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First Read: A Last Exit Ramp for the GOP?

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.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the final night of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016.Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images

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 last exit ramp for the GOP?

Donald Trump's confounding war with a Gold Star family -- earning condemnation from veterans groups and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – has started to have a distinct air over the last 36 hours of a situation that’s unraveling. It’s the latest in a long list of fights that have so far failed to sink Trump’s candidacy, but something about this particular controversy feels different. It's pushing some neutral groups off the sidelines (see the nonpartisan VFW's strongly-worded response), it’s undermining the GOP’s mantle as the party of reverence to the military and national security, and it's putting Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan in a particularly torturous bind as they try to defend the Khan family without so much as naming their own nominee. Mike Pence, Trump's own VP, faced a question about Trump’s treatment of the Khans last night from a military mom who was booed by the crowd as Pence offered words of solace but no apology. But so far, Republicans aren’t going so far as to un-endorse their nominee as a result of the Khan controversy. (Not even John McCain, who offered the most biting statement targeting Trump yet!) This moment could provide a last exit ramp for Republicans to withdraw their support for Trump before the heat of the general election, which now seems sure to draw even more outlandish reactions from a candidate who's shown little deference to the party. And the pressure isn’t letting up. As Bret Stephens writes in the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Ryan is doing his personal reputation and his party’s fortunes no favors with these evasions. The central issue in this election isn’t Mr. Trump’s ideas, such as they are. It’s his character, such as it is. The sin, in this case, is the sinner…. Mr. Ryan and other Go-Along Republicans should treat the Khan episode as their last best hope to preserve political reputations they have worked so hard to build.”

Speaking of Paul Ryan

Donald Trump certainly isn’t doing the House Speaker any favors in return for Ryan’s attempts to keep embracing the GOP nominee despite his parade of recent controversies. After Ryan GOP primary opponent Paul Nehlen penned a piece both defending Trump’s statements about the Khan family and accusing Ryan of “LOOKING for a way to contradict and criticize Mr. Trump,” Trump tweeted praise for the Wisconsin businessman, writing that Nehlen’s “kind words” were “very much appreciated.” And that comes as Trump is reportedly planning a trip to Ryan’s home state to stump in Green Bay just days before Ryan’s primary.

Clinton’s significant bounce

The backdrop of Trump’s tumultuous last few days is a grim one for Republicans when it comes to Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers, too. We’ve now got more compelling evidence that Clinton is walking away from her party’s convention in Philadelphia with a significant bounce. Our new NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll shows that Clinton now leads Trump by eight points – 50 percent to 42 percent – after just a one-point difference between the two candidates last week. And a CNN/ORC poll out last night showed Clinton topping Trump 52 percent to 43 percent after the convention, a boost of seven points in Clinton’s support and a net increase of 12 points for Clinton since after the Republican National Convention, when Trump led her 48 percent to 45 percent. Add that onto the recent CBS News poll showing a four-point bump for Clinton. By the way, if Clinton’s lead stays solid, does it start to empower Republicans who want to walk away from Trump to finally make the break?

Clinton’s weekend whopper, and another missed opportunity for the GOP

The raging Khan controversy overshadowed Hillary Clinton’s claim over the weekend that FBI director James Comey said her answers about her email use were “truthful.” On Fox News Sunday, Clinton said: “Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the emails.” While Comey said he had “no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI,” Clinton’s blanket statement is a flat-out misrepresentation of how Comey described her handling of the email issue overall. (The Washington Post slapped a “Four Pinocchio” label on the claim on Sunday.) Here’s the thing: Somewhere in an alternate universe where the GOP nominee is Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, Clinton’s claim would be leading newscasts and knocking the wind out of any post-convention bounce she earned in Philly. Instead, a debate about Trump’s lack of empathy for a Gold Star family and a crisis in the GOP is crowding out what should be a solid hit on the Democratic nominee. For as much as Trump’s unforced errors frustrate Republicans, the same can be said for Clinton and Democrats. Why did she have to exaggerate what Comey said? Why twist the interpretation of what he said where it stops resembling the truth? She has a shot at putting this race away, but this answer on emails and interpreting Comey is the explanation for why she can't totally shake Trump. It's his character vs her honesty.

July fundraising numbers so far

This morning, Hillary Clinton’s campaign announced a July fundraising total of $63 million for her campaign and an additional $26 million for the DNC and state parties, totaling a $90 million haul. Meanwhile, Trump previewed his totals to an audience in Pennsylvania last night, saying “we've raised, we think, about $35.8 million.”

On the trail

Donald Trump campaigns in Ashburn, Virginia… Mike Pence stumps in Arizona… and Tim Kaine holds a jobs tour in Daytona beach