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New poll shows how Trump has transformed the GOP

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
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If it’s WEDNESDAY… President Biden travels to Chicago, where he delivers a major address on “Bidenomics” at noon ET and then raises money for his re-election campaign… Donald Trump leans heavily toward skipping first GOP debate in August, NBC’s Jonathan Allen, Matt Dixon, Garrett Haake and Henry Gomez Jr. report… Speaker Kevin McCarthy walks back remarks questioning whether Trump is GOP’s strongest general-election candidate… Nikki Haley remains in New Hampshire, stumping in Portsmouth… And meet the “lesser of two evils” voters who could decide 2024.

But FIRST... Not only is former President Donald Trump leading the GOP field in the 2024 presidential race, he’s also dominating the party’s issue terrain. 

So is culture.

That’s the clear takeaway from the last batch of NBC News poll numbers we released Tuesday, testing the popularity — and unpopularity — of 11 different issues that Republican presidential candidates have been campaigning on in the 2024 contest.

The most popular issue? Deploying the U.S. military to the border to stop illegal drugs from entering the country, with 86% of GOP primary voters saying they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who supports that, versus just 6% who are less likely to vote for that person (+80 net score). 

Next in popularity is a candidate who prohibits K-8th-grade teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with students (+58). And after that is banning transgender minors from taking puberty-blocking medication (+51).

But Trump’s stamp on his party really stands out when looking at the least popular issues among GOP primary voters. 

Check out these scores: 

  • A candidate who wants to provide more funding and weapons to Ukraine (-24)
  • A candidate who threatens to penalize businesses that make statements on LGBTQ issues that the candidate might not agree with (-42)
  • A candidate who wants to address the budget deficit by reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits for Americans not already enrolled in these programs (-47).  

Yet the other story here is just how unpopular many of these issues are with the general electorate. 

The only one with majority support from all registered voters is sending the U.S. military to the border to stop illegal drugs (55% of registered voters say they’re more likely to back a candidate who supports that).  

But the others aren’t popular at all with the general electorate. 

Especially these:

  • Banning abortions after the first six weeks of pregnancy (-28)
  • Pardoning the Jan. 6 rioters (-39)
  • Penalizing companies that speak out on LGBTQ issues (-58)
  • Reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits (-65).

Chart of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 31%

That’s the share of registered voters who have positive feelings about the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the latest national NBC News poll.

That’s compared with 40% of registered voters who view the Supreme Court negatively, following sharp declines in the court’s public image in recent years. 

The perception of the court has fallen particularly among Democrats — 14% rate the court positively, compared with 54% of Democrats who said the same in 2015.

Among Republicans, 48% currently view the court in a positive light, up from a low of 24% in 2015.

To read more about NBC News’ recent polling on the Supreme Court, check out NBC News’ Charlene Richards’ reporting on the Meet the Press Blog.

Other numbers to know

6: The number of federal charges that Trump aide Walt Nauta faces. He was supposed to be arraigned on Tuesday, but the hearing was delayed until next month.

18: The number of House Democrats who signed onto a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts urging him to start an independent investigative arm at the Supreme Court and to probe Justice Clarence Thomas’ relationship with a wealthy GOP donor.

$200 billion: The amount that fraudsters may have stolen from federal Covid relief funds, a government report found.

$250 million: The value of a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James against former President Donald Trump and his family. An appeals court dismissed Ivanka Trump as a defendant in the case on Tuesday.

At least 8: The number of instances in recent months that Russian ex-convicts who were given freedom after serving in the Wagner mercenary group committed violent crimes after their return to Russia, the Associated Press found.

$3.6 billion: The value of excess state funds in Virginia, where talks between Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, and Democratic state lawmakers on what to do with the surplus broke down on Tuesday, the Washington Post reports.

Over 9,000: The number of different electronic cigarette devices sold in the U.S. despite a crackdown by the FDA, the Associated Press found.

1,000: The number of flights canceled around the East Coast on Tuesday night due to severe storms across the region.

92 million: The number of people in the U.S. under air quality alerts on Tuesday night as smoke from wildfires in Canada once again affected the U.S.

