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First Read: Who Benefits if Trump Exits 2016 Race?

Trump talks about possible exit from ’16 field… Just as his numbers decline a bit in new NBC/WSJ/Marist polls of Iowa, NH…
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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 talks about possible exit from ’16 field

Donald Trump continues to lead the GOP presidential horserace -- see our new NBC/WSJ/Marist polls of the key early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. But what happens if Trump suddenly exits the race in December or January? It’s not a far-fetched idea. “If I were doing poorly, if I saw myself going down, if you would stop calling me 'cause you no longer have any interest in Trump because ‘he has no chance,’ I'd go back to my business. I have no problem with that,” Trump said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday. Translation: If he’s not a sure bet to win the GOP nomination, he’ll get out, which would completely reshuffle the Republican race -- and which could benefit several different other Republican contenders. Jeb Bush? Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz? Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina? Trump replied on Twitter yesterday: “I'm leading by big margins in every poll but the press keeps asking, would you ever get out? They are just troublemakers, I'm going to win!” But notice that he didn’t deny this escape-hatch possibility. And it wasn’t the first time that he’s floated it, either (see his interview with CNBC’s John Harwood from last week).

Just as his poll numbers decline a bit

Trump’s declaration that he could possibly exit the GOP race comes as his poll numbers have declined, according to the NBC/WSJ/Marist polls we released yesterday. “In New Hampshire, Trump now holds a five-point advantage over Carly Fiorina among GOP primary voters, 21% to 16% -- followed by Jeb Bush in third at 11%, and Marco Rubio and Ben Carson tied at 10% each. But a month ago, Trump's lead over the nearest competition in the Granite State (John Kasich) was 16 points, 28% to 12%. And in Iowa, Trump is ahead of Carson by five points among potential GOP caucus-goers, 24% to 19% - with Fiorina in third at 8%, Bush at 7%, and Ted Cruz, Rubio and Bobby Jindal tied at 6%. A month ago, Trump's lead over Carson in Iowa was seven points in the same poll, 29% to 22%.

Hillary leads in Iowa, while Sanders is ahead in New Hampshire

Meanwhile, in the Democratic race, the NBC/WSJ/Marist polls show that Hillary Clinton maintains her lead in Iowa, and Bernie Sanders is still ahead in New Hampshire. In Iowa, Clinton gets support from 47% of Iowa caucus-goers, while Sanders gets 36% and Martin O'Malley gets 4%. That's essentially unchanged from a month ago, when the poll showed Clinton ahead of Sanders by an identical 11 points, 48% to 37%. But Clinton's lead shrinks to five points when Vice President Joe Biden is added to the field -- Clinton at 33%, Sanders at 28% and Biden at 22%. And in New Hampshire, Sanders leads Clinton by nine points, 48% to 39%. That's essentially unchanged from a month ago, when Sanders was ahead 49% to 38%. Yet once again, Clinton loses ground when Biden is added to the contest -- Sanders sits at 42%, Clinton at 28% and Biden at 18%. In addition, the NBC/WSJ/Marist polls find that Sanders outperforms Hillary in hypothetical general-election matchups in these two battleground states.

What Clinton told Savannah Guthrie at this morning’s “Pancakes & Politics” town hall in New Hampshire

So with Clinton trailing Sanders in New Hampshire, she sat down in the Granite State this morning for an interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie -- and answered questions from town hall participants as part of “Today’s” Pancakes & Politics event. Asked by Guthrie about her poll standing in New Hampshire, Clinton answered, “I’ve got work to do in New Hampshire. I’m excited to be leading everywhere else… Bernie is a neighbor here; he represents Vermont.” Asked about her “SNL” appearance and why she often doesn’t come across as trustworthy and personable, Clinton replied that’s “not the nicest question” a politician wants to hear, because she believes she has a long record working for Americans. But she did admit that she’s a bit more reserved than some other politicians out there. And when Guthrie asked Clinton about her email controversy and if she’d be howling at Republicans for setting up their own private server, she fired back with this response: She never would have used a tragedy like the death of four Americans to make political hay. This is precisely why Kevin McCarthy’s comments from last week -- in which the likely next speaker of the House admitted that the Benghazi committee has set up to hurt Clinton’s poll standing -- were such a big deal. By the way, here’s our live blog of Hillary’s town hall event by NBC’s Carrie Dann.

Hillary unveils gun-control proposals

Also in New Hampshire today, Clinton is unveiling “a sweeping gun control proposal Monday that would include closing the ‘gun show loophole’ and allowing victims of gun violence to sue firearm manufacturers, NBC’s Monica Alba reports. “Under the plan, which comes in the wake of a mass shooting at an Oregon community college that left 10 people dead last week, Clinton would tighten rules governing gun show and Internet sales using executive action ‘if Congress will not act,’ aides said. That includes the so-called gun show loophole, under which private gun sellers aren't required to perform background checks of buyers. She would also push to repeal a law backed by the National Rifle Association that prevents crime victims from suing gun manufacturers. And her proposal would revoke the licenses of ‘bad actor’ dealers who knowingly supply guns to straw purchasers and traffickers.”

WaPo: Fiorina didn’t immediately pay staffers/consultants from her failed 2010 Senate run

Turning to the rest of the 2016 field, don’t miss this tough Washington Post piece on Carly Fiorina: She didn’t pay some of her staffers from her failed 2010 Senate campaign. “Famed California pollster Joe Shumate was found dead in his home one month before Election Day 2010, surrounded by sheets of polling data he labored over for the flailing Senate bid of Carly Fiorina. Upon his death, Fiorina praised Shumate as ‘the heart and soul’ of her team. She issued a news release praising him as a person who believed in ‘investing in those he worked with’ and offering her ‘sincerest condolences’ to his widow. But records show there was something that Fiorina did not offer his widow: Shumate’s last paycheck, for at least $30,000. It was one of more than 30 invoices, totaling about $500,000, that the multimil­lionaire didn’t settle — even as Fiorina reimbursed herself nearly $1.3 million she lent the campaign. She finally cleared most of the balance in January, a few months before announcing her run for president.”

The inevitable Bush vs. Rubio fight is here

Also don’t miss this piece by MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin on the inevitable Bush vs. Rubio fight that has finally arrived. “Rubio, who has steadily improved in the polls since the last debate, is looking more and more like a threat to win the nomination as Bush’s campaign fails to reach escape velocity. Recognizing the danger, Bush has started to raise pointed questions about his old friend’s qualifications, portraying him as a promising protégé who needs more time in the minor leagues. Their jostling will likely determine who carries the establishment banner against Trump and outsiders like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Sen. Ted Cruz.”

TPP agreement is reached -- and it has big 2016 consequences

Finally, here’s a significant development that will have 2016 consequences, per the Washington Post: “The United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim nations reached agreement Monday on the largest free-trade accord in a generation, an ambitious effort led by the Obama administration to knit together economies across a vast region. The deal capped more than five years of arduous negotiations on a project central to President Obama’s economic agenda and potentially hand him a legacy-defining victory late in his presidency.” The Washington Post adds that congressional ratification of the TPP trade accord will take place early next year -- just as the early presidential nominating contests begin.

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