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First Read's Morning Clips: GOP's Image Takes a Hit

A roundup of the most important political news stories of the day.
Image: Republican U.S. presidential candidates Kasich, Fiorina, Rubio, Carson, Trump, Cruz, Bush, Christie and Paul participate in the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas
Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, businessman Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul participate in the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake MIKE BLAKE / Reuters

OFF TO THE RACES: GOP primary race has hurt party’s image

Our NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the GOP primary race is hurting the overall image of the Republican Party.

GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg pens a POLITICO piece laying out how the primary calendar could make the nomination process even crazier than you expect.

Our weekly NBC|SurveyMonkey poll shows Trump and Clinton still way ahead

CARSON: The AP writes that he's trying to re-energize his supporters as he fades in the national spotlight.

CLINTON: The New York Times: "Facing a tougher than expected challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is preparing for a primary fight that could stretch into late April or early May and require a sprawling field operation in states and territories from Pennsylvania to Guam.... Even though the Clinton team has sought to convey that it has built a national operation, the campaign has invested much of its resources in the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa, hoping that a victory there could marginalize Mr. Sanders and set Mrs. Clinton on the path to the nomination. As much as 90 percent of the campaign’s resources are now split between Iowa and the Brooklyn headquarters, according to an estimate provided by a person with direct knowledge of the spending. The campaign denied that figure." A new documentary gives an inside look at the messy aftermath of Anthony Weiner's scandal, including a look at his interactions with wife Huma Abedin, a top Clinton aide.

CRUZ: NBC's Pete Williams writes that questions about Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president are not going away. "The emerging consensus of the legal experts, however, is that being "natural born" means becoming a citizen at the moment of birth, as opposed to achieving it later through the process of naturalization."

The AP writes that Cruz's passion for the Second Amendment largely coincided with his rise on the right.

NBC's Vaughn Hillyard writes that the "cage match" that Cruz long avoided with Trump is finally on in earnest.

RUBIO: The New York Times notices that Rubio has been talking about a lot of manly things since his opponents have tried to make him look childlike.

PAUL: Rand Paul is taking aim at Cruz in an unusual new video.

SANDERS: Does he actually WANT to be president? Alex Seitz-Wald looks back to the start of his campaign for answers.

SANTORUM: He said in Iowa that "the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants would be a “blessing” to impoverished Latin American countries that would benefit from skills they have learned in the United States," writes the Des Moines Register.

TRUMP: NBC's Ali Vitali reports on the evangelical message he test-drove yesterday at Liberty University.

A Washington Post investigation: "Trump’s bad bet: How too much debt drove his biggest casino aground." MORE: "In April 1990, the Taj opened as the world’s largest casino-hotel complex, joining Trump’s other holdings already operating in Atlantic City, the Trump Plaza and Trump’s Castle. But Trump could not keep pace with his debts on the three casinos. Six months later, the Taj defaulted on interest payments to bondholders as his finances went into a tailspin. In July 1991, Trump’s Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy, the first and most significant of the four that his companies have experienced.


*** Tuesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Andrea Mitchell interviews at 12p ET - State Department spokesperson John Kirby on the return of the Iranian prisoners, the family of Robert Levinson who went missing in Iran in 2007, The Washington Post’s Robert Costa and Karen Tumulty on 2016 campaign headlines and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson on Cruz v. Trump. NBC’s Tony Dokoupil also joins on the water crisis in Flint.