13%: The portion of the Greek electorate who voted for a far-right party in the country’s elections over the weekend, in what experts warn could be a significant moment for right-wing movements in Europe.

Eyes on 2024: Meet the voters who could decide the general election

Last year, a small group of voters did something unusual. The voters who said they “somewhat disapprove” of President Joe Biden actually broke towards Democrats, the party in power, helping to blunt an expected red wave and bucking recent trends where these voters have supported the party that’s not in power.  

And this group of “lesser of two evils” voters, who last year made up around 10% of the electorate, could be crucial in determining who wins in 2024

The new national NBC News poll finds that these voters are once again signaling that, while they aren’t wild about Biden, they could still support him, especially if he’s facing Trump. 

Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research, who conducted the poll along with Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, dubbed these voters the “BOWA Biden voters,” or the “best of what’s around.” 

While these voters would support Biden over Trump in a hypothetical rematch, they were split between Biden and DeSantis, helping to explain Biden’s narrower margin against DeSantis versus the former president. 

That shift, even among this small group of voters, is “the difference between winning and losing an election,” Horwitt said. For more on these “BOWA Biden voters,” check out NBC

In other campaign news…

Crashing the party: NBC News’ Jonathan Allen, Matt Dixon, Garrett Haake and Henry J. Gomez report that former President Donald Trump is leaning “heavily” toward skipping the first GOP presidential debate in August and may hold his own counterprogramming of the event. 

The old man and the presidency: NBC’s Carol E. Lee and Mike Memoli take a look at how Biden has been making more jokes about his age amid the increasing voter discomfort around it as he runs for re-election.

The “bravado” defense: Amid the publication of an audio recording that appears to capture Trump discussing sensitive military documents, Trump told Semafor and ABC News that he wasn’t handling classified information and was solely speaking with “bravado.”  

Clean up on aisle GOP: Hours after Speaker Kevin McCarthy told CNBC that he doesn’t know if Trump is “the strongest [GOP presidential candidate] to win the election,” he gave an interview to the conservative Breitbart News where he declared that Trump is “stronger today than he was in 2016.”

Haley hits Trump’s “moral weakness”: Trump’s former United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, took some direct shots at Trump’s handling of China and criticized his “moral weakness in his zeal to befriend [Chinese] President Xi” during a Tuesday speech, per NBC News’ Ali Vitali, Liz Brown-Kaiser and Brennan Leach.

A lead preserved in granite: Trump has slightly expanded his lead in New Hampshire, according to a new poll from the Saint Anselm College Survey Center that pegs him at 47% with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 19%. Meanwhile, DeSantis held his first town hall in the state Tuesday (as Trump also spoke in the state), taking questions from voters and sidestepping one on the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, per NBC’s Henry J. Gomez and Jonathan Allen

Give no quarter: Former Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney told NBC News’ Lester Holt that while she considers her own 2024 plans, she won’t “do anything that helps Donald Trump.” 

Suarez stumbles: Miami Mayor Francis Suarez stumbled Tuesday when asked about the Uyghur ethnic group in China, asking conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt “what’s a Uyghur?” and later jokingly referring to them as “a Weeble.” 

The Veep: Politico reports on how Vice President Kamala Harris is stepping up her presence on the campaign and messaging circuit as she looks to improve her standing with the voters ahead of next year’s election. 

Taking sides: Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi is taking sides in the Arizona Senate race, headlining a fundraiser for Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, NBC News’ Kate Santaliz reports. Gallego is challenging Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a former Democrat, although Sinema has not yet said if she is running for re-election.

No Moore: The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the so-called independent state legislature theory in the case known as Moore v. Harper, which would have limited state courts’ authority over election laws. The move undermines attorney John Eastman’s case for overturning the 2020 election, and NBC News’ Lawrence Hurley writes that “the new ruling made it clear that it and similar far-fetched theories will not fly in the 2024 election either.”

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Misconduct, negligence and errors by employees of the federal Bureau of Prisons led to the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein in prison in 2019, a new report found.

Attorney General Merrick Garland is set to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee in September. 

Oregon voters will decide next year whether the state will implement ranked choice voting for state and federal elections, NBC News’ Adam Edelman reports.