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.
The Clinton bounce is real
A spate of new polling shows that the initial evidence of a significant post-convention bounce for Hillary Clinton is looking like it COULD become a sturdy lead for the Democratic nominee. A new Franklin and Marshall College poll of Pennsylvania shows Clinton with an 11 point lead over Trump, 49 percent to 38 percent. A Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll of Michigan voters finds a nine point lead for the former secretary of state, 41 percent to 32 percent. And a fresh WBUR/MassINC poll this morning shows Clinton opening up a 15 point lead over the GOP nominee in New Hampshire, 47 percent to 32 percent. Add that to national polls this week from NBC News|SurveyMonkey (Clinton +8), CNN/ORC (Clinton +9) and FOX News (Clinton +10). Bottom line: Trump couldn’t have picked a worse week to have a DISASTROUS week. Clinton was already in the midst of a convention bump, and Trump exacerbated it with his series of unforced errors and unnecessary fights. The next question: How does the Trump campaign react in the next week, when even more national and state polls are likely to show a similar gap between the two candidates?
Will it stick until November?
Our friend Amy Walter over at the Cook Political Report had some smart observations yesterday when she noted that, for all the GOP hand-wringing in the last 24 hours, this race isn’t over yet for three reasons: Both candidates are still widely disliked, Clinton’s standing in the polls could be swayed either by events outside her control or by an unforced error, and plenty of voters still aren’t glued to every development of the campaign. And it’s been such an unpredictable few months that it’s even easier than in past cycles to imagine a single development – a potential terror attack, another damaging hack, or another avoidable blunder by Clinton on handling the email scandal, for example -- shaking up Clinton’s lead. Her victory depends on solidifying this post-convention bounce and holding on to it for three months. That said, the data we’re starting to see suggests that she’s entering the general election mode with a robust advantage.
Can Trump change? And is it worth trying?
As we reported yesterday, allies of Donald Trump – including Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani -- have been plotting an intervention with the candidate to try to convince him to drop his feud with the Khan family, stop lashing out at fellow Republicans and reset the campaign with a laser focus on Hillary Clinton. Outwardly, the campaign is trying to project a sense of normalcy, touting their good fundraising haul and new charges that the Obama administration paid a $400 million ransom to Iran for four American prisoners. (More on both of those stories below). But there’s also a sense of realism within the campaign about the 70 year-old candidate’s seeming inability to change the demeanor that propelled him to his celebrity. Just check out this quote from Newt Gingrich: “He can’t learn what he doesn’t know because he doesn’t know he doesn’t know it,” Gingrich told the Washington Post. ““You cannot allow yourself to be drawn into fights that aren’t relevant to winning the presidency.” By the way, don’t miss the latest reporting from Benjy Sarlin, Katy Tur and Ali Vitali on how the folks around Trump are trying to sound the alarm before it’s too late.
Money on my mind
Amid an otherwise disastrous week for Donald Trump, the GOP nominee got to tout some good news yesterday on the money front. July fundraising numbers released by both campaigns show that Trump is catching up to Clinton, raising about $80 million (between his campaign and the party) compared to Clinton’s $90 million haul last month. What’s more, his war chest is finally competitive with Clinton’s. His campaign has $37 million cash on hand, compared to $58 million for Clinton. That’s a huge improvement for a candidate who ended the month of May with a paltry $1.3 million in the bank. By the way, does anyone think that Trump can be convinced to withdraw from the race with this kind of cash to play with? And with continually impressive crowds still showing up for him on the trail?
The Iran prisoner story creates a headache for Democrats
Reports that the United States paid $400 million in cash to Iran soon after the release of four American prisoners are creating a new flashpoint on the campaign trail, with Republicans labeling the transaction as a “ransom” paid by the Obama administration. While the origins of the payment are actually decades old, it’s a case with bad optics for Dems. If it wasn’t a ransom, it certainly looks like a quid-pro-quo. Political views of the payment are pretty much a Rorschach test for how people view the Iran nuke deal overall; opponents of the Iran deal will see it as a ransom, while proponents of the agreement will label the whole thing routine. Still, it’s a bad headline for Democrats that would be getting much more attention if Trump’s chaotic week wasn’t front-and-center.
In Trump v. Ryan, it’s an away game for the GOP nominee
Amid the kerfuffle about Donald Trump’s refusal to endorse Paul Ryan before his primary next week, it’s worth remembering that Trump is playing on turf that’s not his own when it comes to Ryan’s congressional district. (Recall, Trump lost Ryan’s district decisively in the Wisconsin primary. Cruz received 51% in the district, versus 32 percent for Trump.) The folks over at the Marquette Law School poll pulled Ryan and Trump’s favorability numbers for us out of their most recent poll in July, showing just how much more well-liked the congressman is in the CD he calls home.
Among Republicans and independents who lean Republican in CD1:
- Ryan — 84% favorable, 9% unfavorable
- Trump — 49% favorable, 38% unfavorable
Among all registered voters in CD1:
- Ryan — 53% favorable, 34% unfavorable
- Trump — 25% favorable, 63% unfavorable
The gulf between Trump and Pence
Has any ticket in the modern era had a disconnect as strange as the divide between Donald Trump and his running mate? Obviously, there was Pence’s pointed endorsement of Paul Ryan yesterday, one day after Trump refused to back the House Speaker. NBC’s Benjy Sarlin notes some of Pence’s other recent splits with the man who hired him for the job just three weeks ago.
- Pence met with John McCain on Tuesday after Trump said he was not endorsing McCain because he "should have done a much better job for the vets."
- Pence praised the family of the late Capt. Humayan Kahn on Monday and said they "should be cherished by every American" while Trump engaged in a multi-day feud over their appearance at the Democratic convention.
- Pence objected to President Obama's use of the phrase "demagogue" to describe Trump last Friday, because, Pence said, "I don't think name calling has any place in public life." Trump routinely uses epithets and mocking nicknames to describe his rivals.
- In the same interview, Pence said he would try to convince Trump to end his policy of blacklisting media outlets he deemed unfriendly.
- After Trump publicly invited Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails and declined to warn Vladimir Putin to stay out of the election, Pence threatened "consequences" for Russia on Wednesday if its spies were caught hacking in order interfere with the election.
First Read won’t be publishing on Fridays during the month of August. We’ll see you on Monday.
On the trail
Tim Kaine addresses the National Urban League Conference in Baltimore… Mike Pence campaigns in North Carolina and Virginia … Donald Trump holds a town hall in Portland, Maine… and Hillary Clinton campaigns in Las Vegas.