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Trump transformed the GOP. That’s a problem for his rivals.

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.
Trump transformed the GOP. That’s a problem for his rivals
Former Vice President Mike Pence during a meet and greet on May 23, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall / AP

If it’s THURSDAY… Compromise debt-ceiling bill passes the House by 314-117 vote, now heads to the Senate… NBC News traces how the debt-ceiling deal got done… Donald Trump participates in a town hall with Fox News’ Sean Hannity… Former Vice President Mike Pence launches presidential bid on June 7, per NBC’s Jonathan Allen… Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters field a day earlier, on June 6… And President Biden delivers commencement address at U.S. Air Force Academy at 11:40 am ET.

But FIRST... Mike Pence and Chris Christie are both officially jumping into the Republican presidential race next week. 

They both have criticized frontrunner Donald Trump to varying degrees — with Pence knocking Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, and with Christie attacking the former president on a lot more. 

And they both represent a return to a Republican Party before Trump descended that golden escalator eight years ago, in June 2015. 

That might be their biggest challenge. Think of the different ways the GOP has changed since Trump won in ‘16: It’s more anti-free trade; it’s less for entitlement reform; it’s less for free speech (especially for corporations that might want to express pro-LGBT views); and it’s a party that still adores Trump. 

After all, just look at these fav/unfav scores of the 2024 Republican field among GOP voters per the latest national Monmouth poll

  • Ron DeSantis: 73%-12% (+61)
  • Donald Trump: 77%-17% (+60)
  • Tim Scott: 44%-8% (+36)
  • Nikki Haley: 47%-16% (+31)
  • Vivek Ramaswamy: 22%-6% (+16)
  • Mike Pence: 46%-35% (+11)
  • Asa Hutchinson: 17%-14% (+3)
  • Chris Sununu: 15%-15% (even)
  • Chris Christie: 21%-47% (-26)

Notice a pattern? Those who have directly criticized Trump’s behavior and actions — Pence, Hutchinson, Sununu and Christie — have either middling to historically poor scores. 

And it’s worth noting that the candidate who has tried to be a DIFFERENT or IMPROVED version of Trump is essentially tied with the former president on that fav/unfav scale — DeSantis. 

One more thought we’ll leave you with: The larger the GOP field that makes it to Iowa, the harder it will be for DeSantis to beat Trump. 

Remember, Trump can lose the Iowa caucuses and still win the GOP nomination (that’s what happened in 2016). But DeSantis HAS to win the Hawkeye State to have the momentum to beat Trump in a delegate race. 

And the more Republican candidates grabbing votes in Iowa — Pence, Christie, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley — makes that harder for the Florida governor.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 117

That’s how many members of the House — including 71 Republicans and 46 Democrats — voted against the deal to raise the debt ceiling and impose some spending caps that President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated to avert a national default, per NBC News’ Capitol Hill team. 

But that was not enough to tank the legislation, with 314 lawmakers voting Wednesday night to pass the bill. The measure now heads to the Senate. And it gives McCarthy a chance to take a victory lap after once again defying the naysayers, NBC News’ Scott Wong writes.  

But the deal did draw criticism from conservatives and progressives, as well as most of the GOP presidential primary field. Former President Donald Trump weighed in on the deal after it passed, telling a local Iowa radio station, “Kevin worked really hard…I would have taken a different stance, but it’s done…we’ll get it fixed in two years,” per NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard, Olympia Sonnier and Freddie Tunnard. 

Other numbers to know:

6: The number of Oklahoma Supreme Court justices who ruled on Tuesday that two abortion bans in the state were unconstitutional, striking them but leaving in place a 1910 law that bans abortion in nearly all cases.

2: The number of people Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear appointed to the state board of education this week after journalists and Republicans highlighted that the two seats had been vacant for over a year. 

Nearly 600: The number of photos that could be thrown out of a case against an ex-CIA officer accused of allegedly abusing women because the photos may have been obtained by federal authorities.

$5.8 million: The amount that Ring, Amazon’s doorbell camera unit, will pay in a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission regarding privacy.

1,900: The number of Amazon workers globally who pledged to walk out on Wednesday to protest the company’s lack of progress on climate goals and its new return-to-work policy. 

2: The number of female journalists in Iran who went on trial this week for their reporting on the death of a Kurdish woman at the hands of Iran’s “morality police,” reporting that sparked widespread protests.

14: How many days it’s been since Border Patrol agents shot and killed a Native American man, Raymond Mattia, as family and friends still search for answers

$192 billion: Billionaire Elon Musk’s net worth in Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, making him the world’s richest man again

Eyes on 2024: Republicans raise concerns about door-knocking program

A lot of factors contributed to the GOP underperformance in last year’s midterm elections. But as NBC News’ Allan Smith reports, one less-talked about factor may lie in the party’s massive voter-contact operation, which some Republicans warn remains too vulnerable to fraud or reliant on questionable data. 

Among the episodes detailed in Smith’s new story — how paid canvassers who were supposed to be knocking on doors in Las Vegas were instead sitting inside a casino eight miles away as they were fraudulently checking off homes they supposedly were visiting. And in Georgia, canvassers drastically shifted away from electronic reporting toward harder-to-verify paper records, in the race’s final weeks. 


In other campaign news…

On the trail: DeSantis’ swing through Iowa continued Wednesday, where he sought to draw a contrast with Trump. Meanwhile, some Florida leaders are pushing back on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement “diverting waves of additional resources” towards DeSantis’ “protection and priorities,” NBC News’ Matt Dixon reports.

Trump on tape: Federal prosecutors have reportedly obtained a recording that includes Trump acknowledging he held onto a classified document relating to Iran, CNN reports. 

Scott’s take: Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., became the latest presidential hopeful to criticize the debt ceiling deal, saying Wednesday that he would oppose it because he does not want Biden to have “an open checkbook.”

Backing down: The pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down has scaled down its ad spending in recent weeks, while a pro-Trump group has continued to spend on the airwaves.

Haley’s husband: Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s husband Michael will deploy to Africa as part of the South Carolina National Guard, likely taking him off the campaign trail for the next year. 

Border politics: Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who could still jump into the presidential race, announced Wednesday he is sending National Guard troops to the southern border. 

GOP’s gamble: The Nevada Republican Party filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging a 2021 law that established a presidential primary instead of a caucus, per the Nevada Independent. 

Lump of coal: The Justice Department on Wednesday accused West Virginia GOP Gov. Jim Justice’s son of failing to pay millions of dollars in penalties and fees for his coal companies’ environmental violations. Justice’s Senate campaign manager Roman Stauffer responded with a statement saying that Democrats are “panicking” about the Senate race, “So now the Biden Justice Department has decided to play politics.”

Trouble in Trenton? The Wall Street Journal reports that New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who faces another corruption investigation six years after corruption charges against him ended in a mistrial, met in 2018 with a meat importer who “is a focus of a federal public-corruption probe of the Democratic lawmaker.” 

Breaking with Biden: Three senators facing tough re-election races in 2024 — Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, and Arizona Independent Sen. Krysten Sinema — sided with Republicans on Wednesday to advance legislation that would repeal Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. (Manchin and Sinema have not yet announced if they are running for re-election.)

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

House Oversight Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., plans to hold a committee vote to hold FBI Director Christopher Wray in criminal contempt of Congress.

Nevada Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo signed abortion protections for out-of-state travelers into law on Wednesday.

Also in Nevada, Pentagon leaders canceled a drag show that had been planned on an Air Force base in celebration of Pride Month, saying that it is not Defense Department policy to fund drag shows on bases.