBC/WSJ poll, which finds Hillary Clinton holding on to her five-point lead over Donald Trump, only 38% of Republican voters say they are satisfied with Trump as their nominee, versus 54% of Democrats who say they are satisfied with Clinton. What's more, a combined 85% of all voters - including 78% of Republicans - say the GOP is not that unified or only somewhat unified. That's compared with 48% of all voters (and 40% of Democrats) who say that about the Democratic Party. And overall, the Republican Party has a fav/unfav rating of 27%/51% (-24) in the poll, compared with the Democrats' 39%/41% score (-2). So while you could look at our poll and fairly conclude that both Trump (-33) and Clinton (-22) are unpopular in our NBC/WSJ poll, there really is no comparing the state of the GOP heading into their convention and the Democrats going into theirs.

A long way since 2010…

Of course, it wasn't always this way. Back in our Dec, 2010 NBC/WSJ poll, right after the GOP won control of the House in the midterms, the Republican Party enjoyed a positive 38%/37% (+1) rating. But that was the last time in the past six years -- after the 2011 debt-ceiling showdown, the 2012 election, the 2013 government shutdown, and the 2015-2016 presidential campaign.

  • Dec. 2010: 38% positive, 37% negative (+1) -- AFTER 2010 MIDTERMS
  • Jan. 2011: 34% positive, 40% negative (-6)
  • April 2011: 31% positive, 44% negative (-13)
  • May 2011: 32% positive, 44% negative (-12)
  • March 2012: 32% positive, 43% negative (-11)
  • July 2012: 34% positive, 43% negative (-9)
  • Aug. 2012: 36% positive, 45% negative (-9) - BEFORE CONVENTION
  • Oct. 2012: 36% positive, 43% negative (-7) - BEFORE 2012 ELECTION
  • Dec. 2012: 30% positive, 45% negative (-15) -- AFTER 2012 ELECTION
  • Feb. 2013: 29% positive, 46% negative (-17)
  • Oct. 2013: 22% positive, 53% negative (-31) -- GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN
  • Dec. 2013: 26% positive, 51% negative (-25)
  • Oct./Nov. 2014: 29% positive, 47% negative (-18) -- BEFORE 2014 MIDTERMS
  • Dec. 2014: 30% positive, 45% negative (-15) -- AFTER 2014 MIDTERMS
  • April 2015: 30% positive, 43% negative (-13) -- 2016 RACE BEGINS
  • April 2016: 27% positive, 51% negative (-24)
  • May 2016: 24% positive, 48% negative (-24)
  • June 2016: 28% positive, 48% negative (-20)
  • July 2016: 27% positive, 51% negative (-24) -- BEFORE CONVENTION

"This is clearly going to be Donald Trump's convention"

The theme of the first night of the GOP convention is "Make America Safe Again" -- with an expected big focus security, Benghazi, immigration, and the recent violence against police. And the primetime speakers include (in order): former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, actor Scott Baio, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Rudy Giuliani, Melania Trump, Lt. Col. Michael Flynn, Sen. Joni Ernst, and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT). Despite that roster of GOP politicians who are speaking tonight, it's striking how few GOP pols were listed as headliners by convention organizers. There's not a Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell listed below, but there are SIX members of the Trump family who are:

Monday: Make America Safe Again

Headliners: Melania Trump, Lieutenant General (ret.) Michael Flynn, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Jason Beardsley and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (Mont.).

Tuesday: Make America Work Again

Headliners: Tiffany Trump, Kerry Woolard, Donald Trump, Jr., U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Ben Carson and Kimberlin Brown.

Wednesday: Make America First Again

Headliners: Lynne Patton; Eric Trump; former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, whom Donald Trump has chosen as his vice presidential running mate.

Thursday: Make America One Again

Headliners: Peter Thiel, Tom Barrack, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump

Asked by CBS yesterday whose convention this will be -- Trump's or the Republican Party's -- Paul Manafort of the Trump campaign answered, "Well, it's both. But this is clearly going to be Donald Trump's convention. The delegates on the floor are going to be his delegates. More importantly, the message is going to be his."

Look who's NOT coming to dinner

It's just as striking who is speaking over the next four days as who isn't. Here's NBC's Jane Timm: "No previous Republican presidents or vice presidents will speak, just a third of the party's original 17 presidential contenders will rally behind the nominee, and just 11 of the most prominent speakers at 2012's convention will have a slot this year. Instead, there are Trumps — including five immediate family members — Trump friends and Trump employees." Among the missing Republican speakers are:

  • Any Bush at all
  • Mitt Romney
  • John McCain
  • Nikki Haley
  • John Kasich

Manafort: Kasich is "embarrassing" the state by not attending GOP convention

As for Kasich's absence from the convention - even though he's the governor of the state hosting it! - here's NBC's Kailani Koenig: "Thursday will mark the one-year anniversary of Ohio Gov. John Kasich becoming the final entrant in a crowded GOP primary field in which Donald Trump was viewed as little more than a celebrity sideshow. But that same day — July 21 — will also be when Trump steps on the stage in Cleveland to accept the party's presidential nomination. And Kasich won't be there to welcome him." On "Today" this morning, Manafort said that Kasich is "embarrassing the state" by not attending.

Trump utters more than 2,160 words in "60 Minutes" interview; Pence says just 900

Here's the Washington Post on yesterday's Trump-Mike Pence on "60 Minutes": "For their first lengthy public interaction, Donald Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence opted for a sit-down interview with 60 Minutes. Trump did most of the talking during the 21-minute segment that aired on Sunday night, while Pence sat beside him, gazing approvingly and allowing Trump to answer nearly all of the questions, even those directed at him. By the end, Trump had uttered more than 2,160 words while Pence's word count clocked in around 900. When Pence did get the chance to speak, Trump would often cut him off with a correction or answer of his own." Let's be honest about the Pence VP rollout: It makes the 2008 rollout of Sarah Palin look orderly and on-message.

NBC/WSJ poll: 74% of voters say race relations are bad in U.S.

One of the backdrops to the start of the GOP convention is yesterday's killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge, LA -- and that comes as our NBC/WSJ poll finds the state of race relations in the United States at their worst point in the poll's history. "Nearly three-quarters of American voters say that race relations in the United States are bad, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll - the highest percentage ever saying in the poll's history. A combined 74% of voters say race relations are bad, including 32% who say they are "very bad." That's higher than the 61% of who said race relations were bad in Oct. 1995 after the verdict finding O.J. Simpson innocent.

Veepstakes Watch

NBC's Kailani Koenig caught up with Tim Kaine, who called Mike Pence's record "anti-civil rights" … The Washington Post looks at Clinton's VP options, from fiery liberals to white guys… The Post also notes that a Kaine pick could -- eventually -- cost Democrats a Senate seat… USA Today hypothesizes that the Pence pick gives Clinton more VP options… NJ.com writes of Cory Booker's potential Senate seat woes… And Tom Vilsack said over the weekend: "I'm confident that whoever Hillary chooses, that that person will compliment her and I think we're going to have a very interesting time in the next couple of months."

On the trail

Hillary Clinton speaks in Cincinnati, OH at the NAACP convention at 11:30, she later holds an organizing event in Cincy at 2:45 pm ET, and then she attends to the American Federation of Teachers conference in Minneapolis, MN at 6:00 pm ET.

Countdown to Dem convention: 7 days