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First Read: The GOP Establishment's Big Choice About Trump

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.
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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 GOP Establishment’s Choice: Accept Trump or Reject Him

After another weekend of controversy (claiming that Mitt Romney isn’t a Mormon) and violence (another sucker punch at one of his rallies), Donald Trump today heads to Washington, where establishment Republicans find themselves facing a familiar choice: accept him or reject him. “Trump will reportedly attend a meeting of Republicans — including perhaps some members of Congress — at the Jones Day law firm [in Washington],” NBC’s Ali Vitali writes. “That's slated to be followed by a press availability at his Trump International Hotel project. His day will wrap up with remarks at AIPAC, where his fellow Republican rivals will also take the stage.” Accept Trump -- who is trailing Hillary Clinton by double digits in hypothetical general-election matchups, who could possibly put the House in play for Democrats, and who could fundamentally transform the Republican Party as we know it. Or reject Trump -- whose delegate lead is likely to increase after this week’s contests, whose alternative is Ted Cruz, and whose supporters will likely abandon the GOP in the fall if Trump is not the nominee. As we wrote last week, neither is necessarily a good choice. Trump’s meeting at the Jones Day law firm takes place this morning, his news conference is at 2:15 pm ET, and his speech to AIPAC is at 5:45 pm ET.

Trump, Clinton, Kasich, Cruz all address AIPAC

Trump isn’t the only 2016er today addressing AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group. Clinton speaks at 9:35 am ET, John Kasich goes at 5:15 pm, and Ted Cruz addresses the confab in DC at 6:35 pm ET. A Clinton aide previews the candidate’s speech: She will say the next president must be a steady hand, not unpredictable, when it comes to standing by American allies like Israel -- an obvious dig at Trump (and also Bernie Sanders, too). And Clinton will say the U.S. must never be neutral about defending Israel -- another dig at Trump’s previous comment that he would be neutral when it comes to Israel-vs.-Palestine in trying to achieve Middle East peace. Sanders, meanwhile, won’t be addressing AIPAC, but he’ll deliver a foreign-policy speech while in Utah today.

The GOP delegate race

Here are NBC’s latest numbers going into Tuesday’s Republican contests in Arizona (primary) and Utah (caucuses):

Trump holds a 258-delegate lead over Cruz

  • Trump 685 (47% of delegates won)
  • Cruz 427 (29%)
  • Rubio 172 (12%)
  • Kasich 143 (10%)

Trump needs to win 55% of remaining delegates needed to reach 1237 magic number.

Cruz needs to win 80% of remaining delegates needed to reach 1237 magic number.

Kasich needs to win 108% of remaining delegates needed to reach 1237 magic number.

The Democratic delegate race

And here are NBC’s latest numbers going into Tuesday’s Dem contests in Arizona (primary), Idaho (caucuses), and Utah (caucuses):

In pledged delegates, Clinton holds a 307-delegate lead over Sanders

  • Clinton 1143 (58%)
  • Sanders 836 (42%)

In overall delegates, Clinton holds a 720-delegate lead over Sanders

  • Clinton 1579 (65%)
  • Sanders 859 (35%)

Clinton needs to win 35% of remaining delegates to hit 2383 magic number

Sanders needs to win 65% of remaining delegates to hit 2383 magic number

The 2016 money race

Here’s a quick summary of the February fundraising/spending filings for the remaining presidential candidates that were sent to the Federal Election Commission:

Raised in February (Feb. 1-29)

  • Sanders: $43.5 million
  • Clinton: $30.1 million (includes money from the Hillary Victory Fund)
  • Cruz: $11.9 million
  • Trump: $9.2 million
  • Kasich $3.4 million

Cash on hand as of Feb. 29

  • Clinton: $30.8 million
  • Sanders: $17.2 million
  • Cruz: $8 million
  • Trump: $1.3 million
  • Kasich $1.3 million

Burn rates (amount spent over amount raised)

  • Sanders: 94%
  • Trump: 103%
  • Clinton: 105%
  • Kasich: 107%
  • Cruz: 147%

By the way, Rubio raised $9.6 million and had $5.5 million as of Feb. 29. Of course, he dropped out of the GOP race on March 15 after losing his home state of Florida to Trump.

The millionaires who helped pump $25 million into the Rubio Super PAC

Speaking of Rubio, it wasn’t Sheldon Adelson or a Koch brother who helped pump $25 million into the pro-Rubio Super PAC that kept the candidate afloat -- at least when it comes to TV ad spending -- in the 2016 race. According to the FEC filing, the big contributors were many of the already-known Rubio money folks: Paul Singer ($2.5 million), Norman Braman ($1 million), Oracle’s Larry Ellison ($1 million), plus Hank Greenberg’s companies ($5 million) and Arkansas poultry magnate Ronald Cameron ($5 million). One other Super PAC point: The pro-Clinton Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has nearly $45 million in the bank as of Feb. 29.

Democrats to Sanders: Time to wind down your campaign -- and lay off our likely nominee

Yesterday on the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders went after Hillary Clinton -- again. “We need real change in this country and, between you and me, I do not believe that real change is going to come from a candidate like Secretary Clinton, who receives millions of dollars from Wall Street, who receives, who has a Super PAC that receives 15 million bucks from Wall Street, money from the fossil fuel industry, money from the drug companies.” And those attacks on Clinton come as Democrats are telling Sanders to wind it down. Politico: “Democratic senators of all stripes are as impressed as they are surprised by Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign. But the time has come, they say, for Sanders to start winding things down… They don’t say outright he should quit; doing so would be counterproductive, they say. But nearly a dozen Democratic lawmakers suggested in interviews that Sanders should focus more on stopping Donald Trump and less on why he believes Clinton’s stands on trade, financial regulation and foreign policy would make her a flawed president.” Here’s Sen. Claire McCaskill: “What’s important is not whether or not he gets out, but how he campaigns. If the contrast is now about what separates us from Donald Trump, then I think it’s fine. I just hope that we can begin to focus on unifying because obviously a lot of us are perplexed that we could be facing a country led by someone who seems to be a buffoon.”

Obama’s day in Havana

“Brushing past profound differences, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro will sit down Monday at Havana's Palace of the Revolution for a historic meeting, offering critical clues about whether Obama's sharp U-turn in policy will be fully reciprocated,” the AP reports. “For Obama, there's no better place than Havana to show that engagement can do more than isolation to bring about tangible change in the tiny communist nation. Yet for the Cubans, the glaring question is whether their own government is ready to prove the ambitious diplomatic opening is more than just talk.”

On the trail

Clinton campaigns in Arizona at 6:30 pm ET, while Bill Clinton hits Washington state… Bernie Sanders stumps in Idaho, Utah, and Arizona.