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First Read: Donald Trump's Constantly Moving Targets

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.

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 constantly moving targets

When he first entered the presidential race, Donald Trump attacked Mexico and Mexicans. Then he targeted John McCain. Then it was Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry. After the first debate, Trump picked a fight with Megyn Kelly and Fox News. Next it was Jeb Bush. And then yesterday, in a span of less than 12 hours, Trump blasted Kelly and Fox News (again), Univision’s Jorge Ramos, and even Marco Rubio, per NBC’s Ali Vitali. Whew, got all of that? Indeed, you could argue that all of Trump’s moving targets have become one of the secrets to his political success so far: There are so many, it’s hard to track -- let alone remember -- the latest outrage. Here’s Red State’s Leon Wolf (hat tip: MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin: “Watching Donald Trump speak and answer questions … is like watching a billion targets appear in the sky all at once, for a political opponent. Each thing he says is so bizarre, or ill informed, or demonstrably false, or un presidential in tone or character, that it becomes impossible to know which target to lock on to or focus on.” More: Donald Trump is the political equivalent of chaff, a billion shiny objects all floating through the sky at once, ephemeral, practically without substance, serving almost exclusively to distract from more important things – yet nonetheless completely impossible to ignore.” Exactly.

Trump: “I am not a bully”

That said, the overall story about Trump is the same: He’s attacking someone out there. On “Today” this morning, NBC’s Matt Lauer asked Trump is he was a bully. Trump replied, “I am not a bully; in fact, I think it is the opposite… [Univision’s Jorge Ramos] gets up and starts ranting and raving.”

Could Republicans have avoided Trump-ism?

By the way, it’s not just Donald Trump who’s mixing it up with Megyn Kelly and Fox News. When Kelly repeatedly asked Ted Cruz last night what he would do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants, Cruz responded by saying that’s “the question every mainstream media liberal journalist wants to ask” and “the question Barack Obama wants to focus on.” Yet given that exchange as well as Trump’s battle with Univision’s Ramos, it’s worth considering this thought exercise via the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent: Would the Trump phenomenon and the 11 million question even exist right now if House Republicans voted on the Senate immigration bill last year? “If Republicans had simply held votes on immigration reform in 2013 or in early 2014, it probably would have passed,” Sargent writes. “That likely would have made it harder for Trump-ism to take hold to the degree it has so far.”

Hillary heads to Iowa with another big endorsement in her arms

Turning to the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton holds three campaign events in Iowa today – after picking up the endorsement from current Agriculture Secretary (and former Iowa Gov.) Tom Vilsack. Here’ NBC’s Danny Freeman: “Less than two weeks after locking up the support of key Iowa Democrat former Senator Tom Harkin, Hillary Clinton received the endorsement of perhaps the second most prominent democratic Iowan politician: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. ‘On Feb. 1, 2016 I intend to proudly caucus for Hillary Clinton — plain and simple,’ Vilsack wrote in the first line of an op-ed published in the Cedar Rapids-based paper The Gazette.” Make no mistake: The timing of this Vilsack endorsement is sending a message to Joe Biden that current members of President Obama’s cabinet are lining up behind Clinton (though it’s worth adding that Vilsack endorsed Clinton over Obama back in 2008).

A personal decision for Biden

He’s never been as close to a 2016 bid, and yet he’s still far away: As for Biden, we want to share this insight about his decision-making process after reporting and gathering string as he mulls a 2016 bid. First, it’s a very personal decision for him -- it won’t be based on metrics. He knows that the odds will be stacked against him, but he also knows that the minute he closes the door on a presidential run, he knows his political career is over, especially after leaving office in Jan. 2017. Right now, he’s also open to a White House bid because in his previous runs (in 1988, 2008), there never was a demand by other Democrats (and the news media) for him to get in. But he also realizes that if he runs, he’ll be required to attack Hillary Clinton, and he’s never been comfortable attacking folks from his own party. (Remember who didn’t pile on Hillary Clinton during that drivers’ licenses exchange from Oct. 2007?) Bottom line after this reporting: He’s never been so close to running in 2016 -- and yet he’s still far away.

What Biden can (and can’t) do as he mulls a 2016 bid

As Biden mulls a presidential run, he is legally allowed to discuss the 2016 campaign with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (as he did on Saturday) and speak with potential donors (as he's planning to do after Labor Day), one of us writes. He's even allowed to "test the waters" by making a visit to the early nominating states of Iowa or New Hampshire. But here's what Biden can't do right now: actually pay the tens of thousands - or even hundreds of thousands - of dollars it costs for a sitting vice president to travel to places like Manchester, N.H., or Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The reason? He doesn't appear to have a fundraising vehicle - either a campaign account, Super PAC, leadership PAC, or his own personal wealth - to pay for it. And without one, he's running out of options to do more. "To test the waters, the first thing you have to do is raise the money," says Larry Noble, the senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center and former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission.

Where Jeb differs from his brother: hurricane response

With the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Jeb Bush campaign has a video touting his hurricane response as Florida governor. After all, remember who his director of emergency management was -- Craig Fugate, who is President Obama’s FEMA director. This is a not-so-subtle reminder by the Bush campaign that he isn’t his brother. Then again, do note who makes an appearance in this Jeb video: none other than George W. Bush FEMA Director Michael Brown (at the 54-second mark).

Colorado GOP cancels its nominating contest

Finally, don’t miss this news: It looks like Colorado Republicans won’t be holding ANY kind of nominating contest in 2016. What? “Colorado will not vote for a Republican candidate for president at its 2016 caucus after party leaders approved a little-noticed shift that may diminish the state's clout in the most open nomination contest in the modern era,” the Denver Post says. “The GOP executive committee has voted to cancel the traditional presidential preference poll after the national party changed its rules to require a state's delegates to support the candidate that wins the caucus vote. The move makes Colorado the only state so far to forfeit a role in the early nomination process, according to political experts, but other caucus states are still considering how to adapt to the new rule.”

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