Trump still on top – and getting stronger

Updated

Trump is way ahead in GOP race. And he’s only going to get stronger

The political headline of the morning is that Donald Trump is now leading the Republican presidential field by 20 points, according to a new CNN poll. Trump stands at 36% in the poll (up 9 points since October), while Ted Cruz is at 16% (up 12), Ben Carson at 14% (down 8), Marco Rubio at 12% (up 4), Chris Christie at 4% (unchanged), and at Jeb Bush 3% (down 5). It’s Trump’s biggest lead in any live-telephone national poll. And here’s the thing: He’s likely to only get stronger, given that this poll was taken BEFORE the San Bernadino shootings. Why do we say that? According to the poll, more Republicans (46%) think he can handle ISIS better than his closest competition (Cruz at 15%); more Republicans (48%) think he’s better on illegal immigration than his closest competitor (Rubio at 14%); and more Republicans (30%) see him better on foreign policy than anyone else (Cruz at 17%). Now we have two important caveats: One, CNN’s GOP screen here consists of registered Republican voters and GOP-leaning independents. Trump’s numbers have always been higher among GOP-leaning indies than core Republicans. Are these independents going to turn out in Republican caucuses and primaries? Are these independents going to turn out in Republican caucuses and primaries? Two, we recall when our national Dec. 2011 NBC/WSJ poll had Newt Gingrich up 17 points over Mitt Romney. Then again, Newt Gingrich isn’t Donald Trump…

The education divide: Trump leads by more than 30 points among Republicans without college degrees

Here’s the other striking finding from the CNN poll: Trump has a 30-point-plus lead among Republicans without college degrees. “Among those without college degrees, Trump holds a runaway lead: 46% support the businessman, compared with 12% for Cruz, 11% for Carson and just 8% for Rubio,” CNN writes. By contrast: “Among those GOP voters who hold college degrees, the race is a close contest between the top four contenders, with Cruz slightly in front at 22%, Carson and Rubio tied at 19% and Trump at 18%.” Wow. In today’s New York Times, conservative columnist David Brooks predicts that Trump won’t be the Republican nominee. “In an era of high anxiety, I doubt Republican voters will take a flyer on their party’s future — or their country’s future [on Trump],” he argues. Brooks could be right. But here’s our question: Does today’s Republican Party look and think and sound like David Brooks? The answer could very well decide if Trump is the nominee.

Politics and security abhor a vacuum: How do Obama (and Hillary) respond to San Bernardino?

There’s one more Trump-related point we’d like to make: Politics and security abhor a vacuum, and Trump fills it. And after the San Bernadino shootings, that fact raises an important question for President Obama (and Hillary Clinton by extension) – how do Democrats try to fill that vacuum? The country is nervous; the anxiety over security is real. To be sure, we STILL don’t have all of the facts yet about the San Bernadino shootings, but every new detail seems to point to radicalization and terrorism. And after Paris, after Colorado Springs, and now after San Bernadino, Americans are growing scared. Obama’s own remarks yesterday were striking – he was much more somber and cautious when speaking about Wednesday’s shootings than he was right after the news (when he focused on gun control). It was almost as if he found out the same new facts about the shootings that we later learned publicly, and they shook him. As for Hillary Clinton, NBC’s Monica Alba reports that she called the San Bernardino mass shooting “an act of terrorism” during her remarks at a Dover, NH town hall tonight, going further than what she said earlier in the day in Hooksett, NH.

Another strong jobs report: 211,000 jobs in November, unemployment rate remains at 5.0%

“The U.S. economy generated another month of solid hiring in November, making it highly likely the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates from record lows later this month,” the AP writes. “The Labor Department says employers added 211,000 jobs last month, led by big gains in construction and retail. Hiring was revised higher in October and September by a combined 35,000 jobs. The unemployment rate remained 5 percent for the second straight month as more Americans entered the workforce to look for jobs.”

How NOT to address Jewish Republicans

Several GOP candidates had some, er, odd ways of speaking to influential members of the GOP Jewish community yesterday at the Republican Jewish Coalition forum. Donald Trump told the crowd “I’m a negotiator like you folks” and “Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken.” And he suggested: “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” (The Times of Israel even offered the headline: “Trump Courts Republican Jews With Offensive Stereotypes.”) Then there was John Kasich, who proclaimed, “When I was a very young man, [my mother] said, ‘Johnny, if you want to look for a really good friend, get somebody who’s Jewish.’” And Jim Gilmore, who thought it prudent to tell the crowd: “Last night I was watching ‘Schindler’s List.’ Everybody here has seen ‘Schindler’s List.” It’s one thing to pander, but to make sweeping - and even in some cases offensive - stereotypes about an entire room full of people whose vote you’re courting? Huh?

1990s Flashback: Hillary gets a question on Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broderick

By the way, don’t miss the fact that someone in New Hampshire brought up some past from the 1990s for Hillary Clinton. “Secretary Clinton, you recently came out to say that all rape victims should be believed but would you say that about Juanita Broderick, Kathleen Willey, and/or Paula Jones. Should we believe them as well?” someone asked her, per NBC’s Monica Alba. Clinton’s answer: “Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.” Alba says it was the first time she can remember Clinton being asked about Jones/Willey/Broderick on the campaign trail this cycle.

WaPo: How Rubio turned his political power into money

The Washington Post writes, “Rubio’s business deals during the period between his Tallahassee and Washington chapters demonstrated the ways he leveraged his enduring power inside government to make a profit on the outside. And they add to the contradictory picture of his personal finances that has emerged as his presidential campaign has gained traction — of a young man who struggled financially even as his personal income soared along with this political success.” Maybe the most damaging part of this story, which reprises much of what Marc Caputo wrote of Rubio back in 2009, is that it makes him look like just another politician.

On “Meet” this Sunday: Loretta Lynch

NBC’s Chuck Todd will interview Attorney General Loretta Lynch on “Meet the Press” this Sunday.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Iowa… Donald Trump holds a 7:30 pm ET rally in Raleigh, NC… Marco Rubio is in New Hampshire… Ted Cruz stumps in Iowa… Ben Carson delivers a speech in Arizona… John Kasich is in the Granite State… And Chris Christie campaigns in the Hawkeye State.

NBC News’ Carrie Dann contributed.

Donald Trump

Trump still on top -- and getting stronger

Updated