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.
Another news cycle dominated by Donald Trump
We’re now entering Day Four after the first GOP primary debate, and the political narrative is still squarely focused on the fallout from Trump’s performance and subsequent war with Megyn Kelly and now Erick Erickson. The controversy was already largely framed around Trump’s treatment of Kelly and other women BEFORE his “blood coming out of her wherever” comment late Friday, but now it’s even more solidly defined around issues of gender and the GOP. Erickson on Saturday said: “I don't want my daughter in the room with Donald Trump tonight.” And Carly Fiorina, fresh off of a debate performance that’s elevated her as one of Thursday night’s big winners (more on that below) said Sunday that “women understood that comment. And yes, it is offensive.” Trump continues to claim that he was making a widely-understood reference to Kelly’s nose and ears, telling Savannah Guthrie on TODAY that “Who would say such a thing? No. If I would have said that, it would have been inappropriate.” Also worth noting: Trump wouldn’t say during another interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe if he’s communicated with FOX News about his battle with the network, saying “my whole life has been led on the theory that I don’t want to embarrass people.”
“Political correctness” versus “courteous speech”
So much of Trump’s appeal to fans hinges on what supporters call his willingness to toss aside “political correctness.” But like his comments about John McCain’s military service, his latest rash of comments about Kelly has even rivals who have also tried to own the anti-P.C. space implying that Trump’s comments were simply mean-spirited. As Trump himself noted in his statement on Saturday, Erickson is no wallflower when it comes to outlandish and personal comments about the left. (See: His labeling of Wendy Davis as “Abortion Barbie”). And Ben Carson – whose candidacy is also largely based on his eschewing of political niceties -- especially since his own rise to fame was fueled by a blistering critique of Barack Obama while the president sat just feet away -- seemed to suggest that Trump had crossed a line, saying on CBS that there “may be a difference between political correctness and, you know, courteous speech -- there is a difference.” Same goes for Mike Huckabee, who has also called for Trump to apologize in this latest spat. One key difference we see between the McCain comments and Trump’s war with Kelly, by the way: Kelly started off from a place of a lot more love from conservatives than the former GOP nominee ever had.
About Sunday’s online poll
On Sunday, we debuted a new NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll - conducted over 24 hours beginning on Friday evening and into Saturday – showed Trump still leading a poll of Republican primary voters despite his war with Fox News. Trump led the poll with 23 percent, while Sen. Ted Cruz captured the second spot at 13 percent. Twenty-two percent of respondents said that Carly Fiorina won Thursday night’s debate, beating Trump, Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio. Another data point: 54 percent of Trump’s supports say they would vote for him for president as an independent candidate. The poll was conducted among a national sample of 3,551 adults selected from the nearly three million people who use the SurveyMonkey platform each day. For more on the poll’s methodology, you can read the full poll here.
Feeling the (West Coast) Bern
Twin headlines from Bernie Sanders’ weekend: On Saturday, a major event in Seattle was shut down by Black Lives Matter activists, who leapt on stage and accused Sanders of failing to embrace the grassroots movement. Then on Sunday, he drew a massive crowd of 28,000 in Portland, according to his campaign. Sanders has another big rally scheduled for Los Angeles tonight. The two stories encapsulate two themes going on with Sanders’ campaign right now: Huge energy from within the party’s liberal centers (Portland’s county chose Barack Obama over Romney by 55 points in 2012) and continued tension with one of the most important constituencies within those centers: activists who say that race relations and police reform should be a primary focus of the party.
Violence in Ferguson
Speaking of the Black Lives Matter movement, more violence in Ferguson again overnight – one year after the police shooting of Michael Brown -- underscores how race relations are continuing to animate the national and political conversation. Here’s the latest from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “A peaceful day of protest and remembrance dissolved into chaos late Sunday when a man fired multiple shots at four St. Louis County plainclothes detectives in an SUV. The detectives fired back and the shooter was struck, said county Police Chief Jon Belmar. He was in critical condition.”
Clinton lays out college affordability plan
New this morning: Hillary Clinton is laying out a $350 billion student debt reform program – the most detailed and sweeping policy proposal we’ve seen from the campaign yet. MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald has the details: “By closing undisclosed tax loopholes on the wealthy, Clinton plans to raise $350 billion over 10 years to invest in higher education. Of that, more than half would be used for grants to states, public universities, and non-profit colleges that keep costs low for students and meet several other requirements. Another third of the money would go towards debt relief for students. Clinton’s plan would allow every American who owes money to the government to refinance their loans at today’s historically low interest rate. And she’d cut future borrowing costs by preventing the government from making a profit on loans to students.” While her plan doesn’t go as far as the policies laid out by Sanders and Martin O’Malley, so far, it’s getting some favorable reviews from some progressive voices this morning.
On the trail: Ted Cruz continues his bus tour through the South, with four stops in Tennessee. Hillary Clinton unveils her college debt reform plan in New Hampshire. And Bernie Sanders holds a rally in Los Angeles.