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First Read: Can Downballot Republicans Run Away From Trump?

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.
A voter casts her ballot in a booth on Nov. 4, 2014, in Thornton, Colorado.Jack Dempsey / AP 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.

Can downballot Republicans run away from Trump? Don’t count on it

With the most recent polling, including from NBC/WSJ, showing Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump nationally by nearly double digits, Republicans focused on the downballot contests are already looking for a parachute. “One House Republican has already started airing an ad vowing to stand up to Mr. Trump if he is elected president, and others are expected to press similar themes in the weeks ahead,” the New York Times says. “In the world of Republican ‘super PACs,’ strategists are going even farther: discussing advertisements that would treat Mr. Trump’s defeat as a given and urge voters to send Republicans to Congress as a check on a Hillary Clinton White House.”

But there’s one little problem with this kind of strategy: There usually aren’t enough parachutes to go around for a party that loses a presidential contest, especially when it comes to Senate races. Since 2004, 80% of the Senate races that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report designated as a Toss Up before Election Day (20 out of 25) broke the same way the presidential race did in that particular state. So for every Dean Heller who won Nevada’s Senate race in 2012 despite Barack Obama’s victory in the state in the presidential election, there are four Norm Colemans (who lost his Senate seat in Minnesota in ’08) or Scott Browns (who lost in Massachusetts in ’12). And that history is particularly important this election season, when the Cook Report says there are five presidential battleground states -- Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- also holding Toss Up Senate races.

The 1996 exception

But there is one notable exception to this trend, and it happened the last time a Clinton was on the presidential ballot in the general election. In 1996, despite Bill Clinton’s eight-point victory over Bob Dole, Republicans actually PICKED UP Senate seats. Of course, you could argue that the country today is much more polarized -- and less likely to ticket-split -- than it was 20 years ago.

Six observations from the new NBC/WSJ poll

By now, you’ve probably seen that our latest NBC/WSJ poll, released late last week, shows Clinton ahead of Trump by nine points nationally, 47%-38%. But here are six observations from the rest of the poll:

  • President Obama’s job-approval rating now stands at 52%, up one point from last month. It’s his highest rating since his second inauguration in Jan. 2013.
  • Just 32% think the country is headed in the right direction, but that’s up 14 points in the past month (the July poll was taken in the aftermath of the violence in Dallas, Louisiana and Minnesota).
  • Democrats hold a four-point advantage in congressional preference, with 47% of voters wanting a Democratic-controlled Congress and 43% wanting a GOP-controlled one. It was 46%-46% in July’s poll.
  • 60% of Democrats say they’re satisfied with Clinton as their nominee, versus 45% of Republicans who say that about Trump.
  • There are signs the nation is more optimistic and wants more continuity than the conventional wisdom suggests: 54% say they are mainly hopeful and optimistic about the country’s future, and 50% believe the nation should continue with Democrats in the White House (after bouncing back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression), versus 48% who say it’s time for change.
  • But 52% agree with Donald Trump’s message that this is a “moment of crisis for our nation,” with the “attacks on our police and the terrorism in our cities.”

Previewing Trump’s economic speech

NBC’s Hallie Jackson previews Trump’s noon ET speech at the Detroit Economic Club. “A senior campaign adviser describes [today’s] remarks as a ‘vision” speech that will explain Trump’s ‘cohesive economic vision for America, and how it all fits together into one unified whole.’… One of the more notable policy proposals? A provision to allow parents to fully deduct the cost of all child care expenses… Also watch for him to reiterate his proposed 15% corporate tax rate and 10% repatriation fee for bringing companies back into America.” And expect him to re-state his call to eliminate the estate tax. In a pre-buttal to Trump’s speech, the Clinton campaign says Trump would “endanger” the economy via: “tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations”; “rolling back reforms that help protect Main Street from Wall Street”; “no paid family leave”; and “no federal minimum wage.”

A reminder: Trump has been ALL OVER THE PLACE when it comes to tax policy

Remember, though, that Trump hasn’t been all that consistent when it comes to tax policy.

  • 2015 tax plan reduces taxes for the wealthy

Per the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the tax plan Trump unveiled in 2015 would INCREASE the deficit by $10 trillion over 10 years, and its biggest beneficiaries are people like him – the top 0.1% of earners would get an average tax cut of more than $1.3M versus $2,700 for those in the middle class.

  • “I do” believe in raising taxes on the wealthy

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Do you believe in raising taxes on the wealthy?TRUMP: "I do, I do, including myself. I do." (Today Show town hall, 4/21/16)

  • “I don’t mind paying more tax”

STEPHANOPOULOS: But bottom line, do you want taxes on the wealthy to go up or down?TRUMP: They will go up a little bit. And they may got up, you know... I don't mind paying more tax, I'll be honest with you. I don't mind paying more tax. I've done very well over the last 40 years. (ABC This Week, 5/8/16)

  • “For the wealthy, I think, frankly, it's going to go up. And you know what, it really should go up”

CHUCK TODD: Let me move on. Let me move on some issue things. There's a few things that some people think are contradictions, so I want to see if I can pin you down here. The issue of taxes. Your tax plan is one where the biggest beneficiaries are the 0.1 percent when it comes to raw dollars that will be saved among taxes. But then in an interview earlier this week, you seemed to say, "You know what, my tax plan, it's not set in stone. And maybe I'll raise taxes. Maybe I'll actually raise taxes on the rich." So I guess, which is it? Are you willing to raise taxes on 0.1 percent or not--DONALD TRUMP: It's definitely-- no, no, no. Let me explain how the world works, okay? I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, and income than I do. But I'll explain how it all works. I come up with the biggest tax cut by far of any candidate. Anybody. And I put it in. But that doesn't mean that's what we're going to get. We have to negotiate. The thing I'm going to do is make sure the middle class gets good tax breaks. Because they have been absolutely shunned. The other thing, I'm going to fight very hard for business. For the wealthy, I think, frankly, it's going to go up. And you know what, it really should go up. Because the wealthy—(Meet the Press, 5/8/16)

  • Trump: What I meant was increase wealthy Americans’ taxes relative to my plan

I am lowering taxes far more than any other candidate. Any negotiated increase by Congress to my proposal would still be lower than current! (Twitter, 5/9/16)

George P. Bush: It’s time to get behind Trump

Finally, over the weekend, the Texas Tribune reported that Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush -- Jeb Bush’s son -- said it was time for Republicans to get behind Trump. “‘From Team Bush, it's a bitter pill to swallow, but you know what? You get back up and you help the man that won, and you make sure that we stop Hillary Clinton,’ Bush said, according to video of the remarks provided by an audience member.” It’s a step his father (or the rest of his family) hasn’t taken. Of course, George P. Bush still has a political future to consider, especially in deep-red Texas.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Florida, holding a jobs event in St. Petersburg at 2:30 pm ET and then rallies in St. Petersburg at 3:30 pm ET and Kissimmee at 6:30 pm ET… Donald Trump speaks to the Detroit Economic Club at noon ET… And Mike Pence stumps in Iowa.