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

WASHINGTON — After last week’s gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia, we are now less than a year away from the 2018 midterm elections. And Republicans find themselves in a dangerous situation.

  • An unpopular president: On average, since the Truman Era, a president’s party loses more than 28 House seats in his first midterm election. And the average has been 43.5 House seats the six times the president’s job-approval rating has been below 50 percent. Well, Trump’s most recent approval rating is 39 percent, per Gallup. And Democrats need to pick up 24 House seats to win back that chamber.
  • More than 20 House GOP retirements — and counting: By NBC’s count, more than 20 House Republicans won’t be running for re-election, including at least five who hail from competitive districts.
  • An expanded playing field: According to the Cook Political Report, 61 House Republican seats are in the Toss Up, Lean Republican or Likely Republican categories, while another seat (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s) is Lean Democratic. That’s compared with 20 House Democratic seats that are Toss Up, Lean Democratic or Likely Democratic.
  • The polls: Democrats, on average, enjoy close to a double-digit lead on the generic ballot. FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten writes that the generic congressional ballot, even more than a year out, “has historically been quite predictive of what will eventually occur in the following year.”
  • A divided GOP: Finally, the Republican Party remains divided, with President Trump blaming congressional leaders (particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) for the GOP’s legislative failures. Why is that problematic? It makes it harder to convince Trump voters to reward these leaders by re-electing incumbent Republicans.

Add them all up, and Democrats have a substantial advantage heading into next year’s midterm elections. But an early advantage doesn’t always mean success. There could be an external event (like what happened when Republicans picked up seats during George W. Bush’s first midterm election after the 9/11 terrorist attacks).

The Democrats could overreach (like Republicans did in 1998 with the impeachment of Bill Clinton). And Democrats could have a big night a year from now but still come up short in taking back the House (like what happened last week in Virginia, where Democrats won the gubernatorial contest by nine points, but control of the House of Delegates there is still unclear).

Still, the overall political landscape is a real problem for the GOP. Looking at the numbers from last month’s NBC/WSJ survey, GOP pollster Bill McInturff called them a “flashing yellow light for Republicans.” After last week’s contests in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere, we’d take that caution one step further — a flashing red light.

Roy Moore threatens to sue the Washington Post

And that’s before we even discuss the Senate and next month’s race in Alabama that could reduce the GOP majority there from 52-48 to 51-49. Here’s the latest there, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard and Tim Stelloh: “Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore said Sunday that he planned to sue The Washington Post over a report that he pursued teenage girls, including a 14-year-old, when he was an assistant prosecutor in his 30s. At a Christian Citizen Task Force forum here, Moore said the newspaper published false allegations — ‘for which they will be sued.’”

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., became the latest Republican…