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Seven year itch? GOP ’24 candidates face another crossroad with Trump

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.
Image: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Oct. 9, 2018.Evan Vucci / AP file

WASHINGTON —  If it’s Monday ... The U.S. shoots down three high-altitude objects over North America in as many days… One explanation behind all this activity: After Chinese balloon flights, U.S. military is “looking at a wider range of radar data as it monitors North American airspace, and it is looking at more objects and smaller objects that it might have filtered out as clutter in the past.” ... Governors discuss civility and the 2024 race. ... And California Democrat Barbara Lee is expected to announce a Senate bid later this month.

But first: Former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who’s expected to jump into the 2024 presidential race on Wednesday, helps explain the Republican Party’s evolution before and since Donald Trump’s presidency.

In Jan. 2016 — a month before the Iowa caucuses — Haley delivered the GOP’s response to Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, in which she admitted her party was partly to blame for Washington’s dysfunction.

“We need to be honest with each other, and with ourselves: while Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around. We as Republicans need to own that truth.”

And in which she decried “the siren call of the angriest voices” on immigration.

“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”

(Haley added that she opposed open borders, but called for fixing “our broken immigration system.” 

Then Trump became president, and Haley became his U.N. ambassador.

Just compare that Haley speech from seven years ago with Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ own State of the Union response from last week.

“[President Joe Biden is] the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is,” Huckabee Sanders said.

“The dividing line in America is no longer right or left,” she added. “The choice is between normal or crazy.”

In 2016, after nearly eight years of the Obama presidency, the Republican Party was at a crossroads on policy and tone, and it went with Trump.

Seven years later — after Trump, his 2020 defeat and the Biden presidency — the GOP finds itself at another crossroads.

As the 2024 GOP presidential race is about to expand.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 4

The number of objects recently shot down over North America in the last two weeks — with three of those coming in the last three days.  

Officials say that the object shot down earlier this month near South Carolina, which traversed the United States in the days prior, was a Chinese surveillance balloon. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told ABC News the objects shot down over Alaska Friday and Canada on Saturday were balloons, too.  

But as uncertainty continues to dominate much of the discussion, check out  for more on what we do know.

Other numbers to know:

More than 35,000: The latest death toll from the earthquakes that devastated Turkey and Syria.  

6: The number of Chinese entities punished by the U.S. as retaliation for the alleged Chinese spy balloon that entered American airspace.  

$3.3 million: The amount that Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton agreed to pay, on top of an apology (but not an admission of wrongdoing), to four former staffers who had accused him of corruption.  

2 days: How long Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., spent in the hospital after feeling lightheaded. Fetterman, who suffered a stroke in May of last year, was released Friday and his spokesman said he’d return to the Senate Monday. 

$365,000: How much campaign spending Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., did not itemize in his campaign finance reports, per a New York Times investigation

82: The number of the 100 most-viewed television broadcasts in 2022 that were NFL games, per Sportico

 38: The number of points the Kansas City Chiefs scored last night, beating the Philadelphia Eagles by just three points and clinching a Super Bowl victory. 

Quote of the day: 'Civility, respect, a thirst for common ground' 

“I wish the American people could have had a camera inside the National Governors meetings these past several days. It's completely at odds with that sort of craziness we saw Tuesday night. Civility, respect, a thirst for common ground, acknowledging we’re not going to agree on a whole long list of things, but let’s find where we can agree.”

“I wish the American people could have had a camera inside the National Governors meetings these past several days. [It's] completely at odds with that sort of craziness we saw Tuesday night. Civility, respect, a thirst for common ground, acknowledging we’re not going to agree on a whole long list of things, but let’s find where we can agree.”

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on “Meet the Press.”

Eyes on 2024: Governors weigh in on the presidential race

Governors gathered in the nation’s capital in recent days for the National Governors Association winter meeting. And while they were focused on their jobs at hand, questions about the 2024 presidential race were unavoidable.  

Democrats were united in saying they would support President Joe Biden if he runs again. 

Asked on Saturday if she would like to see Biden run again, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told NBC News’ Jillian Frankel, “The president has said he’s going to run, he’ll have my support.” Whitmer also told CNN over the weekend that she is “100% “ focused on her current job when asked if she might run for president in 2028.

At a Democratic Governors Association press conference on Thursday, a group of 11 governors echoed support for Biden’s potential re-election campaign.

“100%. Yes,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the DGA’s chairman, said when asked directly if Biden should run again.

Murphy later told “Meet the Press” that Biden “has what it takes” to run for a second term, noting Biden’s recent travel touting various infrastructure projects. 

“I think you’re going to see more and more of that, and when you do, you’re going see, I believe, a significant shift in the numbers and reality,” Murphy said, responding to a question about the recent NBC News poll that found voters questioning Biden’s fitness. 

Utah GOP Gov. Spencer Cox also joined “Meet” and weighed in on the presidential race, saying he would like to see his party nominate a governor. 

In other campaign news: 

Trump’s 2020 election cloud: Former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen continue to hang over his campaign amid ongoing investigations. His attorneys are preparing to fight the special counsel’s recent subpoena of Vice President Mike Pence, per NBC News’ Garrett Haake and Minyvonne Burke. Former National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien was also recently subpoenaed in the investigation into Trump’s effort to overturn the election results, per NBC News’ Carol E. Lee and Dareh Gregorian 

A turning point?: Trump has become increasingly frustrated by the conservative youth group Turning Point USA’s outreach to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, NBC News’ Allan Smith and Vaughn Hillyard report. 

DeSantis making summer plans?: The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman (who just co-authored a long piece on the dynamic between former Trump and DeSantis) tweeted that DeSantis is eying a potential late May/early June presidential announcement.

Begun, the entitlement wars have: NBC News’ Sahil Kapur delves deeper into the battle between President Biden and Republican lawmakers on Social Security and Medicare. 

Calling in the cavalry: South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott, who is seen as a possible 2024 presidential contender, has hired former Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and another seasoned GOP political operative to head his political operation, Axios reports.

Election denialism on tour: Former Republican nominee for Arizona governor, Kari Lake, criss-crossed Iowa this weekend, per the Washington Post, and touted a false message that the 2022 election was rigged as she eyes running for office again. 

A retirement on the horizon?: In an interview with the New York Times, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., confirmed he doesn’t plan to run for president again but wouldn’t say whether he planned to run for Senate again in 2024.

The race to fill Feinstein’s shoes: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., is planning to announce her campaign for Senate later this month, a source confirms to NBC News. It would make her the third candidate to announce her bid to fill Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat. Feinstein hasn’t announced yet whether she’ll run for re-election.

The “CEO of Anti-Woke” hits the trail: Vivek Ramaswamy, a frequent Fox News guest and conservative upstart, is exploring a run for president and has appeared at multiple recent events in Iowa, Politico reports.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

A bipartisan group of lawmakers hopes that the new House select committee on China will be taken seriously and devoid of partisan bickering that can dominate other committees.

President Biden, breaking with tradition, failed to give an interview to Fox, the host of last night’s Super Bowl, after negotiations with the corporation broke down last week.

An additional classified document was discovered at former Vice President Mike Pence’s home during an FBI search on Friday.