Trump's roller coaster presidency has the GOP down but not out

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 give a thumbs up to reporters and cameras as he heads to the Marine One helicopter to depart for a weekend at Camp David from the South Lawn of the White House
President Donald Trump give a thumbs up to reporters and cameras as he heads to the Marine One helicopter to depart for a weekend at Camp David from the South Lawn of the White House, May 1, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg

WASHINGTON — One constant for President Trump and his party over the last two years is how they’ve always had one foot planted in a competitive political landscape — and the other foot in an absolute disaster.

Think about the disasters: Impeachment, a pandemic, and what looks like a coming second Great Depression — all while they’ve controlled the White House.

But also think about how competitive Trump and the GOP have still been despite it all: A president whose job rating continues to hover in the mid-40s; a party that just picked up a congressional seat in California; polling out of Wisconsin that hasn’t moved; and a team that has more than a puncher’s chance of holding on to the White House in November.

Even in the 2018 midterms when Democrats won control of the House, they had to fight and claw their way to House and gubernatorial pickups. They didn’t come easy.

Bottom line: Some days it feels like 2008 for the GOP (when the bottom looks like it’s going to fall out). And other days it feels like 2012 (when the country isn’t ready to give up on its first-term president and his party).

That fluctuation — one day the president seems to suggest that drinking bleach is a good idea, the next day his party wins the CA-25 special — helps explain why the overall polling has remained so steady over the last two years.

The bad news for Trump is that his political standing is worse than Barack Obama’s in 2012.

And unlike in 2016, Trump is losing among voters who have unfavorable views of both the president and Biden.

The good news for him and his party is that the bottom still hasn’t fallen out. At least not yet.

And that has us on a collision course for another close election in November.

Trump vs. his scientists, part 45

You might want to put this in the column of Trump having one foot in political disaster: He’s picking another fight with Dr. Anthony Fauci over a subject in which he has less expertise than the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

“President Donald Trump on Wednesday criticized comments Dr. Anthony Fauci made during a congressional hearing about the risks of reopening the country too soon as ‘not an acceptable answer,’” per NBC News.

“‘I was surprised by his answer, actually, because, you know, to me it's not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools,’ Trump said during a meeting Wednesday afternoon with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in the Cabinet Room of the White House.”

“‘He wants to play all sides of the equation,’ Trump said of Fauci.”

Why is this fight a potential problem for Trump? Just look at our NBC News/WSJ poll from last month: 60 percent of voters said they trusted what Fauci has said about the coronavirus, versus 8 percent who said they don’t.

That’s compared with Trump’s 36 percent trust/52 percent don’t trust numbers on the same question.

Burr-ned

NBC’s Pete Williams confirms that the FBI seized the cellphone of Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., as part of its investigation into insider trading from information about the coronavirus pandemic.

The Los Angeles Times first reported news of the seizure.

The immediate question that comes to mind in this era of the Justice Department trying to drop its case against Michael Flynn, or with Paul Manafort (but not Michael Cohen) released early from prison: Was Burr targeted because he hasn’t exactly been President Trump’s strongest ally on the Senate Intelligence Committee?

Or would this have happened even if Burr was Sen. MAGA?

It’s a question that would have been unthinkable from 1974 through 2016.

But it isn’t unthinkable now.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

1,384,424: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 18,836 more than yesterday morning.)

85,021: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,464 more than yesterday morning).

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

4 to 3: The ruling in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court striking down the state’s stay-at-home order as “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable."

$10 billion: The sum that the nursing home industry wants from the federal government to ensure adequate testing and PPE.

60 percent: The share of Americans who say the U.S. response to coronavirus is going badly, according to a new CBS/YouGov poll.

More than 35 million: The likely 8-week total of Americans who have applied for unemployment.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: GOP picks up California House seat

On Wednesday afternoon, Democrat Christy Smith conceded to Republican Mike Garcia in California’s special congressional election, giving the GOP its first congressional pickup of a Democratic-held seat in the state since 1998.

“Democrats flipped California's 25th Congressional District in 2018 — a district Donald Trump lost by seven points in 2016. A year later, [Katie] Hill resigned amid an ethics investigation into allegations of a relationship with a staffer, which Hill denies, and after nude photos of her were published online without her consent,” NBC’s Ben Kamisar writes.

“Garcia will fill out the remainder of Hill's term and then Smith and Garcia will face off again in November's general election in a bid for the subsequent two-year term starting in 2021.”

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch centers on Steve King’s tough re-election fight.

Ahead of next month’s primary, King’s opponents have attacked him by arguing that by being removed from his committees last year for comments about white supremacy, King can’t adequately represent the district.

The most recent example — a new ad from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that says that while the pandemic has been “rough for Iowa farmers…Steve King has let us down” by being “kicked off the Agriculture Committee.” The Chamber has endorsed Randy Feenstra, one of King’s opponents.

As King’s opponents are litigating his dismissal from committees on the airwaves, King is caught in a kerfuffle over whether he’s going to get those positions back.

The Sioux City Journal reported this week that King told voters at a forum that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy agreed to “advocate to the steering committee to put all of my committees back.”

But the problem is, many top Republicans aren’t okay with that idea.

And a McCarthy spokesperson told NBC News that King’s “past comments cannot be exonerated,” but that “he will have the opportunity to make his case” to the Republican Steering Committee, which controls GOP committee assignments.

Read more on the MTP Blog.

GOP senators divided on relief for states

Per NBC’s Capitol Hill team, Republican senators are split on the best path forward for coronavirus relief: They aren’t in agreement on adding more money for state and local governments, OR on providing flexibility for states to use already appropriated funds. Here’s just a sampling of the disconnect in the conference:

On flexibility, Texas Sen. John Cornyn said, “I’m for it,” and added, “I think we're all hearing from our state and local officials that, because of the mitigation efforts, they don't have revenue to provide for basic services like law enforcement and fire protection. That seems like a very compelling argument for me.”

But Florida Sen. Rick Scott is vehemently opposed to the idea: “They’ll use it pay their pensions… No one's talking about fixing the problems. They just want money. They want us to bail them out.”

However, there’s always agreement when it comes to one thing: They disagree with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan: “I saw that the speaker wants a trillion bucks. I doubt that's gonna happen,” Cornyn said.

The Lid: Pros and cons

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the pros and cons for Joe Biden as he continues to campaign from his own home.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Trump is heading to battleground state Pennsylvania today.

The judge in the Michael Flynn case continues to make unprecedented moves — this time appointing a former prosecutor and judge to essentially represent DOJ’s previous position.

Prominent Latinos are worried that Joe Biden doesn’t have an adequate strategy to mobilize their voters.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund is going up with a new ad campaign highlighting new restrictions on abortion rights during the pandemic.

Republicans still think Mike Pompeo is their last best hope in Kansas.