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Trump changed the subject, but he's still losing the race

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: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks to the press on arrival at Morristown Municipal Airport in Morristown, N.J., on Aug. 14, 2020.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Had you told us, at the beginning of the week, that Joe Biden would travel to Kenosha, Wis., and that the coronavirus would remain a backburner issue on the campaign trail, we would have concluded that this would have been a good week for President Trump.

Instead, it’s been a brutal one for Trump — now 60 days out until the election.

Poll after poll showed Biden ahead nationally and in the key battlegrounds, all conducted after the Republican convention and the GOP’s “law and order” focus.

Poll after poll found Trump losing the message battle on law/order/safety.

After Trump’s continued warnings about voter fraud in 2020, he was the one who appeared to urge his supporters to vote twice in the election.

And then Thursday night — right before the Labor Day weekend — came Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article revealing that the president has disparaged fallen military service-members, according to anonymous sources with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s rhetoric.(Trump and his White House have denied the accusations.)

Trump and his team have spent so much energy and so much time trying to shift the focus and rhetoric of the 2020 campaign.

But what do they have to show for it?

Answer: a pretty rough week.

Trump’s language in that Atlantic article sounds very familiar

Despite Trump’s denials, maybe the biggest problem he has in arguing that he never disparaged fallen and wounded U.S. military members is that he’s said similar things in the past.

On John McCain back in 2015: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

On Sgt. La David Johnson, who died in Niger: He "must have known what he signed up for," according to Rep. Frederica Wilson, who overheard Trump’s call to Johnson’s widow.

On the Khan family: “I saw him [at the 2016] Democratic convention. He was, you know, very emotional. And probably looked like — a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say.”

And on former Defense Secretary James Mattis: “Probably the only thing Barack Obama and I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated general,” Trump tweeted this past June.

When you read the Atlantic article, there’s one person who can help settle this he-said-vs.-he-said debate: former White House chief of staff John Kelly.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

6,173,028: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 39,831 more than Thursday morning.)

187,811: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 861 more than Thursday morning.)

79.8 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

8.4 percent: The new unemployment rate for August, after the economy added 1.4 million jobs last month.

3 and 8 percentage points: The lead Joe Biden has over President Trump among likely voters in Florida and Pennsylvania, respectively, according to new Quinnipiac University polls.

55 percent: The share of Americans who believe that what President Trump has said about protests has made matters worse, per an ABC/Ipsos poll.

881,000: The number of first-time jobless claims in the last week of August (the lowest since the start of the pandemic).

2020 Vision: The Uncertainty Principle

This week, we’ve seen as many as 11 different polls showing Joe Biden leading President Trump — either nationally or in key battleground states.

But writing in the Washington Post, data analyst David Byler makes an important point: While the polls have been pretty consistent, there is so much other uncertainty with this presidential election.

You have a pandemic, an economy in tatters, and a significant change in HOW Americans will be casting their ballots

And although many of the fundamentals are currently breaking against the incumbent, that uncertainty is important to keep in mind.

Tweet of the day

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch heads to New Mexico, where we find a familiar advertising bogeywoman, but from an interesting candidate.

Republicans have long used Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a villain in stump speeches and ads. But in New Mexico, freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small argues that “too many in Washington don’t appreciate the hard work that goes into fueling economy.”

“That’s why I spoke up for New Mexico and stood up to members of my own party who want to ban fracking,” she adds, as a headline flashes on the screen reading “Torres Small opposes AOC fracking ban bill.”

It’s an example of the tightrope that freshman Democrats need to walk in the red-leaning districts they won in 2018 as Republicans try to tie them to the left. But it’s also an example of a Democrat embracing that challenge, too.

Avoiding a government shutdown

The Trump administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are planning to work together to avoid a government shutdown, per NBC’s Hill team. Our team reports that they’ve made an informal agreement to support continuing funding for existing programs – also known as a “clean CR” (or continuing resolution).

Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement, “House Democrats are for a clean continuing resolution.”

As far as coronavirus negotiations go, this means that it seems the budget talks won’t be affected by moves to push for unemployment insurance and state aid. However, our team also reports there’s no deadline or point of leverage for coronavirus money to be levied. And there’s a chance Americans won’t see major federal help before Election Day.

Of course, there’s no way to know how long a CR would be for. Traditionally, per NBC’s Hill team, funding would extend through mid-December and renegotiated once the results of the presidential race are determined.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The man who admitted to that fatal shooting in Portland has himself been killed after an attempted arrest.

President Trump doubled down on encouraging his supporters to vote twice in the presidential election on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization said to not expect widespread COVID-19 vaccinations until mid-2021.

Seven police officers in Rochester, N.Y. were suspended after the restraint used on a Black man led to his death.

President Trump is denying reports that he called dead American servicemembers “losers” and “suckers”.

Human rights experts affiliated with the United Nations are raising concerns over Hong Kong’s new security law.

Facebook says it will now prohibit new political ads in the week leading up to Election Day.