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First Read: The One Way Trump's Shake-Up Makes Sense

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: Kellyanne Conway
Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17.Gerald Herbert / 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.

The one way Trump’s shake-up makes sense

The reaction to the news of the latest Trump campaign shake-up has ranged from shock and disbelief to laughter. "Hiring [Breitbart’s Steve] Bannon to run the campaign in the midst of its crisis is insane," Republican consultant Rory Cooper told NBC News. But there is one strategic way it makes sense: Team Trump views the 2016 presidential contest as a race to 40%. Under that scenario, you somehow assume that Libertarian Gary Johnson will get more than 15% of the popular vote, and that the Green Party’s Jill Stein will get more than 5%.

And then you make a play for the base to carry you across the finish line. It’s essentially the game plan that helped elect -- and then re-elect -- controversial Maine Gov. Paul LePage in 2010 and 2014. Of course, there’s a problem with this base play: If the 2016 presidential race is a contest to 40%, well, Hillary Clinton probably gets there first, especially with Trump’s percentage currently sitting in the 30s in many key states. And it’s doubtful that Johnson and Stein will get a combined 20%-plus of the vote; it will likely be half of that -- if not less.

Down in the polls and outflanked for now in the battleground map, Trump had two ways to go: One, try to broaden his appeal by changing his message and approach. Or two, double down on everything that’s gotten him this far. Trump has chosen Door No. 2, which is something 95%-99% of political professionals wouldn’t advise.

Waiting for Ryan and McConnell to weigh in

If Trump’s poll position doesn’t soon change, there will be two key GOP voices that everyone will want to hear from, especially after this campaign shakeup -- House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Those two men have the potential power to declare the presidential race over, and to say that the Republican Party’s energies and resources should be devoted to saving the GOP House and Senate majorities. We’re not saying that moment is here or even a week or two away. But it’s definitely a story to watch.

Clinton’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” comes full circle

NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “For Democrats, Donald Trump's decision to put Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon — a man they dismiss as a conspiracy theorist — in charge of his campaign is vindication of a conspiracy theory of their own. ‘The merging of the vast right-wing conspiracy and the train wreck that is Trump is now complete,’ said Tracy Sefl, who was the Clinton campaign's designated ‘Drudge whisperer’ in 2008, thanks to her unique relationship with Matt Drudge. The Clintons have long maintained that a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ is out to get them, as Hillary Clinton told NBC News' Matt Lauer not long after The Drudge Report introduced the world to Monica Lewinsky in 1998.”

More Republicans jump ship

The Republican speechwriter who wrote the address for the “Benghazi mom” speech at the GOP convention now says he might vote for Hillary Clinton. When Donald Trump has lost THAT person, you understand why his campaign is in trouble. “In that speech, I concluded with the following line: ‘If Hillary Clinton can't give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency?’” Richard J. Cross III writes in the Baltimore Sun. “But weeks after the end of the 2016 GOP convention, I am confronted by an inconvenient fact: Despite what I wrote in that nationally televised speech about Hillary Clinton, I may yet have to vote for her because of the epic deficiencies of my own party's nominee.” And in a Washington Post op-ed, Daniel Akerson, the former chairman and CEO of General Motors, says he’s voted Republican his entire life -- but not this time. “A good leader must demonstrate such qualities as competence, integrity, empathy, character and temperament. Hillary Clinton has these essential qualities. Donald Trump does not.”

Another reason why Ohio is closer than Pennsylvania -- the exurbs

Here’s an observation from our colleague Dante Chinni: “One of the most interesting findings in the polling data in the last few weeks has been how Pennsylvania has blown open [in Hillary Clinton’s favor] while Ohio remains tight. Why is that? I think part of it is differences in the communities in them. The Exurb and Middle Suburb counties share some common traits. They are the places where the GOP still has a foothold in urban areas. Both are whiter than the nation at large, both are semi-urban, and both lean Republican. But the Exurbs are better educated and have higher incomes. They are full of the college educated whites Trump is struggling with. They are places Republicans rely on for big margins. Romney won them by 18 points in 2012. Trump will likely win them in Nov, but by less than Romney did. The Exurbs made up 11% of the total vote in Pennsylvania in 2012, but just 4% of the total vote in Ohio in 2012.”

Bernie Sanders never had to disclose his personal finances

The Center for Public Integrity’s Dave Levinthal has this story on Bernie Sanders and the fact that he NEVER had to disclose his personal finances. “As a Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders vociferously argued for political transparency, especially when money was concerned.Sanders insisted, for example, ‘on complete transparency regarding the funding of campaigns.’ He decried ‘huge piles of undisclosed cash’ benefiting candidates. But when federal law required Sanders to reveal, by May 15, current details of his personal finances, his campaign lawyer asked the Federal Election Commission for a 45-day extension. Request granted. On June 30, Sanders' campaign requested a second 45-day extension, saying the senator had ‘good cause’ to delay because of his ‘current campaign schedule and officeholder duties.’ Again, regulators said yes. Now that Sanders' second extension has expired, spokesman Michael Briggs confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that the senator won't file a presidential campaign personal financial disclosure after all. ‘We were told that since the senator no longer is a candidate there was no requirement to file,’ Briggs said.”

Clinton to meet with law enforcement officials

Finally, NBC's Monica Alba reports that Hillary Clinton will meet with eight law enforcement leaders in New York City today, per a campaign official. The law enforcement officials include NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Los Angeles Police Chief Charles Beck, and former Philly Police Chief Charles Ramsey.

On the trail

Donald Trump holds a rally in Charlotte, NC at 7:30 pm ET… Mike Pence campaigns in Manchester, NH… And Hillary Clinton has a roundtable discussion with law-enforcement officials in New York City.

Countdown to Election Day: 82 days

Editor’s Note: First Read won’t be publishing our morning columns on Friday this month. We’ll be back bright and early Monday morning.