Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Macon Centreplex, Nov. 30, 2015, in Macon, Ga.
Photo by Branden Camp/AP

Can the GOP really sink Trump?

FIRST THOUGHTS.

*** Can the GOP really sink Donald Trump? As Donald Trump leads yet another national poll, the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin asks a question that has consumed the political world: Can anyone inside the Republican Party – via negative TV ads or a scorched-earth campaign – stop Trump? And if so, do they even have the will do it? “Almost everyone in the party’s upper echelons agrees something must be done, and almost no one is willing to do it,” Martin writes. (Where have we heard that one before? Sounds a lot like foreign policy in the Middle East, right?) But here is our follow-up question: Even if there’s the will to take down Trump, can you do it when there is almost perfect information out there about him? After all, you can’t say that Trump’s background, claims, and positions have gone unchallenged over the past six months. And he has perfect name identification in our NBC/WSJ polls: All Americans know who he is. When past presidential insurgents have failed – see Howard Dean, Herman Cain, or Ben Carson (at least for now) – it’s been because voters get new information about them. But what new information stops Trump? And does it even exist?

*** Can electability and fitness for office work against Trump when Republicans think Hillary is beatable and unfit for the presidency? Given the perfect information on Trump, if establishment Republicans truly want to stop him, we can see them making these two arguments: One, he’s unfit for the presidency. Two, he can’t beat Hillary Clinton (today’s Quinnipiac poll has Clinton topping Trump by six points, 47%-41%). But here’s the thing: Can these arguments work when most Republicans believe that Clinton herself is unfit for the presidency (from the GOP rhetoric, many Republicans probably expect to see her in handcuffs), and that she’s easily beatable. There’s also one more consideration about Republicans trying to sink Trump, per that New York Times story: “[S]ome Republicans repelled by Mr. Trump feel little urgency to attack him because, they say, he is preventing what they see as an even less desirable standard-bearer — Senator Ted Cruz of Texas — from consolidating the votes of hard-line conservatives. ‘He’s keeping Cruz where he is,’ Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist, said of Mr. Trump.”

*** Trump on ISIS terrorists: “You have to take out their families”: Add this one new controversial comment from Trump: Asked during a Fox News interview about civilian casualties in the fight against the terror group, Trump replied that terrorists are “using them as shields.” He added, “But we’re fighting a very politically correct war,” he added. “And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”

*** TV ad money isn’t buying GOP establishment candidates love: The campaigns and allies for three establishment presidential candidates – Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich – have spent a combined $47.5 million in TV ads in the 2016 race so far, according to ad-spending data from NBC News partner SMG Delta. By contrast, the campaigns and allies for the three Republicans who have been leading or surging in the most recent polls – Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz – have spent just $2.9 million. That’s a 16-to-1 advantage that these establishment candidates have over their outsider rivals. (And it’s more than 18-to-1 when you add another establishment Republican, Chris Christie, into the mix.)

Total TV ad spending so far (through this week):

Team Bush: $28.9 million ($28.4M from Right to Rise Super PAC, $460K from campaign)
Team Rubio: $10.6 million ($8.5M from Conservative Solutions 501c4, $640K from Conservative Solutions Super PAC, $1.5M from campaign)
Team Clinton: $9.7 million ($9.5 million from campaign, $200K from Priorities USA Super PAC)
Team Kasich: $8 million (all from two outside groups)
Team Christie: $6.4 million ($6M from America Leads Super PAC, $400K from campaign)
Team Sanders: $4.9 million (all from campaign)
Team Carson: $2 million ($1.9M from campaign, $73K from 2016 Committee outside group)
Team Paul: $869,000 ($743K from America’s Liberty Super PAC, $125K from campaign)
Team Cruz: $665,000 ($462K from campaign, rest from Super PACs)
Team Trump: $217,000 (all from campaign)

TV ad spending for just this week (Nov. 29-Dec.5):

Team Bush: $4.3 million
Team Rubio: $1.8 million
Team Sanders: $858,000
Team Clinton: $598,000
Team Graham: $496,000
Team Christie: $470,000

*** Breaking down the new Quinnipiac poll: As for that new national Quinnipiac poll we mentioned above, it shows Donald Trump leading the GOP race at 27% (up three points from last month), Marco Rubio at 17% (up three), Ted Cruz at 16% (up three), and Ben Carson at 16% (down seven). So Trump, Rubio, and Cruz all have upward momentum, while Carson is moving down – which confirms what we’ve seen in other polls. In the Democratic race, meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is leading Bernie Sanders by 30 points, 60%-30% – up from 53%-35% last month.

*** Lindsey Graham faces a looming ‘16 deadline in his home state: Finally, here’s a piece by NBC’s Kasie Hunt: “South Carolina’s State Election Commission has warned the state’s Republican Party: If a candidate wants to stay off the ballot for the Feb. 20 presidential primary, they have until Dec. 21 to get out of the race. It’s set a potentially critical deadline for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who will have to weigh whether it’s worth continuing his long shot presidential bid in the face of a potentially embarrassing showing in his home state. And it has the state’s political class – many of whom have been sitting on the sidelines of the First-in-the-South primary out of loyalty to Graham – buzzing at the possibility they’ll soon be able to take sides in a competitive and lucrative presidential race.

