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OFF TO THE RACES: Tales from the Trail

Don't miss our latest installment of "Tales from the Trail" from our NBC News embeds in the field.

New overnight: "The conservative National Review launched a broadside against Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Thursday, publishing a scathing editorial that called the billionaire "a menace to conservatism." The magazine also published accompanying essays by 22 conservative thinkers opposing Trump's candidacy. Its cover carries the name of the National Review and the words "Against Trump."

And the RNC has now disinvited National Review as a debate partner.

The Weekly Standard: "The Republican frontrunner, a non­conservative longtime Democrat, is waltzing into GOP nominating contests largely untouched by GOP paid media. And the candidate long viewed as the party's brightest hope for the future has been the subject of relentless negative ads. Who is to blame? Virtually everyone."

More establishment Republicans are locked in a battle over whether or not Trump or Cruz is the greater threat. The New York Times, from yesterday: "Conservative intellectuals have become convinced that Mr. Trump, with his message of nationalist-infused populism, poses a dire threat to conservatism, and released a manifesto online Thursday night to try to stop him. However, the cadre of Republican lobbyists, operatives and elected officials based in Washington is much more unnerved by Mr. Cruz, a go-it-alone, hard-right crusader who campaigns against the political establishment and could curtail their influence and access, building his own Republican machine to essentially replace them."

And from the Washington Post: "Many have decided that Trump — for all his faults — is better. For one thing, many Republicans in Congress especially despise Cruz, who has a history of picking long-shot fights and blaming other Republicans when is unsuccessful. Beyond that personal hostility, there’s a political calculation. If Cruz is nominated, they say, he could alienate swing voters with his brand of scorched-earth conservatism. If he’s elected, they fear, Cruz would shut Republican moderates out of power."

And the Wall Street Journal's take: "A Republican establishment worried about the rise of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz has two big problems: Support is divided among a number of their favored, centrist candidates for the GOP presidential nomination. And when support for those candidates is combined, it falls short of what’s likely needed to win."

From David Brooks: "Americans are beset by complex, intractable problems that don’t have a clear villain: technological change displaces workers; globalization and the rapid movement of people destabilize communities; family structure dissolves; the political order in the Middle East teeters, the Chinese economy craters, inequality rises, the global order frays, etc. To address these problems we need big, responsible institutions (power centers) that can mobilize people, cobble together governing majorities and enact plans of actions. In the U.S. context that means functioning political parties and a functioning Congress."

Need a primer on caucus math? The Des Moines Register has you covered. "Given the closeness of recent polling, successful maneuvering by Sanders and Clinton supporters to win over Martin O’Malley’s supporters — or even to prop up his candidacy in certain precincts — could decide who wins the caucuses Feb. 1 and who heads to New Hampshire with momentum behind them, several caucus experts said."

BUSH: Barbara Bush will appear in an ad for Jeb, NBC's Jordan Frasier reports.

CHRISTIE: The New York Times: "A review of his activities in New Jersey found that Mr. Christie, who has started past years by proposing grand legislative compromises on issues like public pensions and criminal justice, has called on lawmakers to pass only one specific law in 2016. Mr. Christie spent 191 days entirely outside New Jersey last year, and since 2016 began, he has held only two public events in the state: his annual State of the State address, and a joint appearance with legislative leaders to unveil an agreement on casino regulation."

CLINTON: Here's Clinton ally David Brock on Sanders' new ad: "From this ad it seems black lives don't matter much to Bernie Sanders."

CRUZ: He’s hitting back at Trump with an attack on his support for eminent domain.

RUBIO: The Washington Post reports on Rubio's 1990 citation for drinking after hours in a public park.

He tried to shoot down the idea of a 3-2-1 strategy in an interview with NH1.

POLITICO has a deep dive into how his faith is problematic for some voters. "The problem here in Iowa, if it is a problem, with the kick-off caucuses a week and a half away, is not so much that Rubio is pandering for the votes of evangelicals. Or that he’s insufficiently authentic on this front. It’s that he’s entirely authentic. And it isn’t that he hasn’t “picked” a religion and stuck with it. For some, it’s that he has—and that he “picked” wrong. In this state that skews conservative, white and old, the question is paramount, but it’s no less crucial across the rest of the country, where politics and religion combine in shifting, consequential ways."

SANDERS: He walked back his comments calling Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign "the establishment."

TRUMP: The New York Times talks to Republicans who are NOT at all happy about the Trump phenomenon.

His new ad attacking Ted Cruz is a broadside on immigration.


*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Andrea Mitchell anchors from Washington, DC as the city braces for a historic blizzard. Guests will include our incredible NBC and MSNBC reporters up and down the East Coast, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and D.C. Homeland Security & Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Geldart and WRC’s Chief Meteorologist Doug Kammerer. “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and NBC’s Hallie Jackson will join to talk 2016 politics.