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First Read: 5 Reasons Why National Security Is Playing a Big 2016 Role

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.
Image: Skies darken near the Washington Monument
Skies darken near the Washington Monument as a series of late afternoon thunderstorms rumbled through Washington, D.C. on July 28, 2016.JIM LO SCALZO / EPA, file

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.

Five reasons why national security is playing a big role in this election

This is hardly 2004, when national security and foreign policy dominated discussion during that year’s Bush-vs.-Kerry presidential race (because of 9/11 and the Iraq war). But in advance of tonight’s NBC News Commander-in-Chief Forum featuring both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it’s worth pointing out how important these issues are in this presidential election. And we can count five reasons why:

1. The economy is in better shape than it was four years ago: While the economy isn’t exactly humming (see the 1.1% GDP growth last quarter), it hasn’t played as big of a role as it did in 2012. Indeed, the unemployment rate is down to 4.9% (it was 8.1% at this same time four years ago), and there have been 71-straight months of job growth in the country. So when the economy isn’t front and center, national security and foreign policy take on more importance.

2. The world seems more chaotic than it did four years ago: By contrast, the world also seems much more disruptive than it did four years ago. The Middle East is a mess. Russia has been more aggressive. Not surprisingly, the GOP and Trump have sunk their teeth into these issues and the Iran deal more than on the economy. And it’s quite possible the next president spends more time on international affairs than domestic ones.

3. The rise of ISIS: Speaking of the mess in the Middle East, the rise of ISIS and its planned or inspired terrorist attacks (in Paris, Nice, Orlando, San Bernardino) have certainly colored the landscape of this presidential election.

4. Trump’s inexperience: National security and foreign policy are extra-important to this election because Donald Trump -- if he wins -- would be the first president of the modern era without any previous government or military experience. Indeed, the May 2016 NBC/WSJ poll found a combined 61% of Americans saying that Trump’s inexperience here made them very uncomfortable or gave them some reservations about him.

5. Hillary’s emails: While Hillary Clinton certainly has more foreign-policy than Trump (due to her four-year tenure as secretary of state), the year-plus-long email scandal has given the opposition fodder to attack Clinton’s record and argue that her carelessness was a national security risk.

Previewing tonight’s Commander-in-Chief Forum

As mentioned above, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will participate in a “Commander-in-Chief Forum -- airing on NBC and MSNBC beginning at 8:00 pm ET -- aboard the Intrepid Air and Sea Museum in New York City. It’s moderated by NBC’s Matt Lauer, and Clinton will speak first (as determined by coin toss). Clinton going first is a huge break for Trump, since he will be able to react to Clinton’s performance.

Related: Watch the NBC News Commander-in-Chief Forum

DNC video highlights voters’ concerns about Trump in control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal

Before tonight’s forum, the Democratic National Committee is out with a new video highlighting some Americans' concerns about Donald Trump's ability to manage the nation's nuclear arsenal. In the video, filmed near Washington D.C.'s iconic Lincoln Memorial, interviewees -- including some self-described Republicans -- worry about Trump's "unpredictability" and "short temper" when it comes to decisions about the use of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA has bought extra time (in FL, OH, NC, CO, IA and NV) to air its new TV ad in conjunction with tonight’s forum.

From our NBC|SurveyMonkey poll: Trump leads among military voters, 55%-36%

NBC News: “Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton by 19 points — 55 percent to 36 percent — among voters who are currently serving or have previously served in the U.S. military, according to the latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll.” But also remember that the military vote has been traditionally GOP-leaning. “Mitt Romney won veterans by 20 points in 2012 according to the American National Election Studies post-election survey (the exit poll did not ask veteran status that year),” the Washington Post wrote back in 2014.

Trump undermines his rationale for not releasing his taxes

On Fox last night, Trump appeared to suggest that the audit isn’t the ONLY thing keeping him from releasing his tax returns.

Q: If Gov Pence releases his tax returns does that put pressure on you to release yours?Trump: Not at all. Nobody cares about it except some of the folks in the media. Nobody cares about it. But just so you understand I'm under audit. A routine audit. And when the audits complete I'll release my returns. I don't know when that's gonna be. But when the audits complete I will release my returns. I have no problem with it it doesn't matter.Q: But people say you can do it while being audited?Trump: No one would recommend that. In the meantime she has 33,000 emails that she deleted. When is she going to release her emails? She probably knows how to find it. Let her release her emails, and I'll release my tax returns immediately.

That last line -- “Let her release her emails, and I’ll release my tax returns immediately” -- undermines the audit argument. It implies the audit isn’t the real excuse.

Dallas Morning News backs Clinton -- first Democrat it has endorsed in 75 years

We’re not big into highlighting every newspaper’s presidential endorsement. But this isn’t your ordinary endorsement from the Dallas Morning News: “There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November. We recommend Hillary Clinton We don't come to this decision easily. This newspaper has not recommended a Democrat for the nation's highest office since before World War II — if you're counting, that's more than 75 years and nearly 20 elections. The party's over-reliance on government and regulation to remedy the country's ills is at odds with our belief in private-sector ingenuity and innovation. Our values are more about individual liberty, free markets and a strong national defense.” As we saw during the primary season, the only newspapers that might be endorsing Trump are the New York Post and the New York Observer (whose owner and publisher is Trump’s son-in-law).

On the trail

In addition to tonight’s NBC/MSNBC Commander-in-Chief Forum, Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Union League in Philadelphia at 11:00 am ET and addresses New York State Conservative Party’s presidential convention… Bill Clinton stumps in Orlando, FL… And Chelsea Clinton hits Carlisle, PA.

Countdown to first presidential debate: 19 days

Countdown to VP debate: 27 days

Countdown to second presidential debate: 32 days

Countdown to third presidential debate: 42 days

Countdown to Election Day: 62 days