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First Read: Downballot Republicans Are Already Dumping 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.
Image: Donald Trump arrives to deliver an immigration policy speech
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to deliver an immigration policy speech during a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center, on Aug. 31, 2016, in Phoenix.Evan Vucci / AP

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.

Downballot Republicans are already dumping Trump

More than two months before Election Day, it’s already happening: Downballot Republicans and top GOP leaders are dumping Trump. There was no public memo or major announcement in August -- just actions. First came House Speaker Paul Ryan’s fundraising email, in which he raised the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning and Donald Trump losing. “I worry about what will happen if Hillary Clinton is elected president.” Then there was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defending his silence about Trump. “McConnell said a vote for Trump over Clinton ‘is easy for me,’” the AP wrote of McConnell talking to Louisville-area civic group earlier this month. “The senator added that when Trump ‘says something I have to speak up on, I will. But that doesn't mean I don't support him.’” And then yesterday came this campaign video from John McCain, who’s engaged in a tough re-election fight: “If Hillary Clinton is elected, Arizona will need a senator who will act as a check,” he said, all but admitting that Trump is unlikely to win in November. And McCain won’t be the last GOPer making this “check on Hillary” argument.

But will this strategy work?

McCain’s bet here that voters will distinguish between him and Trump could very well be right one. After all, Hillary Clinton was essentially making that argument in her Reno speech, saying that Trump isn’t your average Republican (like Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and even John McCain). In addition, we are currently seeing GOP Senate candidates (such as Marco Rubio and Rob Portman) running ahead of Trump in polling. What’s more, a new USA Today/Suffolk poll finds that Clinton voters are more likely to be ticket-splitters than Trump voters. So this is all good news for the McCains, Rubios, Portmans, and GOP House candidates whose strategy is to run away from Trump. But here’s the bad news: After Labor Day, almost every single Democrat in a House and Senate race will be tying their GOP opponent to Trump. So up and down the ticket, hundreds of millions of dollars in Democratic messaging will be “Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.” And when there’s been that kind of disparity in messaging when one party is talking about one thing and the opposition is talking about everything else -- see 2006 and 2008 (“Bush, Bush, Bush”) or 2010 and 2014 (“Obama, Obama, Obama”) -- there’s been a wave. November is going to go one of two ways. One, this kind of GOP separation from Trump is going to work like we saw in 1996. Or two, the bottom is going to fall out for the Republican Party.

New York Times: Leaked script shows what Trump advisers want the candidate to say during his upcoming visit to a black church

Ahead of Trump’s visit Saturday to an African-American church in Detroit, the New York Times has this article: “Instead of speaking to the congregation at Great Faith Ministries International, Mr. Trump had planned to be interviewed by its pastor in a session that would be closed to the public and the news media, with questions submitted in advance. And instead of letting Mr. Trump be his freewheeling self, his campaign prepared lengthy answers for the submitted questions, consulting black Republicans to make sure he says the right things. An eight-page draft script obtained by The New York Times shows 12 questions that Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the pastor, intends to ask Mr. Trump in the taped question-and-answer session, as well as the responses Mr. Trump is being advised to give.” The Times has this update: "After this article was published online Thursday night, Jason Miller, the senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign, said that Mr. Trump’s plans had changed and that he would address the congregation for five to 10 minutes after the interview. Mr. Trump will then visit neighborhoods with Ben Carson, a onetime campaign rival, who supports Mr. Trump and grew up in Detroit."

Clinton camp announces $143 million fundraising haul

“Hillary Clinton has spent much of the past month fundraising, and new numbers show that her efforts yielded a huge cash haul in the month of August,” one of us writes. “Clinton's campaign announced Thursday that it raised a total of $143 million last month for Clinton's campaign and for the DNC and state Democratic parties, the biggest total haul yet. Of that total, about $62 million was raised for her campaign, while $81 million was raised for other Democrats. That's a very, very big number. In July, her total haul was around $90 million. Clinton's campaign started the month of August with $58 million in the bank. She's now starting September with ten million dollars more -- at a total of $68 million cash on hand.”

Biden goes after Trump in Ohio

NBC's Danny Freeman: “Vice President Joe Biden put his working class folksiness to work for presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton in northeastern Ohio on Thursday, delivering blow after blow to Republican nominee Donald Trump. ‘This is a guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth that now he's choking on because his foot's in his mouth along with his spoon!’ Biden began the day in Warren, Ohio, arguing that Trump simply ‘doesn't understand’ the realities of working and middle class people. ‘My biggest problem with Donald Trump,’ the vice president continued, ‘is not his cockamamie policies, it's the way he treats people.’”

Countdown to Election Day: 67 days