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The GOP race's circular firing squad

What's happening in the GOP race is akin to the final scene in "Reservoir Dogs" or "True Romance," where everyone has their weapons pointed at each other.
Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz waits to be introduced during the conservative leadership project event in Columbia, S.C., on Jan. 15, 2016. (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters)
Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz waits to be introduced during the conservative leadership project event in Columbia, S.C., on Jan. 15, 2016.

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.

GOP race turns into a Tarantino flick

You know we're 10 days out until Iowa, because the political attacks -- on both sides -- have picked up. But what's happening in the Republican race is akin to the final scene in "Reservoir Dogs" or "True Romance," where everyone has their weapons pointed at each other and, well, a lot of people are going to die. Think about it: Donald Trump has his gun pointed at Ted Cruz in the form of a new TV ad attacking Cruz for being "pro-amnesty"; Cruz is pointing his own gun back at Trump for supporting "eminent domain"; National Review's gun is directed at Trump in its "Against Trump" edition; the Republican National Committee already fired back by disinviting the magazine from co-hosting an upcoming debate; Jeb Bush's Super PAC, according to one estimate, has already unloaded $20 million in negative TV ads against Marco Rubio, though the Super PAC disputes that actual figure; and Team Rubio already fired its weapon at Chris Christie. Now someone will survive -- Steve Buscemi's Mr. Pink or Christian Slater's Clarence -- but it's going to be a bloody mess.

The Democratic race, by contrast, looks more like a Wes Anderson movie

While the Democratic race has gotten A LOT more interesting and A LOT more heated over the past week, there's a big difference between what's going on in that contest versus the GOP one. If the Dem race was following the same Tarantino-like script, then Hillary Clinton would be directly calling Bernie Sanders a communist (on the campaign trail and in paid advertising); Sanders would be calling Clinton a liar and seizing on the email issue; and The Nation would publish an entire issue devoted to taking down Hillary. But that isn't happening -- at least not yet. (But David Brock is definitely being David Brock.) If the GOP contest is a Tarantino flick, then the Dem contest is straight out of Wes Anderson -- maybe a little tense and edgy, but mostly ironic and retro (with even Simon & Garfunkel playing a role).

Three reasons why this isn't 2008 all over again

All of that said, the Democratic race is certainly more contentious than it was a couple of weeks ago. And as our colleague Andrea Mitchell notes, we're seeing some of the same attacks and themes -- experience vs. hope/change -- that we saw in the 2008 Obama-vs.-Clinton contest. But there are three BIG differences between 2008 and now, as our little brother/sister The Lid observed yesterday.

  1. Obama has much more potential for expanding his base, especially among minority voters, than Bernie Sanders does.
  2. Given that Sanders hasn't been a Democrat until now, he doesn't have the Democratic validators and allies that Obama had in 2008 (think Claire McCaskill, Tim Kaine, Deval Patrick, and later Ted Kennedy).
  3. Due to Clinton's huge lead already with superdelegates, Sanders essentially starts out behind eight percentage points in the delegate math, according to theCook Political Report's David Wasserman.

Make no mistake, however, yesterday's CNN poll, which found Sanders ahead by eight points in Iowa, was demoralizing to Team Clinton. There appears to be a huge flaw in that polling -- given that Clinton leads among the 2008 electorate by 17 points, 55%-38% (which means that the poll assumes a huge number of new voters). So take the poll with a grain of salt. But it still isn't welcome news to the Clinton campaign in Brooklyn and Des Moines.

Sanders walks back his comment that Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign are part of the "establishment"

Per NBC's Kasie Hunt: "Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign and other progressive groups that have endorsed Hillary Clinton are not part of the political establishment, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Thursday, walking back comments he made earlier this week on MSNBC. 'That's not what I meant,' Sanders told NBC News in an interview during his campaign swing through the first-in-the-nation primary state. 'We're a week out in the election, and the Clinton people will try to spin these things.' Pressed on whether he views the groups as "establishment," Sanders said: 'No. They aren't. They're standing up and fighting the important fights that have to be fought.'"

On "Meet" this weekend

NBC's Chuck Todd will interview both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders this Sunday.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both campaign in New Hampshire… Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie also are in Granite State… Ben Carson stumps in Iowa… And John Kasich is in New Hampshire. And don't miss our "Tales from the Trail" dispatches from NBC's campaign embeds.

Countdown to Iowa: 10 days

Countdown to New Hampshire: 18 days 

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