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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.
Scattershot: Republicans opponents still don’t have a unified strategy to stop Trump
Two days after Donald Trump’s big primary wins and after he expanded his delegate lead, his Republican opponents started firing their guns at him -- again. The problem: The bullets were all over the place.
- Conservatives led by Erick Erickson called for a “unity ticket” at the GOP convention to keep Trump from the 1,237 delegates he needs for a majority (but they didn’t specify who those unity candidates should be);
- The Club for Growth started airing a new TV ad in Utah attacking Trump;
- Sen. Lindsey Graham said he would begin to raise money for Ted Cruz (even though he had once joked that if you murder Cruz and the trial is at the Senate, no one would vote to convict you);
- And John Kasich stepped his campaign activity in Utah, which would hurt Cruz there (because the contest is winner take all if a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote)
The energy (and math) is there to stop Trump. But there still isn’t a unified strategy. As MSNBC political analyst Nicolle Wallace said on “Today” this morning, the Stop Trump movement right now doesn’t have a horse (via a one-on-one race) or a single strategy to beat Trump. And as we head to another round of GOP races on Tuesday -- in Arizona and Utah -- the clock is ticking. Indeed, if you want to stop Trump, you need to stop him in Arizona (the biggest delegate prize on Tuesday). Be sure to check out the piece by NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell on how the Stop Trump movement is limping forward.
Meet the RNC’s Rules Committee and the role it could play at the GOP convention
MSNBC’s Ari Melber describes the important role the RNC’s Rules Committee plays at the Republican convention, and what could -- or could not -- happen during a contested convention. “The RNC Rules Committee decides party regulations and writes the first draft of convention rules, which are finalized by a convention rules committee and submitted to a floor vote. Those rules are crucial. They decide which candidates are on the ballot: They could pass a rule allowing only Donald Trump to run in Cleveland, or a rule enabling new candidates to challenge him. They can decide how delegates vote — and when delegates can switch teams to support rival candidates. These are the kind of restrictions that could make the difference between a coronation or chaos in Cleveland. According to new interviews with more than a third of the 56 members of the RNC Rules Committee ...[m]ost say a contested convention is legitimate when no candidate has a delegate majority, but they disagree about whether there is an concerted effort to use this year's convention to stop Trump. Some say delegates have every right to overrule the preferences of Republican primary voters. Many Rules Committee members say they are comfortable with the prospect of several rounds of balloting to pick a winner this summer.” But Melber writes that most of these insiders reject a white knight -- Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney -- swooping in from the outside to get the nomination.
Breaking down a potential Clinton-vs.-Trump general election
While we know the perils of looking at early general-election polls, this month’s national NBC/WSJ survey (1,200 registered voters) examined a potential matchup between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- two very well-defined politicians. The results:
- Clinton bests him overall by 13 points, 51%-38% (while her lead against Cruz was just two points and she was even against Marco Rubio);
- She leads Trump 58%-31% among women, while he’s ahead of her 46%-43% among men;
- Clinton is up 74%-20% among Latinos and 91%-8% among African Americans;
- Trump leads Clinton by three points among whites, 45%-42%;
- Trump is also up three points among independents, 43%-40%;
- Clinton holds a 10-point lead among white women, 48%-38%.
Obama wants to play an active role in 2016 general
The Washington Post says that President Obama won’t be sitting on the 2016 sidelines during the general election. “Obama and his top aides have been strategizing for weeks about how they can reprise his successful 2008 and 2012 approaches to help elect a Democrat to replace him. And out of concern that a Republican president in 2017 — either Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) — would weaken or reverse some of his landmark policies, Obama and his surrogates have started making the case that it is essential for the GOP to be defeated in November. As a result, Obama is poised to be the most active sitting president on the campaign trail in decades.” Worth noting: Obama’s approval rating stands at 49% in our more recent NBC/WSJ poll, and it’s 50% in Gallup’s tracking.
And he’s starting to play a more active role in the Clinton-vs.-Sanders race
“In unusually candid remarks, President Obama privately told a group of Democratic donors last Friday that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was nearing the point at which his campaign against Hillary Clinton would end, and that the party must soon come together to back her,” the New York Times writes. “Mr. Obama chose his words carefully, and did not explicitly call on Mr. Sanders to quit the race, according to those in the room. Still, those in attendance said in interviews that they took his comments as a signal to Mr. Sanders that perpetuating his campaign, which is now an uphill climb, could only help the Republicans recapture the White House.” We figure more is coming (a later endorsement?), but this appears to be Obama’s first effort to tell Democrats that the Clinton-vs.-Sanders race is coming to a close.
On the trail
Bernie Sanders campaigns in Idaho, Utah, and Arizona… Donald Trump holds a rally in Salt Lake City, UT at 9:00 pm ET… Ted Cruz spends his day in Arizona… And John Kasich is in Utah.