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As Democrats battle each other, Trump's greatest ally is time

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.
Image: President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on July 30, 2019.Tom Brenner / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Yes, President Trump’s job rating is in the low- to mid-40s — danger zone for any incumbent.

And yes, one online poll has him underwater in 10 states he carried in 2016 (though don’t forget he was pretty unpopular during that election, too).

But here in Aug. 2019, don’t lose sight of what’s probably Trump’s greatest advantage for 2020: time.

The president began eyeing re-election — and raising money for it — just hours after his inauguration in Jan. 2017.

By comparison, the eventual Democratic nominee will have just four months to exclusively focus on the general — maybe a couple of months more if the nomination gets wrapped up before the July 2020 convention.

What’s more, we still have more than 170 days until the Iowa caucuses (which take place after the Super Bowl for an NFL season that hasn’t started its first regular-season game).

Super Tuesday is more than 200 days away.

And the final primaries, in June 2020, are nearly 300 days from now.

So we have a long way to go.

The assessment from the Economist’s G. Elliot Morris seems about right:

“Pundits have spun the wheel WAY too hard from 'A good economy will surely save Trump in 2020' to 'Bad approval ratings among registered voters in this one poll will surely doom Trump in 2020.' The truth is probably somewhere in the middle and tilted toward the latter.”

What about his gaffes?

Last week, there was a lot of discussion about Joe Biden’s gaffes — mangling his words about opportunity for “poor kids” and “white kids,” and saying that he met with the Parkland students as vice president (when that tragedy happened when he was out of office).

And gaffe patrol has been a time-honored tradition of political reporting — whether it was for Bush 43, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney.

But if Biden’s gaffes were substantial news, why wasn’t there the same level of discussion on what President Trump said yesterday in Pennsylvania?

  • “That’s a lot of people back there for a — like an 11 o’clock speech. That’s a lot of people. (Laughter.) That’s a lot.” (In fact, the speech was after 2:00 pm ET.)
  • “This Shell petrochemical plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania — I did very well here. We did very well. How many points did we win by? Does anybody know? I'll tell you. Isn't it, I think, 28 points? That's a lot.” (Trump won Beaver County by 19 points in 2016.)
  • “I got sued on a thing called ‘emoluments.’ Emoluments. You ever hear the word? Nobody ever heard of it before. They went back. Now, nobody looks at Obama getting $60 million for a book.” (Obama signed his book deal in 2017, after leaving office.)

Trump’s two and a half years in office definitely have changed the political and media world.

Shouldn’t they also change how we cover gaffes and misstatements?

2020 Vision: Don’t hate the player, hate the game

As the Democrats scramble to make that next debate stage, Steve Bullock blasted Tom Steyer on Tuesday for using his wealth to (almost) qualify for September.

“The DNC donor requirement may have been added with the right intentions, but there’s no doubt that it’s created a situation in which billionaires can buy their way onto the debate stage, and campaigns are forced to spend millions on digital ads chasing one dollar donors — not talking directly to voters,” Bullock said in a statement.

“Grassroots support and elections are about people talking to people, not billionaires being able to spend a whole lot of money to buy a Facebook ad,” Bullock added to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

“And that is what all the campaigns are starting to do instead of actually spending that money talking to folks.”

On the campaign trail today

Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro and John Delaney all stump in Iowa… Elizabeth Warren is in New Hampshire… And Amy Klobuchar hits Nevada.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Elizabeth Warren addressed President Trump continuing to call her “Pocahontas” in a livestreamed Q&A yesterday. NBC’s Benjamin Pu reports, “Warren also took a question from a Native American woman who said that ‘the issue of being called Pocahontas will be a prevalent concern’ for Native community and asked Warren for her plan on how to deal with being hit with that racial slur if she was the nominee. Warren said that ‘Goodness knows, like anyone who's being honest, I've made mistakes, I have regrets, and I've apologized for them. But I try every day to be a good partner.’”

Julián Castro discussed the continuing protests and violence in Hong Kong while gaggling with reporters in Des Moines, Iowa. NBC’s Maura Barrett reports, “Castro addressed the violence in Hong Kong, saying China needs to ‘move toward freedom of expression and true democratic representation, and individual liberty’ and the ‘U.S. has a role to play to make sure people can reach their full potential.’ Castro thinks this can be done through diplomatic efforts or sanctions.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 60 percent

60 percent

That’s the share of Americans with an unfavorable opinion of China in a new Pew Research Center survey, a new record and a sharp increase from the 47 percent of Americans who said the same last year.

Among Republicans, the share with a negative view of China is 70 percent, a jump of nearly 20 points in the last year. Among Democrats, 59 percent say they have an unfavorable view.

The Lid: Desperate measures

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the Hail Mary passes some Democratic candidates are prepping as they try to qualify for the next debate.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Democrats are blasting Trump for his response to the escalating tensions in Hong Kong.

One of Jeffrey Epstein’s accusers is suing Epstein staffer Ghislaine Maxwell.

The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wants foreign governments to stop patronizing Trump’s businesses.

Here’s the latest on the trial of former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig.

Latino activists are criticizing Joe Biden for using what they call “Republican talking points” to describe immigration policy.

Trump Agenda: Gains and losses

Without evidence, Trump claimed that he’s losing as much as $5 billion by being president.

The Washington Post looks at how the “Send her back” chant is continuing to reverberate among people of color.

Mitch McConnell backed an effort to lift Russian sanctions — a move that stood to benefit a Kentucky-based aluminum project.

Former GOP rep Joe Walsh writes in a New York Times op-ed that Trump needs a primary challenge.

2020: Beto’s back

Beto O’Rourke is back on the campaign trail. (The Houston Chronicle ed board has some things to say about that.)

Cardi B released a clip of her meeting with Bernie Sanders.

And Sanders is now walking back an accusation that Jeff Bezos is dictating Washington Post coverage.

Progressive group ACRONYM is launching a $10 million online voter drive in the South.

Stacey Abrams won’t run for president — but she is working to expand voter access.

Pete Buttigieg argues that anti-immigrant sentiment in rural America declines when residents get to know each other’s’ communities.