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The Dem civil war has faded from center stage— for now. How long will that last?

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

WASHINGTON — A week ago today, the lead story for pretty much every political news outlet was how combative the Democratic presidential primary race had become after the second debate.

That’s what we wrote in this space last Thursday morning. It led the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. And we planned for it to be the opening topic on Sunday’s Meet the Press.

And then, the El Paso and Dayton shootings happened. And the Democratic infighting in Detroit suddenly seemed very long ago.

Democrats are back to seeming united, all squarely positioned in opposition to President Trump on racial issues, guns and white nationalism. Here’s how some of them described the president yesterday:

  • Joe Biden, in Iowa, said: “We have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced the political strategy of hate, racism and division.”
  • Cory Booker, in Charleston, spoke of “a president who spews hateful rhetoric and endangers the lives of people of color and immigrants in this country.”
  • Steve Bullock, in D.C., said Trump’s “hateful rhetoric about immigrants, communities of color, Muslims and other minorities gives a permission structure for hate.”
  • Beto O’Rourke, in El Paso, slammed “a president who demonized communities like this one, who vilifies immigrants, who says that those from Mexico are rapists and criminals, and warns of invasions and infestations.”
  • And Elizabeth Warren, in Iowa, joined O’Rourke in calling Trump a white supremacist and said Trump “has done everything he can to stir up racial conflict and hatred in this country.”

For now, in the wake of those tragedies, it seems like the Democrats’ focus on each other has faded in favor of a united message vs. the Republican incumbent.

Which leaves us with two questions.

First: How long does this last? Is this just a temporary break from the all-out brawling on policy AND character that we saw between Democrats last week? Or were the weekend’s events a sobering moment for the 2020 contenders, making them more concerned about hurting the party and the eventual nominee with bare-knuckle infighting?

And second: How much does Trump being the focus of attention benefit Biden? Say what you will about voters’ views of “electability,” but the data is clear that — right now — the Democratic electorate still picks him as the best bet to win in November. The more news coverage focuses on Trump, the more it may boost the candidate who’s seen as the best chance to oust him.

On Trump’s El Paso and Dayton visits

Of course, that Democratic messaging all came against the backdrop of the president’s visits to El Paso and Dayton — which, as his critics predicted, was more about grievance than grieving.

He tweeted about his political opponents between hospital visits, he took umbrage about the media’s coverage of the day, and he emphasized the degree to which people he met in Dayton showed “respect for the office of the presidency.”

As we noted earlier this week, the president’s scripted remarks in the wake of national tragedies often have a short shelf life. And yesterday, the narrative that overtook his earlier calls for healing and unity was mostly about himself.

Trump says he may commute Blagojevich sentence

Well, this isn’t the first time the president has tried to diminish political corruption as an everyday misdemeanor, but it may be one of the most obvious ones. “President Donald Trump indicated Wednesday night that he could soon commute the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich who is in federal prison for corruption that included trying to sell the Senate seat once held by former President Barack Obama.”

Here's more on what Trump said, per the White House pool report: “He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio you would say. I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone.”

(By the way, the president knows Blagojevich from his appearance on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010. )

The idea that pay-for-play and cronyism is simply “how it works” in politics has been a longtime talking point for Trump.

But if he’s minimizing those kind of crimes, what does “drain the swamp” really mean? Eliminating corruption? Or redefining it and convincing the public that it’s really no big deal?

TWEET OF THE DAY: Slythering and Ravencloth?

2020 VISION: Dems celebrate registration victory in the O.C.

It’s official: Registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans in Orange County, California — the cradle of Reagan-era Republican politics and home to the Nixon presidential library.

From one of us: “As of Wednesday, data from the Orange County Registrar of Voters showed that registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans, 547,458 to 547,369. Another 440,711 voters in the county are registered as unaffiliated with any political party.”

More: “Once among the reddest counties in the state, the region more recently became the site of devastating GOP losses in the 2018 midterms, with Democrats gaining control of every House district in the county. And Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump there during the 2016 presidential election — the first time since the Great Depression that the Democratic nominee prevailed over the Republican candidate.”

