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First Read: GOP, Trump Go From 'Unraveling' to 'Break Glass' Mode

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: Republican U.S. Presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio
Republican U.S. Presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Eric ThayerERIC THAYER / Reuters

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.

GOP, Trump go from ‘unraveling’ to ‘break glass’ mode

Yesterday morning, we wrote that Donald Trump’s campaign seemed like it was unraveling over his inexplicable clash with the Khan family. Twenty-four hours later, the word "unraveling" seems like an understatement. Take a look at what’s happened in the last 24 hours:

  • In a Washington Post interview, Trump declined to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan against his primary challenger
  • He reiterated that he hasn’t endorsed Sen. John McCain and said the onetime prisoner of war “has not done a good job for the vets”
  • He slapped out at Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, saying “she has given me zero support”
  • He suggested that Americans should pull their 401(k) funds out of the stock market
  • He said he’s “always wanted” to receive a Purple Heart but that having one gifted to him by a supporter was “much easier”
  • He said that the handling of sexual harassment has “got to be up to the individual”
  • He accused Khizr Khan of being “bothered” by his plan to keep terrorists out of the country, and said that he had no regrets about his clash with the family
  • He appeared to feud with a crying baby during a rally
  • He reiterated that “if the election is rigged, I would not be surprised”
  • The sitting president of the United States publicly called Trump “unfit to serve” and urged Republicans to withdraw their support for him.
  • Trump spokesman Katrina Pierson suggested that Obama and Clinton are to blame for the death of Humayan Khan, who died in 2004, when neither were in the executive branch at the time
  • An ally of Paul Manafort told our colleague John Harwood at CNBC that the campaign chairman is “mailing it in,” leaving the rest of the staff “suicidal.”
  • Sitting GOP congressman Richard Hanna, HP head Meg Whitman and former Christie aide Maria Comella all said they plan to vote for Hillary Clinton
  • The Washington Post released a transcript of its full interview with Trump, indicating among other things that he paused five times to watch TV coverage in the middle of the sit-down
  • A GOP source told NBC’s Katy Tur that Reince Priebus is “apoplectic” over Trump’s refusal to endorse Ryan and is making calls to the campaign to express his “extreme displeasure”

What are we missing? Any one of these items would be problematic on a normal campaign day. This all happened since 8am yesterday. With all that, do we need to be asking a new question: Do Republicans go public with their hope that Trump withdraws from the race? We’re at the point where there’s GOP chatter about key Republicans coming out hard against their own nominee – and especially eyeing Trump’s falling polling numbers to gauge the point at which they need to come up with a “break glass” backup plan to save down-ballot seats. Republicans have been hoping that Trump would change his ways for nearly the entirety of his campaign to no avail. (And for a GOPer, it’s got to be hard to read the transcript of that Washington Post interview and come away not thinking that something drastic has to be done.) If you’re a Republican, can you just un-endorse Trump, or do you take the next step to push the candidate to get out now for the good of the party?

Trump’s ‘Purple Heart’ comment and the end of the gaffe

Lest it be lost in the series of events above, let’s pause to consider just one of Trump’s utterances from yesterday: After receiving a Purple Heart from a supporter (either a real or a replica, depending on who you ask), Trump said “I've always wanted to get the real Purple Heart. This was much easier.” Imagine for a moment that this comment hadn’t come amid a roiling firestorm over Trump’s treatment of a Gold Star family. And imagine that the New York Times hadn’t run a front-page article YESTERDAY MORNING about Trump’s avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War. Even without those backdrops, put those words into the mouth of ANY past presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat, and that comment almost certainly would have been labeled a near campaign-ending gaffe, a mistake that certainly couldn’t be explained away as a joke, and at the very least a headline for weeks. In 2016, it wasn’t even the most blockbuster Trump news of the AFTERNOON. It’s certainly up for debate as to whether the political-media apparatus as a whole was on too much of a hair-trigger watch for “campaign-ending gaffes” in previous cycles, but yesterday – like many before it – is yet another signal of just how dramatically Trump has shifted the lens through which we view this campaign.

Ad wars – or are they?

With fresh new numbers from our ad-buying partner, SMG Delta, it’s clear once again that we’re entering a general election campaign that’s completely asymmetrical when it comes to traditional resources. According to SMG, Hillary Clinton and her affiliated PAC Priorities USA Action have reserved a total of $98 million in ad time through the fall, with about $22 million of that set to run by the end of the Olympics later this month. That includes time in a total of nine swing states in addition to national cable ads. Team Trump? Just $817,000 reserved, all from pro-Trump PAC Rebuilding America Now, in just three states (plus national cable) – Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Of course, it’s worth noting that Clinton and her allies have already shelled out about $68 million on the airwaves, compared to Trump’s $6 million or so, and - while Clinton is leading now – she certainly hadn’t put this thing away as of the start of the conventions. And observers are right to point out that Jeb Bush and his allies spent over $82 million in ads, almost all for naught. But the ad firepower an already weak Trump will face while playing almost no defense is astonishing.

How would Trump’s Muslim plan work?

Check out Ari Melber’s in-depth reporting today on the nuts and bolts of Donald Trump’s proposed plan to address Muslim immigration . Melber and his spoke to more than 20 security and immigration officials, who said Trump’s plan would be virtually impossible to implement and would cripple the U.S. immigration system.

Another incumbent out the door

Finally, don’t miss last night’s news out of Kansas, where incumbent Rep. Tim Huelskamp – a hard-line conservative and major foe of former House Speaker John Boehner -- lost his primary to a political newcomer. He’s the fourth House incumbent (and the third Republican) to lose this primary season. From NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell: “Huelskamp, who came into office during the tea party wave of 2010, was challenged by a pro-business Republican, Roger Marshall. The race became a battle of the PACs. On Huelskamp's side was small government groups Club for Growth and the Koch-backed Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity. In Marshall's corner was ESAFund, financed by Joe Ricketts, owners of the Chicago Cubs, and the Chamber of Commerce.”

On the trail

Both Hillary Clinton and Mike Pence campaign in Colorado… Tim Kaine is in North Carolina.. . and Donald Trump is in Florida.