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First Read: Trump starts the general after squandering a head start

Fourteen months after Clinton launched her second presidential bid and almost a year since Donald Trump began his run, the general election officially begins.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump applauds during a rally, June 2, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump applauds during a rally, June 2, 2016, in San Jose, Calif.

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.

The general election officially begins as Trump squandered his head start

Fourteen months after Hillary Clinton launched her second presidential bid and almost a year since Donald Trump began his run, the general election officially begins -- with Election Day now exactly five months away. And here is the reality: Trump squandered his five-week head start after wrapping up his party's nomination on May 3 as Clinton and Bernie Sanders battled another month. Yes, polls show that rank-and-file Republicans have warmed up to Trump since early May, but consider:

  • Republican leaders are in open revolt over his comments on that federal judge in the Trump University lawsuits, with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) becoming the first GOP senator to un-endorse him.
  • The campaign's size and sophistication look more like a gubernatorial campaign than a juggernaut that can go toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton's machine.
  • A pro-Trump Super PAC is finally up with a $1 million-plus ad buy against Hillary Clinton, but it pales in comparison to the tens of millions that the pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA has been airing (or will air) against Trump -- like with this ad here.

Maybe most noteworthy of all, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered this warning shot to Trump: "I think it's time for him to look like a serious candidate for president, which means that you need to think before you speak, you need to apologize when you make a mistake, and get on script." Ouch. In fairness to Trump, he accomplished that in his speech last night (despite how stilted his Teleprompter-aided performance seemed). Trump has another month to calm his party. If he doesn't, the GOP is in big trouble this fall.

Last night's dueling (and contrasting) speeches

For the first time we can remember, Hillary Clinton was the candidate with energy and enthusiasm, while Trump was, well, low energy. Trump picked a very bad night to have a bad night.

Looking at the general election

Who's ahead and who's behind: With the general election now five months away, here's a handy way to see who is ahead and who's behind:

  • Electoral map: Advantage Clinton: As our initial battleground map from last month showed, Hillary Clinton starts with a 253-to-190 electoral-vote edge over Donald Trump, with 95 electoral votes in the tossup column. It takes 270 to win.
  • Demographics: Advantage Clinton: As our May NBC/WSJ poll showed, Clinton is ahead among African Americans (88%-9%), Latinos (68%-20%) and young voters (55%-32%). And while Trump is leading among white voters (52%-36%), he's tied among whites with a college degree.
  • Change: Advantage Trump: But our NBC/WSJ poll also found a country that's desiring change, and that is good news for Trump and bad news for Clinton. In the poll, 53% said they wanted a presidential candidate who would bring greater changes to how the government operates (even it's impossible to predict what those changes might be), versus 43% who prefer a steady approach with fewer changes.
  • Money -- advantage Clinton: According to last FEC filings, Clinton has $30 million in the bank, versus $2 million for Trump. And it's uncertain how much more of Trump's own money he will spend.
  • Unified rank-and-file: Advantage Trump: Our May NBC/WSJ poll showed that rank-and-file Republicans have rallied around Trump a bit faster (88%-6%) than rank-and-file Democrats around Clinton (83%-9%), which is not surprising given the ongoing Dem contest back then.
  • Unified party leaders -- advantage Clinton: Just look at the last 24 hours.

Sanders looks and sounds more like Sully Sullenberger than a kamikaze pilot

As for unity in the Democratic Party, you can see how the pieces are coming together here, especially after Clinton's big victories in California, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota (Bernie Sanders won Montana and North Dakota). Sanders is set to meet with President Obama at the White House on Thursday. And while we expect Obama and Clinton to give Sanders some extra space and time, it appears that Sanders will eventually land his plane with little drama. But do check out the Politico story on the anger and dysfunction coming from Sanders himself. Here is our updated Democratic delegate math, with 195 delegates still to be allocated in California:

In pledged delegates, Clinton currently holds a lead of 315 delegates (was 292 before last night)

  • Clinton 2067 (54%)
  • Sanders 1752 (46%)

In overall delegates (pledged + super), Clinton holds an overall lead of 921 delegates (was 818)

Another sign of how political norms have eroded

Here's another marker of how nasty this campaign is going to be: Gone are the formalities of congratulatory phone calls and speech shout-outs on the night that when a rival secures the nomination. For all the history made by Clinton's nomination clinch, Donald Trump uttered no word of congratulations to his general election rival, just as Clinton launched straight into criticism of her opponent when he secured his party's nod. Compare that with 2008, when John McCain actually aired an ad(!) after Barack Obama's nomination speech at the Democratic National Convention, noting "Senator Obama, this is truly a good day for America. Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say, congratulations."

Over the last four elections, candidates have called each other on the occasion of the Big Clinch. Obama called Mitt Romney in May 2012; Bush called John Kerry in March 2004; and even the contentious back-and-forth between newly minted nominees Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000 included at least nominal words of congratulation before the barbs began. If these two candidates -- who, by the way, had a personal relationship long before Trump's campaign began -- are unable to even speak to each other to acknowledge the kickoff to the general election, what does that say about how they'll deal with each other for the next 150 or so days?

Pete Wilson, California, and the future of the Republican Party

A final note on last night: Want to see how much California (the land of Nixon and Reagan) has changed? In last night's free-for-all Senate contest to replace retiring Barbara Boxer, second-place finisher Loretta Sanchez received a higher percentage of the vote (18.5%) than the top-THREE Republicans combined (17.1%). And so it will be two Democrats facing off in the fall, Sanchez vs. Kamala Harris (who got 40%). This is proof of what has happened to the Republican Party in California after Pete Wilson, especially with Latinos making up 40% of the population of the state. And the question becomes: What will happen to the entire GOP with Latinos after Trump?

On the trail

All of the candidates are down today.Don't forget to check out the political unit's rolling minute-to-minute coverage of all the latest 2016 developments at the On the Trail liveblog at