First Read: Trump Tries to Put the Focus Back on Clinton

Republican Presidential Candidates Speak At Values Voter Summit
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up a Bible while speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sept. 25, 2015. The annual event, organized by the Family Research Council, gives presidential contenders a chance to address a conservative Christian audience in the crowded Republican primary contest.Drew Angerer / Bloomberg - Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

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.

Trump tries to put the focus back on Clinton

Let’s be blunt: The last three weeks for Donald Trump have been an absolute mess. There was Trump’s attack on the federal judge; his aggressive reaction to the Orlando shootings; the ouster of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski; Trump’s paltry fundraising; the growing GOP rebellion to stop him at the convention; and, above it all, his falling poll numbers. The one common thread to all of these storylines? They’ve been about Trump -- and hardly in a positive light. But today, in a 10:30 am ET speech from New York, the presumptive GOP nominee tries to put the focus back on Hillary Clinton. According to NBC’s Hallie Jackson and Katy Tur, Trump is expected to hit Clinton over the Clinton Foundation, trade, terrorism, human rights, and immigration. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell adds that Trump will question Clinton’s integrity as a public servant, arguing that she and her husband enriched themselves through the connections they made while in office. Trump’s speech, of course, comes a day after Hillary Clinton’s own blistering speech criticizing her GOP opponent’s business record and his economic plans. And she will deliver an economic speech in Raleigh, NC at 2:30 pm ET.

A new coach but the same owner

Yesterday -- the day after Trump dumped Lewandowski -- had the feel of a sports team with a new head coach. You immediately saw the change in direction inside of Team Trump. There were the multiple rapid-response emails before and during Clinton’s speech; the campaign took over his Twitter feed; it sent out its first direct fundraising solicitation from Trump; and it finally announced a group of new hires. The question is whether this lasts -- because as Washington Redskins fans know all too well, you can fire the coach, but you can’t fire the owner.

Trump’s maintains appeal with blue-collar voters

Despite all of his recent troubles, Trump maintains his appeal with blue-collar voters. That was the takeaway when one of us attended a focus group on Monday (conducted by NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart) in Pittsburgh, PA. “The group of 11 voters - including six who support Trump, four who back Hillary Clinton and one who is weighing both Trump and independent Gary Johnson - described their view of a political novice whose draconian positions on immigration and terrorism could fortify a country that they feel has become destabilized and vulnerable. His backers argued that his constant controversies merely display his personal confidence as a successful businessman and his refreshing disregard of judgment by elites. ‘We've been lied to for so long,’ said Glenda, a 42-year-old bartender. ‘So what, he doesn't want Muslims, per se, that are terrorists in the country? Then I'm glad he's saying it because I don't want them in there either.’” Added Cherie, a 48-year-old hairstylist who describes herself as an independent: "He just makes me feel very comfortable and safe." This is Trump’s base. But also consider: While our May NBC/WSJ poll found Trump leading Clinton among whites without a college degree, 58%-31%, the race was tied among whites with a college degree or more, 44%-44%.

Onward, Christian soldier

In a closed-door meeting with evangelical leaders yesterday, NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell writes, Trump raised doubts about Clinton’s Christian faith. "She's been in the public eye for years and years and yet there's no - there's nothing out there. There's like nothing out there," he said. In fact, Clinton is devout Methodist. But this isn't the first time that Trump has questioned the faith of a political rival, NBC’s Emma Margolin notes:

  • On President Obama: "He doesn't have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there's something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim.”
  • On Ben Carson: "I'm Presbyterian. Boy, that's down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness," Trump told voters in Florida. "I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don't know about. I just don't know about."
  • On Ted Cruz and his father: "Just remember this," Trump said, "in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?"
  • On Mitt Romney: "Are you sure he's a Mormon?" Trump asked the crowd he was speaking to. "Are we sure?"

Defending the establishment and the political elite

In a provocative essay in the Atlantic, writer Jonathan Rauch argues that the decades-long assault on political elites, lobbyists, insiders, and the establishment -- exemplified by the Trump, Cruz, and Sanders campaigns -- has taken a toll on Washington’s ability to govern. For decades, well-meaning political reformers have attacked intermediaries as corrupt, undemocratic, unnecessary, or (usually) all of the above. Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. Eventually, you will get sick.” Rauch adds, “Insurgencies in presidential races and on Capitol Hill are nothing new, and they are not necessarily bad, as long as the governing process can accommodate them. Years before the Senate had to cope with Ted Cruz, it had to cope with Jesse Helms. The difference is that Cruz shut down the government, which Helms could not have done had he even imagined trying.”

Veepstakes Watch

The Boston Globe reports that Elizabeth Warren is officially being vetted as Clinton’s running mate… The Washington Post writes that -- in addition to Warren, Tim Kaine and Julian Castro -- Clinton is studying a longer list of “more than a dozen potential candidates.” The Hill notes that abortion is a weakness for Kaine, who doesn’t advocate for overturning Roe v. Wade but is personally opposed to abortion and has supported other restrictions. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Xavier Becerra, asked if he is being vetted, said “I have no knowledge of that process, no.”… And the American Prospect offers an in-depth profile of Tom Perez. On the GOP side, Bob Corker said Corey Lewandowski’s firing could be a “major turning point” for Trump’s campaign… Jeff Sessions is defending Trump’s paltry fundraising haul… and Chris Christie is proposing a controversial overhaul of New Jersey’s school-funding plan.

Polling the FL/OH/PA Senate races

Quinnipiac has Senate polling results in these contests:

  • Florida: Rubio 47%, Murphy 40%
  • Ohio: Portman 42%, Strickland 42%
  • Pennsylvania: Toomey 49%, McGinty 40%.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton meets with the House Democratic caucus at 10:00 am ET, and she gives an economic speech at 2:30 pm ET… And Donald Trump gives his speech on Hillary Clinton at 10:30 am ET. Don’t forget to check out the political unit’s rolling minute-to-minute coverage of all the latest 2016 developments at the On the Trail liveblog at