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How Republicans Ended Up With Trump

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: Former New York mayor Rudy  Giuliani says a few words of support for Republican U.S. presidential nominee Trump at a campaign rally in Naples, Florida
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani says a few words of support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Naples, Florida on Oct. 23.JONATHAN ERNST / 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.

How Republicans ended up with Trump

Anything is possible with two weeks to go until Election Day, but here is the reality of the 2016 race: Another national poll shows Donald Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by double digits, as Trump’s campaign manager admitted they’re behind. Democrats are outhustling Republicans in the early voting (see Nevada, for example). GOP downballot candidates are at risk of drowning in a wave election. And Trump overshadowed his own big “Gettysburg Address” over the weekend by threatening to sue the women who are accusing him of sexual misconduct. So how did the GOP end up here in what was an entirely winnable presidential election, especially since parties controlling the White House rarely hold on for a third-straight term? We can point to five reasons how Republicans ended up in this predicament with Trump.

  • Immigration trumped all: Once again, the issue of immigration dominated a Republican primary, and GOP voters broke for the candidate who was the most conservative on the issue -- not Jeb Bush (who supported comprehensive immigration reform), or Marco Rubio (who was part of the “Gang of Eight”), or even Ted Cruz (who couldn’t get to the right of Trump on the issue).
  • GOP voters discarded the advice to focus on reaching out beyond the base to minorities: Relatedly, Republican primary voters nominated a candidate who talked about Mexican “rapists,” who didn’t address the NAACP, who claimed that a Mexican-American judge was biased against him because of his heritage, and who called for banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. That ran counter to the advice from the RNC”s 2013 “autopsy” that the party needed to reach out to minority voters. “If our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out."
  • The conservative echo chamber drowned out doubts about Trump: That Trump is trailing Clinton by double digits shouldn’t be surprising. In our April NBC/WSJ poll -- before the GOP primary season concluded -- Clinton led Trump in a hypothetical matchup by 11 points (50%-39%), but she was ahead by just two points against Ted Cruz (46%-44%), and she trailed John Kasich by 12 (51%-39%). But GOP voters didn’t listen to those MSM voices and poll numbers. As conservative radio host Charlie Sykes said back in August, "We've basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers. There's nobody."
  • GOP voters no longer trusted its party elites: And it wasn’t just the MSM or those poll numbers. Mitt Romney spoke out against Trump; the Bush clan said it was sitting out the election; and other prominent Republicans sounded the alarm. But those voices made Trump stronger -- not weaker. (It was a notable contrast to what happened inside the Democratic Party, whose party elites -- hello, superdelegates! -- successfully checked Bernie Sanders’ insurgent candidacy.) And one of the main reasons why GOP voters didn’t trust their party leaders was because those same leaders either over-promised or under-delivered (think Obamacare) or no longer looked like their base (which was more working class than they were).
  • Other GOP elites stood on the sidelines: But not all Republicans spoke out against Trump. Some -- perhaps fearful of the GOP base they helped create and won midterm elections with -- stood on the sidelines, like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And those two are now crossing their fingers that Trump doesn’t cost them their congressional majorities.

Kaine: “You never close the door on trade” if you can get a better deal

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Dem VP running mate Tim Kaine was asked if he and Hillary Clinton -- who both had previously supported the TPP trade agreement before being against it -- would pursue Asian trade if they won the White House. “Hillary and I haven't talked about that question directly, Chuck. But look, we aren't against trade. We want to find export markets for American businesses because they'll be able to add workers the more they export. That's very important. And whether it's in Asia or in Europe, if we can find deals that meet those goals, more jobs, higher wages, and good for natural security, and good enforcement provisions, we're open to them. So no, you never close the door if you can get a deal that's going to be good for American workers and our economy.”

Trump makes his pitch for downballot Republicans -- well, sort of

“While Hillary Clinton is making an explicit push for Democratic down-ballot candidates, Donald Trump is taking a more subtle approach,” NBC’s Ali Vitali writes. “Sunday evening in sunny Florida, Trump repeatedly pushed his supporters to help keep Republicans in control of Congress. Asking voters to cast their votes for him in 16 days, Trump said, ‘That includes helping me re-elect Republicans all over the place,’ adding that it would be ‘nice if they helped us, too, right? To enact my first 100 days.’”

Clinton accuses Trump of “fanning the flames of resentment and division”

While Trump campaigned in Florida yesterday, Clinton was in North Carolina. “She called Trump out specifically for ‘fanning the flames of resentment and division’ with his rhetoric and said his plan to fix racial divides with ‘law and order’ is not feasible, per NBC’s Monica Alba. “As she has all week, Clinton ripped the real estate mogul for his refusal to say he will accept next month's election results, calling it just ‘one of the horrifying things he said’ at the third and final presidential debate.”

Obama asks Nevada voters to deal in Hillary Clinton

And President Obama yesterday made his pitch for Hillary Clinton and Democratic Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto while campaigning in Nevada yesterday. NBC News: “President Barack Obama told a crowd of Las Vegas supporters Sunday that they have a winning hand in Hillary Clinton, adding that the only way to lose the election is to ‘fold your hand and not vote.’ At a campaign rally at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas, a relaxed and joking Obama encouraged supporters to call ‘cousin Pookie’ and ‘Jesse’ and inspire them to get out to vote. ‘You've got an ace, and you've got a jack! But you got to make sure to turn over the card by voting,’ Obama said. ‘This game didn't start on November 8th. The game ends on November 8th!’”

Downballot race of the day: Missouri Senate

Republican incumbent Roy Blunt has been in Washington since winning a Missouri congressional seat in 1996; he’s been in the Senate since 2010. Democrats are optimistic about their candidate, Secretary of State Jason Kander, who’s three decades younger than his GOP rival. Kander, a former military intelligence officer, also had one of cycle’s best political ads, in which he assembled an AR-15 while blindfolded.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton holds a rally with Elizabeth Warren in Manchester, NH at 12:30 pm ET… Donald Trump, in Florida, attends rallies in St. Augustine at 3:00 pm ET and Tampa at 7:00 pm ET… Tim Kaine hits Miami and West Palm Beach, FL… Mike Pence is in North Carolina… And Vice President Biden campaigns for Clinton in Ohio.

Countdown to Election Day: 15 days