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In 2015, the normal rules of politics didn't apply

2015 is going to go down as one of the craziest years in politics we can remember.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen at his \"Make America's Military Great Again\" rally, which was held aboard the retired USS Iowa battleship, in Los Angeles, Calif., on Sept. 15, 2015. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen at his \"Make America's Military Great Again\" rally, which was held aboard the retired USS Iowa battleship, in Los Angeles, Calif., on Sept. 15, 2015.

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.

What a crazy year in politics 2015 has been

No matter who eventually wins the Republican nomination or the White House next year, 2015 is going to go down as one of the craziest years in politics we can remember -- when the normal rules of politics didn't seem to apply. Here are three examples:

  • Despite controversy after controversy, Trump has only gotten stronger with Republicans: According to the normal rules, when new and negative information about a politician is introduced, his or her poll numbers are supposed to go down. But Donald Trump's numbers have only gone up among Republicans. Consider: In the March NBC/WSJ poll before Trump officially launched his presidential campaign, only 22% of GOP voters said they could see themselves supporting Trump (versus 74% who couldn't). Now? The most recent December NBC/WSJ poll found 61% of Republicans saying they COULD support him (versus 36% who couldn't). Still, Trump's numbers are in terrible shape with the overall electorate -- only 31% of all voters say they could see themselves supporting him, per our December poll. But that's certainly not the case with Republicans. At least not yet.
  • TV ads haven't moved the needle: Also according to the normal rules of politics, millions of dollars in positive TV ads -- especially before the airwaves get saturated -- are supposed to help your poll numbers. But that hasn't been the case for Jeb Bush. Per our SMG Delta data, Bush and his allies have spent a whopping $38 million in ads since September, more than the twice as much as the nearest competition. Yet Bush's numbers have only declined -- he's at just 3% in the new CNN poll, and our December NBC/WSJ poll found 48% of Republican voters saying they COULDN'T see themselves supporting him (versus 32% who said this back in March).
  • The GOP outsiders are trouncing the establishment: Another normal rule of politics, especially on the Republican side, is that today's GOP is split between the establishment and insurgents, with the establishment (usually) holding the upper hand. But as we pointed out yesterday, the insurgents/outsiders are winning right now. Just look at the new CNN poll: Trump 39%, Cruz 18%, Carson 10%, Rubio 10%, Christie 5%, Paul 4%, Bush 3%. Like with we did with yesterday's Quinnipiac poll, when you add up the Trump/Cruz/Carson wing in the CNN poll, you get 67%. When you add up Rubio/Christie/Bush, you get 18%. Wow.

Yet some of the rules have applied, particularly on the Democratic side

All of that said, it's important to note that some of the political rules have applied, especially on the Dem side. The examples:

  • Hillary's overall numbers declined after her rocky summer: In our March NBC/WSJ poll, Hillary Clinton's fav/unfav rating was 44% positive, 36% negative (+8). But after her rough summer -- the email controversy!!! -- those numbers dropped considerably. They're now 37%-48% (-11), per our December poll. Still, her numbers are very strong among Democratic primary voters (74%/13%) heading into Iowa and New Hampshire.
  • Carson's numbers dropped, too: The normal rules of politics also applied to Ben Carson after voters received more (negative) information about him (after Pyramids, Stab-gate).
  • Bernie Sanders seems to have hit that Howard Dean/Bill Bradley wall: Finally, one of the rules in Democratic politics is that a white insurgent who appeals to Northeast liberals but not as much to African Americans and Latinos is going to hit a wall in a national Democratic primary. And that seems to be the case with Bernie Sanders right now.

Clinton: "I really deplore" Trump's tone

Turning to today's political headlines (there's not that much out there two days before Christmas), Hillary Clinton directly responded to Donald Trump's vulgar rhetoric. "I really deplore the tone of his campaign, the inflammatory rhetoric that he is using to divide people, and his going after groups of people with hateful, incendiary rhetoric," she said in an interview with the Des Moines Register. "Nothing really surprises me anymore. I don't know that he has any boundaries at all. His bigotry, his bluster, his bullying have become his campaign. And he has to keep sort of upping the stakes and going even further." Trump, however, claimsthat his use of the term "schlonged" was "not vulgar."

Washington Post gets criticized for cartoon of Cruz's daughters

Finally, the Washington Post is getting criticized -- and deservedly so -- for running a cartoon knocking Ted Cruz for using his daughters as political props and depicting them as monkeys. (The Washington Post later took down the cartoon.) It's very possible that in this Age of Trump, all of our rhetoric is getting coarser. But a word of warning to our colleagues: Don't get caught up in that trap. Bottom line: No one has needed a long holiday break more than this 2016 campaign.

Happy Holidays!

And on that note, this is the final morning First Read column of the year. We'll be back bright and early on the morning of Jan. 4 -- as we begin the four-week sprint into Iowa. Happy Holidays! And Happy New Year!

On the trail

Ted Cruz holds rallies in Oklahoma… Marco Rubio campaigns in New Hampshire… And Bernie Sanders has three events in Iowa.

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