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First Read: Insurgents Remain On Top in GOP Race

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.

Insurgents remain on top of GOP race

With two months to go until the Iowa caucuses, here’s another reality check on the state of the 2016 race: The Republican insurgents (Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz) are still beating the GOP establishment (Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie) -- in the polls, in excitement, and in energy. Sure, two months is a long time in American politics (Newt Gingrich was leading Mitt Romney in the Dec. 2011 national NBC/WSJ poll by 17 points!!!). And, yes, what’s been a surprising and strange race will likely become even more surprising and stranger. But the only candidates who have truly surged so far in this GOP contest have been the insurgents. So where is the excitement and energy on the establishment side? When will, say, Marco Rubio shoot up in an early-state poll the same way we saw, say, Ted Cruz in the most recent Quinnipiac poll of Iowa -- despite Rubio’s recent endorsements and his impressive debate performances? It’s more than possible that Rubio (or Jeb) could win the GOP nomination without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire -- something that’s never happened before in modern times on the Republican side. Such a scenario would prove the political scientists right that, ultimately, “the party decides.” But until then, we’re still waiting for the establishment hype around Rubio among the insider crowd to translate into something tangible in the polls or on the ground. Then again, maybe simply being seen as even having a toe in the establishment is enough to chase away primary voters. Nothing can be assumed at this point.

Hillary Clinton to commemorate 60th anniversary of Montgomery Bus Boycott

At noon ETtoday as she tries to secure her support among African-American voters, Hillary Clinton speaks at the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, per NBC’s Kristen Welker. “Clinton will discuss that while we've come a long way in the past 60 years, we have more work to do, including addressing gun violence, strengthening relationships between law enforcement and communities, prison reform, and access to the ballot box. She will call on everyone to step forward and work together in order to create a fair and just America,” a Clinton aide says. Welker also reports that the Clinton campaign is airing this radio ad on African-American stations in South Carolina. “I served proudly in President Obama’s cabinet, and I’m running for president now to make sure every child has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.” Meanwhile, here is NBC’s dispatch on the 7,800 additional Clinton emails the State Department released on Monday, which shed light “on the government's initial response following the 2012 Benghazi attacks, her own political ambitions, and even her struggle to find what channel ‘Homeland’ is on.”

Ted Cruz: “We don’t have a rubber shortage in America”

At a packed campaign stop in Bettendorf, IA last night, an audience member asked Ted Cruz about his stance on making contraception available for women, according to NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard. Cruz launched into an animated, four-minute response. He said suggestions that conservatives want to cut off access to contraception is part of a fabricated effort by Democrats to persuade voters that Republicans are engaging in a “war on women.” Said Cruz: “Anyone who wants contraceptives can access them, but it’s an utterly made-up nonsense issue.” He continued, “I have been a conservative my entire life. I have never met anybody, any conservative who wants to ban contraceptives.” And then Cruz suggested there is little reason for anyone to worry about not having access to condoms. “Last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America,” Cruz exasperatingly said to the rather boisterous crowd. “Like look, when I was in college, we had a machine in the bathroom. You put 50 cents in -- and voila!” Our follow-up question to Cruz: What is his stance on IUDs as a form of birth control?

Cruz hits Rubio on foreign policy

Meanwhile, after Marco Rubio started hitting Ted Cruz for his opposition to the NSA’s data gathering, the Texas senator took a shot at Rubio on foreign policy. “Sen. Rubio emphatically supported Hillary Clinton in toppling [Muammar] Qaddafi in Libya. I think that made no sense,” Cruz said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Qaddafi was a bad man, he had a horrible human rights record. And yet ... he had become a significant ally in fighting radical Islamic terrorism.” More from the interview: “On Syria, Cruz inveighed against Rubio and Clinton, Obama's former secretary of state, for supporting a no-fly zone and arming ‘the so-called moderate rebels.’ ‘I think none of that makes any sense. In my view, we have no dog in the fight of the Syrian civil war,’ he said, arguing that Rubio and Clinton ‘are repeating the very same mistakes they made in Libya. They've demonstrated they've learned nothing.’”

Rubio: “God’s rules always win”

NBC’s Alex Jaffe draws attention to comments that Rubio made last week in an interview with CBN’s David Brody. "If you look at biblical lessons, the first thing is, we are clearly called in the Bible to adhere to our civil authorities, but that conflicts with our requirement to adhere to God's rules, and so when those two come in conflict, God's rules always win," he told CBN’s David Brody. Rubio continued, arguing that "if we are ever ordered by a government authority to personally violate and sin, violate God's law and sin, if we're ordered to stop preaching the gospel, if we are ordered to perform a same-sex marriage as someone presiding over it, we are called to ignore that." But Rubio added in the same interview that people of faith should also participate in ways to "peacefully change the law," saying: "If you live in a society where the government creates an avenue and a way for you to peacefully change the law, then you're called to participate in that process to try to change it, not ignoring it, but trying to change the law."

Trump puts $5 million price tag on his participation in upcoming GOP debate

Last night in Georgia, NBC’s Ali Vitali reports that Donald Trump put a price tag on his participation in the upcoming Dec. 15 GOP debate hosted by CNN: $5 million. "How about I tell CNN, who doesn't treat me properly ... I'm not gonna do the next debate, okay?" The demand garnered tepid applause from the crowd. Trump zeroed in more on his idea, Vitali adds: "I won't do the debate unless they pay me $5 million, all of which goes to Wounded Warriors or goes to vets." That was something the crowd could get behind, and an idea Trump has floated once before. "The problem is they'll say 'Trump is chicken,'" he said. "One thing I'm not is chicken, okay?" More from Vitali: Trump then managed to hit eight of his GOP opponents in the span of about five minutes. Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie, all earned a jab from Trump — who even included Sen. Ted Cruz in his diatribe, though with more of a warning than an attack. "There's only one way to get to the top and it's all through Trump, let's face it."

On “Today,” Carson talks about his declining poll numbers and Syrian refugees

NBC’s Matt Lauer this morning asked Ben Carson about his declining poll numbers. “Poll numbers will go up and down. You know it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” Carson said, per NBC’s Emily Gold. Carson also discussed his trip to Jordan to visit Syrian refugee camps. “If we bring in tens of thousands of refugees into this country, have we solved the problem? The answer to that is no. Why do things that just make some people feel good and say that we've done something?” More Carson: “You know, ISIS has already said that if we bring tens of thousands of people here, they will infiltrate them with their people. And we already have good solutions. The Jordanians are very generous people. They have camps. They have places that work very well.”

On the trail

Donald Trump holds a rally in Waterville, NH at 7:00 pm ET… Marco Rubio stumps in South Carolina and Alabama… Jeb Bush makes three stops in Iowa… Chris Christie spends his day in New Hampshire… Carly Fiorina campaigns in South Carolina… And Mike Huckabee is in Iowa.

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