President Barack Obama attends the commencement ceremony for Rutgers University at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J., May 15, 2016.
Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

First Read: Obama makes his most forceful case yet against Trump

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.

Obama makes his most forceful case yet against Trump

Although he didn’t mention Donald Trump by name, President Obama used his commencement address at Rutgers University on Sunday to make his most forceful case yet against the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee. Consider:

  • Obama took on the premise of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan:“When you hear someone longing for the ‘good old days,” take it with a grain of salt… [B]y almost every measure, America is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even eight years ago.”
  • He slammed Trump’s call for a border wall: ”The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s becoming more connected every day. Building walls won’t change that.”
  • He criticized the presumptive GOP nominee’s Muslim ban: ”Isolating or disparaging Muslims … that is not just a betrayal of our values; that’s not just a betrayal of who we are; it would alienate the very communities at home and abroad who are our most important partners in the fight against violent extremism.”
  • He ripped into Trump’s command of the facts: ”Ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not keeping it real, or telling it like it is.”
  • And he highlighted Trump’s lack of political experience in politics: ”You know, it’s interesting that if we get sick, we actually want to make sure the doctors have gone to medical school, they know what they’re talking about… And yet, in our public lives, we certainly think, ‘I don’t want somebody who’s done it before.’”

Obama hasn’t hit the campaign trail yet; he won’t be able to do so until the Democratic presidential race has concluded. But you can already see how he’s gearing up for the fight ahead.

Is 2016 shaping up to be a referendum on Trump?

So on Sunday, you had Obama ripping into Trump; you had the New York Times examining Trump’s past behavior with women; you had the Clinton campaign hitting Trump in a web video for not releasing his tax returns; and on Wednesday, you’ll see Priorities USA, the pro-Clinton Super PAC, beginning its first advertising blitz against Trump (in Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia). In a presidential contest when the Democrats are trying to hold on to the White House for a third term, you’d usually expect the race to be a referendum on the current president (Barack Obama) or his heir apparent (Hillary Clinton). But at least right now, it looks to be a referendum on Trump. As Politico wrote yesterday, “This is a referendum on Donald Trump, the reality show candidate, the infotainment ringmaster, the Twitter-meister… Just watch today’s Sunday talk shows. There are two major themes: WWTD (What Will Trump Do?) and WDTD (What Did Trump Do?).”

How Trump plans to attack Hillary: Nothing is off limits

That said, the New York Times notes how Trump and his allies plan to attack Hillary Clinton – by throwing the kitchen sink at her. “Donald J. Trump plans to throw Bill Clinton’s infidelities in Hillary Clinton’s face on live television during the presidential debates this fall, questioning whether she enabled his behavior and sought to discredit the women involved. Mr. Trump will try to hold her accountable for security lapses at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and for the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens there. And he intends to portray Mrs. Clinton as fundamentally corrupt, invoking everything from her cattle futures trades in the late 1970s to the federal investigation into her email practices as secretary of state.”

Why a serious third-party GOP challenge to Trump is unlikely to happen

Meanwhile, the Washington Post wrote over the weekend how Mitt Romney and other Republicans who are opposed to Trump being the GOP’s presidential nominee are still trying to recruit independents to run as a third-party option. “Their top recruiting prospects are freshman Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a conservative who has become one of Trump’s sharpest critics, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who withdrew from the Republican presidential race May 4. Romney is among those who have made personal overtures to both men in recent days, according to several people with knowledge of the former Massachusetts governor’s activities.” But as NBC’s Andrew Rafferty observed earlier this month, the filing deadline for an independent to get on the general-election ballot in Texas ALREADY PASSED. More from Rafferty: “One month from now is the filing deadline for North Carolina, a battleground state that could play a major role in determining who gets the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. To get on the ballot there, a candidate needs about 90,000 signatures by June 9.” Oh, and sources close to Sen. Sasse and John Kasich reiterated to NBC’s Hallie Jackson that they are UNINTERESTED in mounting a third-party or independent bid to try and take on Donald Trump.

Hillary reveals (partially) what kind of role Bill Clinton would have in her administration

On Sunday while campaigning in Kentucky, Hillary Clinton said her husband would be in charge of “revitalizing the economy” if she becomes president, NBC’s Monica Alba flags. “I was saying earlier in Louisville, where we had a big rally, my husband, who I’m going to put in charge of revitalizing the economy because, you know, he knows how to do it, and especially in places like coal country and inner cities and other parts of our country that have really been left out.”

Was chaotic state convention in Nevada a sign of things to come for Democrats in Philadelphia?

The Hill: “Tensions were high at the Democratic convention in Nevada Saturday, with supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders demanding delegate recounts, booing Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and causing other disruptions, according to local media reports. Sanders supporters were angry over a voice vote that adopted a set of temporary convention rules as the permanent rules, according to the Las Vegas Sun. And supporters also reacted angrily to the count of delegates attending the convention, which put Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton at an advantage. Final numbers announced later in the day showed 1,695 Clinton supporters in attendance to Sanders’s 1,662.” Folks, as the delegate math shows below, Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates over Sanders is about THREE times what Obama’s was at this same point in time in ‘08. And it’s even LARGER when you throw superdelegates into the mix:

In pledged delegates, Clinton currently holds a lead of 278 delegates

  • Clinton 1,715 (54%)
  • Sanders 1,437 (46%)

Clinton must win 35% of remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates

Sanders must win 65% of remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates

In overall delegates (pledged + super), Clinton holds an overall lead of 764 delegates


Clinton must win 14% of remaining delegates to reach 2,383 magic number

Sanders must win 86% of remaining delegates to reach 2,383 magic number

On the trail

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Kentucky, making stops in Bowling Green, Hopkinsville, and Lexington… And Bernie Sanders stumps in Puerto Rico. 

Barack Obama and Donald Trump

First Read: Obama makes his most forceful case yet against Trump