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 Trump vs. McCain feud continues
Two days after Donald Trump belittled John McCain’s war record and military service, the feud spilled over to Monday morning. “I’m not a fan of John McCain,” Trump said on NBC’s “Today,” adding, “He has done a terrible job for the vets… Illegal immigrants get treated better than many of our vets, and John McCain hasn’t done anything about it. Trump stressed to NBC’s Matt Lauer that he referred to McCain as a war hero four times in his remarks in Iowa on Saturday. But here was the offending comment: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” About 30 minutes later on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” McCain took the high road, saying that Trump doesn’t owe him an apology -- but instead to the families “to those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country.” He continued, “To denigrate their service is an offense to our veterans.” McCain didn’t apologize for calling Trump’s supporters in Arizona “crazies,” which essentially started this feud. Noting the divisive politics in his home state, where he’s up for re-election next year, McCain said, “I thought it was a term of endearment.” And when asked if Trump should exit the GOP presidential contest, McCain said, “I think that’s a decision he has to make… What he should do is apologize to the families.”
Is this a tipping point? Or simply the beginning?
In a normal world of politics and for a normal political candidate, this would be a tipping point: As the party abandons Trump, so would GOP primary voters. But this isn’t a normal time in American politics, and Donald Trump isn’t your normal political candidate. He’s unpredictable, and that’s the issue. He doesn’t play by conventional rules, so conventional patterns might not apply. As our colleague Dante Chinni put it, Trump is a combination of Ross Perot and Howard Stern. And a Howard Stern doesn’t succumb to controversy; he thrives in it.
The governing wing of the GOP vs. its aggrieved/bombastic side
In a way, it’s fitting that that this fight features John McCain vs. Donald Trump. After all, McCain represents the governing wing of the Republican Party in the Obama Era -- highlighted by his work on the Gang of Eight immigration reform legislation. By contrast, Trump is the latest to represent the aggrieved and bombastic wing of the GOP -- see his “birther” crusade against Obama in 2011, the comments on Mexicans last month, and his feud now with McCain. But do remember: McCain himself sometimes carried the aggrieved/bombastic flag during Obama’s first term in office. And he helped birth the previous iteration of Donald Trump: Sarah Palin.
The 2016 Republicans tee off on Trump -- with one exception
As it relates to the 2016 contest, Trump’s comments on McCain finally created the opening for Trump’s GOP rivals to tee off on real-estate mogul -- more than we saw after Trump’s remarks on Mexico. Here was Rick Perry on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday: “Until Mr. Trump apologizes directly to John McCain, and also to the veterans of this country, I don't think he has the character or the temperament to hold the highest position in this country.” Here was Scott Walker to NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell: "At a minimum, he needs to apologize... "[W]hen it came to personal attack like this against the military, an American hero, I'm gonna call it like I see it." The one Republican who didn’t truly condemn Trump’s remarks was Ted Cruz, who called McCain a war hero but added, "You know I recognize that folks in the press love to see Republican-on-Republican violence, and so you want me to say something bad about Donald Trump, or bad about John McCain or bad about anyone else," he said. "I'm not going to do it."
Why Fox and GOP can’t dump Trump from that first debate
Over the weekend, we heard lots of commentary that the Republican National Committee and/or Fox News should exclude Trump from that first GOP debate in August. But according to Federal Election Commission regulations, only a “bona fide staging organization” can host a debate -- and in this case, it’s the media organization (Fox News). What’s more, if debate organizers tried to include/remove someone who didn’t meet stated criteria, the action would be considered an illegal political contribution.
Four additional questions we have
Regarding Trump’s comments and their impact on the 2016 race, well, we never believed Trump was going to win -- he was always doomed to crash and burn. (If it wasn’t going to be controversial comments, it was going to be his “pro-choice,” pro-universal health care positions that did him in.) But we do have three questions that the Trump-vs.-McCain feud has created:
1. Why did the party and the 2016 rivals draw the line on the McCain comments, but not the comments on Mexicans (last month) or Obama (in 2011 to now)?
2. If dumping on war heroes is unacceptable, should we revisit what happened to John Kerry in 2004? (On “Morning Joe,” McCain said that he criticized the “Swiftboat” attacks on Kerry in that presidential election.)
3. If the GOP pushes back too hard, does it risk forcing Trump to make an independent bid for president?
4. Last week, we saw Donald Trump overshadow Scott Walker’s presidential announcement week. Do we see the same thing happen to John Kasich, who officially announces his presidential bid on Tuesday?
Jeb Bush takes on Washington
In non-Trump 2016 news, Jeb Bush delivers a speech in Tallahassee, FL, where he’ll criticize the political culture in Washington, DC. “The overspending, the overreaching, the arrogance, and the sheer incompetence in that city -- these problems have been with us so long that they are sometimes accepted as facts of life. But a president should never accept them, and I will not. We need a president willing to challenge the whole culture in our nation’s capital –and I mean to do it!” The challenge for Bush: Can the son and brother of former U.S. presidents really be viewed as a Washington outsider?
Cuba opens its embassy in DC
The other big political story today: “Later this morning, the Cuban flag will be raised and Cuba will open an embassy here in Washington as the United States and Cuba formally re-establish diplomatic relations after more than a half century,” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on “Today.”
RNC hits Hillary on Nigeria
Finally today, the Republican National Committee is out with this hit on Hillary Clinton: “Clinton’s Legacy In Nigeria: As Nigeria’s President Comes To Washington To Discuss The Brutal Fight Against Boko Haram, A Quick Reminder Of Clinton’s Failure To Act Against The Militants Ravaging The Region.”