*** On the trail: Hillary Clinton campaigns in Orlando, FL… Donald Trump holds a rally in Manassas, VA at 7:30 pm ET… Ben Carson spends his day in South Carolina… Carly Fiorina also is in the Palmetto State… And Mike Huckabee stumps in Iowa.

OFF TO THE RACES: Trump on top, Carson fading

The newest Quinnipiac poll shows Trump remaining in the lead, but Carson fading.

The big view, from the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin: “Many leading Republican officials, strategists and donors now say they fear that Mr. Trump’s nomination would lead to an electoral wipeout, a sweeping defeat that could undo some of the gains Republicans have made in recent congressional, state and local elections. But in a party that lacks a true leader or anything in the way of consensus — and with the combative Mr. Trump certain to scorch anyone who takes him on — a fierce dispute has arisen about what can be done to stop his candidacy and whether anyone should even try.”

BUSH: NBC’s Jordan Frasier writes of Bush’s latest appearance in the first caucus state: “Jeb Bush had his campaign squarely focused on Hillary Clinton and the state of New Hampshire on Tuesday despite being on the stump in Iowa where voters will have the first official say in the 2016 race just two months from now.”

CLINTON: Monica Alba and Alex Seitz-Wald report from Montgomery: “From the pulpit of the historic Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Hillary Clinton on Tuesday called for a continuation of the civil rights movement kicked off here by Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 60 years ago. She also told a roomful of black lawyers that the criminal justice system, riven with racial discrimination, should work on the side of ‘love.’”

CHRISTIE: Muslim leaders in New Jersey, once warmly allied with Christie, are not happy about his recent rhetoric about Syrian refugees.

He’s hoping his national security pitch boosts him in New Hampshire, the Wall Street Journal points out.

CRUZ: The Washington Post gives Four Pinnochios to his claim that “the overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats.”

The AP notes the limits of Cruz’s foreign policy positions: “[W]hile promising to destroy the Islamic State, beat back aggression from Russia, China and Iran, and ensure extremists don’t infiltrate the U.S. homeland, Cruz also places notable limits on his approach to national security…The 44-year-old first-term senator, trying to cement his place in the top tier of Republicans running for president, outlines a prospective foreign policy that is both broadly ambitious and cautious at times in the specifics.”

GRAHAM: Smart take from Kasie Hunt here: Lindsey Graham is facing a December 21 deadline to get out of the presidential race or potentially face an embarrassing showing in his home state.

PAUL: He penned an op-ed in the Courier-Journal that opens: “If you haven’t heard already, I’m running for president. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m your senator, and that my number one priority is doing the job I was elected to do and serving you… Kentucky is and always has been my priority, which is why I have a nearly perfect attendance record in the Senate - something not many of my colleagues can say about themselves. I know my job is to be your voice in Washington, and I work hard to make sure Kentucky gets the representation it deserves.”

TRUMP: Kailani Koenig notes that last night’s Trump rally in New Hampshire was relatively subdued due to bitter weather.

POLITICO notes that New Hampshire voters are rewarding candidates who aren’t necessarily spending oodles of time in the state.

He told NH1.com of Clinton’s emails: “Hillary Clinton’s greatest thing in my opinion, if she pulls it off, will be the fact that she’s able to avoid going to jail because what she has done is a disgrace.”

CONGRESS: A transportation bill – at last

NBC’s Frank Thorp writes that Democrats are accusing Mitch McConnell of holding up a bill to help 9/11 responders.

Congressional leaders have finally agreed on a long-term transportation bill.

OBAMA AGENDA: Why the Middle East is so complicated

It’s complicated, part 8476326: “On the front lines of the battle against the Islamic State, suspicion of the United States runs deep. Iraqi fighters say they have all seen the videos purportedly showing U.S. helicopters airdropping weapons to the militants, and many claim they have friends and relatives who have witnessed similar instances of collusion. Ordinary people also have seen the videos, heard the stories and reached the same conclusion — one that might seem absurd to Americans but is widely believed among Iraqis — that the United States is supporting the Islamic State for a variety of pernicious reasons that have to do with asserting U.S. control over Iraq, the wider Middle East and, perhaps, its oil.”

And around the country…

ILLINOIS: The latest from the Chicago Sun-Times: “Now that Rahm Emanuel has gone against his political instincts by firing his larger-than-life police superintendent, the mayor faces an even bigger political dilemma that could define his legacy. He must find a worthy replacement for Garry McCarthy without making worse racial tensions brought to a boil by the Laquan McDonald shooting video.”

And the AP gives a rundown of the unanswered questions in the case – and the possible impact on Emanuel himself. 

NBC News’ Carrie Dann contributed.

Donald Trump

Can the GOP really sink Trump?