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Get Ready for a Crowded — and Divided — GOP Field for 2016

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.

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

Not only is your 2016 Republican field going to be large and diverse, but it’s also going to be more divided on the issues than we’ve seen in past GOP presidential cycles

We were reminded of that yesterday, when Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee channeled Pat Buchanan circa 1992-1996 in opposing the free-trade agreement. “I’d like to think the U.S. government would stand up for the U.S. workers rather than let them take it in the backside.” Here’s a list of all the issue differences within the still-emerging GOP field:

  • Foreign policy and national security (Rand Paul’s more dovish views vs. pretty much everyone else’s hawkish views);
  • Immigration (Jeb/Rubio/Graham’s support for immigration reform vs. Walker/Santorum’s opposition);
  • Trade (Huckabee’s opposition vs. pretty much everyone else’s support);
  • Social Security (Huckabee’s opposition to reforming this entitlement program vs. Christie’s support);
  • Medicaid expansion (Christie’s and Kasich’s support vs. others’ opposition);
  • Common Core (Jeb Bush’s backing in the crosshairs)

Yes, the GOP is still united by many things (support of tax cuts, opposition to President Obama and Hillary Clinton). And, yes, the Democratic field is divided, too -- on trade (if Hillary ends up supporting the free-trade agreement) and Wall Street. But the 2015-2016 GOP debates are going to be fascinating to watch -- just on the issues alone.

The Republicans who spoke out against Hillary’s immigration move and those who didn’t

Speaking of the GOP division on immigration, it was interesting to see which Republicans spoke out against Hillary Clinton’s support for going even BEYOND President Obama’s executive actions and which ones didn’t. Those who spoke out: Scott Walker (“@HillaryClinton's full embrace of amnesty is unfair to hardworking Americans & immigrants who followed the law to achieve these rights,” he tweeted), Ted Cruz (see this tweet), Huckabee, and Fiorina. But here’s who didn’t say ANYTHING: Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio.

Hillary Clinton to woo donors for Priorities USA Action

The New York Times writes that Clinton will start reaching out to donors personally for super PAC cash, with an aim of raising $200 million to $300 million for Priorities USA Action. We’d actually been surprised at how little super PAC fundraising Team Clinton had been doing, given the daily barrage of headlines about the millions being raked in by her GOP competitors. But in an ideal world, with a fundraising superpower like Bill Clinton in your arsenal, does it make sense for Hillary Clinton to be the one making these pitches? Wouldn't pulling Bill Clinton from the foundation or having him take a leave and focusing him on the SuperPAC actually serve as a way to elegantly deal with their foundation issues?

Team Jeb to Donors: ‘Remain Calm! All is well!’

The Washington Post writes this morning that top Bush strategist Mike Murphy is dismissing early polls and buzzy rivals, arguing that winning the nomination fight will require a willingness to play the long game. It kind of reminds us of the famous assurances from Kevin Bacon’s character at the end of Animal House to “Remain Calm! All is well!” (Of course, that line comes moments before he’s trampled by panicking crowds, but we digress.) Team Jeb is working here to soothe donors who are antsy about Bush’s early performance and emboldened competitors. Their message: “This fight’s going to take forever, and the campaign that’s built to last is the one that wins. It’ll be ugly, but we can win ugly if we have to.”

Santorum set to announce on May 27

We’ll be able to officially add another Republican to the 2016 field later this month. NBC News has confirmed that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) will announce his presidential bid on May 27 in the Pittsburgh area. Santorum clearly doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed only as a social conservative this time around. He’s been spending more time talking up his blue-collar economic populism and foreign policy hawkishness than on cultivating the culture warrior-image that he was originally known for. But it was still mostly his values-voters pitch that helped him break through in Iowa in 2012, and that lane has gotten significantly more crowded this cycle. There isn’t a whole lot of daylight between him and Mike Huckabee, who’s bringing his own mix of bass-playing, preacherly conservatism back for an encore performance. With Huckabee – and also Ted Cruz – in the race, is there room for Santorum to repeat his past successes with evangelicals?

Christie’s at just 3% in New Hampshire, per WMUR poll

In other 2016 news, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in New Hampshire today, there’s a new WMUR poll showing Christie sitting at just 3% in the Granite State. The ranking among likely primary voters: Jeb Bush 15%, Marco Rubio 12%, Scott Walker 11%, and Rand Paul at 10%. As for Christie, he “dropped from 9 percent in February to 3 percent, even after rolling out an entitlement reform plan that received positive reviews for its candor.”

And/but: Your friendly “it’s early” reminder

Yes, there are important nuggets in the early Iowa and New Hampshire polls. But for context, here’s where things stood at this stage of the 2008 election.

  • June 2007 WMUR Poll: Rudy Giuliani (29 percent), John McCain (29 percent), Mitt Romney (17 percent).
  • May 2007 Des Moines Register poll: Mitt Romney (30 percent), John McCain (18 percent), Rudy Giuliani (17 percent) … Mike Huckabee (4 percent)

Just do it: Obama heads to Nike for trade push

The president is in Oregon today to visit Nike’s headquarters as he continues to press lawmakers on a massive 12-nation trade deal. The idea is to highlight how the deal would help both big and small U.S. businesses expand, although Nike’s critics are using the visit to slam the company for shifting jobs overseas. (See Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ letter arguing that “Nike epitomizes why disastrous unfettered free trade policies during the past four decades have failed American workers … eroded our manufacturing base, and increased income and wealthy inequality in this country.”) How does Obama change the minds of skeptical members of Congress on this? He is having an impact on the rank and file, but Oregon Democrats aren't his problem, are they?

The British are coming, the British are coming -- to the polls

Today is Election Day in the United Kingdom, and the only thing we can be pretty sure of is that no party is likely to win enough seats in the House of Commons to govern with a clear mandate. We’ve noticed how these UK campaigns, although far shorter than our elections here, are getting more and more Americanized – with a greater focus on television, money and high-profile American consultants. The outcome isn’t just going to be fascinating, it’ll also be a big deal for the Obama administration. Despite not being particularly aligned ideologically on many issues, Conservative incumbent David Cameron has been as supportive and friendly with Obama as Tony Blair was with George W. Bush. And after plenty of Iraq fatigue, this isn’t Tony Blair’s Labour Party anymore. Would a potential Prime Minister Ed Miliband be as supportive of Obama’s administration as Cameron has been? It’s an open question. For more on what you need to know, check out NBC’s primer on the election and continuing coverage throughout the day.

On the trail today

Hillary Clinton fundraises in California… Huckabee and Fiorina stump in Iowa… And Christie and Perry are in New Hampshire.

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