“Demographic experts largely attribute the shift to a growing Latino and Asian population that’s also becoming more Democratic-leaning. In Orange County, the population that identified as white alone as of 2017 was estimated to be around 41 percent, down 10 points since 2000.”

On the campaign trail today

Much of the 2020 field remains in Iowa: Both Joe Biden and Steve Bullock have speeches at the Iowa State Fair — and Warren, Klobuchar, Harris, Castro, Gillibrand, Hickenlooper and Delaney are also campaigning around the state... Four candidates — Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Republican Bill Weld — appear at an NABJ forum in Florida. … and Michael Bennet is in Cleveland.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Former Vice President Joe Biden ended the first day of his Iowa trip by opening a new Biden Campaign office in Iowa City, where he told supporters that he hopes to be competitive in Iowa in the general election. NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports Biden’s remarks: “We ought to be able to take it back. We ought to be able to talk. I was around long enough when we had two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor -- I remember the good, old days.”

And NBC’s Amanda Golden reports that Pete Buttigieg’s New Hampshire campaign team has hired a data director and four regional organizing directors. That brings the staff total on the ground in the state to 40 people, with 33 of them focused on organizing on the ground. This comes after the campaign parted ways with New Hampshire State Director Michael Ceraso at the end of last week.

DATA DOWNLOAD: And the number of the day is… $192,180


That’s the price tag on the first TV buy in Iowa from Kamala Harris, according to ad-tracking group Advertising Analytics.

It also makes Harris the first top-tier presidential candidate to go up on the airwaves in the state.

NBC’s Deepa Shivaram reports that the 60 second ad, titled “Me, Maya and Mom,” focuses on Harris’ “3 a.m. agenda” theme about kitchen-table issues, specifically mentioning her plans for health care, a middle class tax cut, and equal pay.

The ad starts today and runs through August 14.


Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at why politics in ruby red Mississippi are getting very interesting lately.

SHAMELESS PLUG: New Chuck ToddCast!

And there’s a new episode of The Chuck ToddCast— featuring NBC’s Kasie Hunt and GOP strategist Matt Gorman on the Republican reaction to the weekend’s mass shootings… and NBC reporter Ben Collins, who walks us through how to understand 8chan and the dark corners of the internet.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

The House Judiciary Committee is filing a lawsuit to compel testimony from Don McGahn.

Wall Street banks have handed over thousands of documents to investigators that deal with Russians who may have had dealings with Trump and his family.

Beto O’Rourke will skip the Iowa State Fair to stay in El Paso in the wake of the weekend’s shooting.

More than 200 mayors are urging the Senate to come back into session to act on gun safety legislation.

About 680 people have been arrested in ICE raids in Mississippi, the largest single-state immigration enforcement action ever in the U.S.

TRUMP AGENDA: Soul-searching for SoulCycle

The White House is thinking about an executive order to take on what it calls “anti-conservative bias” by social media companies.

The billionaire who owns SoulCycle and the Miami Dolphins is facing criticism for hosting a Trump fundraiser in the Hamptons this weekend.

Another day, another rough story about NRA’s Wayne LaPierre’s use of NRA funds.

After being kicked off of one internet provider, 8chan — the message board where the El Paso shooter posted his manifesto — is still online.

Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ruled that the part of the law used by the departing governor to name a successor is unconstitutional and that Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez had to be sworn in instead.

A civil rights group says that a State Department worker had a secret life as a white nationalist.

2020: Harris aims to find a sweet spot in the middle

The Wall Street Journal writes about how Kamala Harris is trying to position herself in the middle as a practical progressive.

Tom Steyer has stepped down from the board of the Clinton-aligned Center for American Progress.

Pete Buttigieg is hitting back against a lawsuit filed by conservative group Judicial Watch against a South Bend identity card program aimed at helping the city’s undocumented population.

POLITICO reports on Elizabeth Warren’s big-time political operation in Nevada.

Steve Bullock is worried that Democratic infighting is making Trump’s reelection more likely.

What exactly is Tulsi Gabbard’s end game?