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.
Has the great Republican Super PAC experiment failed?
It's still early with the first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire almost three months away, but this has now become a legitimate question to ask: Has the GOP presidential candidates' Super PAC experiment failed? And failed badly? Consider some of the evidence:
- Jeb Bush's Right to Rise Super PAC has aired $15.5 million in TV ads so far -- more than any other '16 entity -- and those ads haven't moved the polling needle;
- Both Scott Walker and Rick Perry focused more on building up their Super PACs than their actual hard-money campaigns, and both men are no longer in the GOP race;
- And maybe most damningly, Super PACs and other outside groups pay, on average, about FOUR times what campaigns do (since campaigns get discount rates from local TV stations). To put that into perspective, a presidential campaign needs to spend just $4 million in TV ads to get the same bang for the buck that Bush's Right to Rise has spent so far ($15.5 million). Or to put it another way: The $6.5M in TV ads the Clinton camp has spent would cost a Super PAC $26 million.
Don't get us wrong: Super PACs played a key role in the GOP's historic 2010 midterm gains; Mitt Romney's, Restore Our Future, sank Newt Gingrich in Iowa; they helped Gingrich and Rick Santorum stay afloat in 2012; and Obama's, Priorities USA, ran some of the best anti-Romney ads of the 2012 cycle. But in the Romney and Obama examples, the Super PACs were accessories to the main campaign -- not the main feature. Given the evidence so far, it sure looks like they've been failure so far as a campaign's center of gravity.
The Rubio exception
There's maybe one exception to what we wrote above: Marco Rubio. His 501c4 Conservative Solutions Project -- which, unlike Super PACs, doesn't have to disclose its donors has now become the second-biggest overall TV ad spender (nearly $7 million), as Rubio's campaign has struggled (until now) to raise hard money. And Rubio has begun moving up in the polls and nabbing GOP endorsements after his back-to-back-to-back strong debate performances. The lack of transparency for these 501c4s is truly egregious. The political world is conditioned to not bat an eye on campaign money shenanigans these days, but it is possible we won't ever know who kept the next president of the United States campaign afloat during these crucial months of the primary?
Rubio and his Florida GOP credit card
Speaking of Rubio, he told NBC's Hallie Jackson yesterday that he will be releasing the statements from that Florida GOP credit card he used when he was Florida speaker. We will, we are, we're going to [release them]," he told Jackson. "But here's something very simple about it, it's not a credit card, it's a charge card, American Express, it came to my house every month, I would review it, if there were personal expenses I paid them, if there were party expenses, the party paid them." Rubio added, "It's that straight forward and that's why it's debunked as an attack, it's an old attack, it's been around for five years and when we release the new ones, you'll see the exact same thing." But here's the thing: If this issue has been around for five years -- and Rubio knew he was eyeing the presidency -- why didn't he do this much, much earlier? Much like Hillary Clinton and her emails, when Rubio eventually releases his credit card statement, it will look like it was forced.
Sanders to Wall Street Journal: There are "valid questions" surrounding Hillary's email practices
One of the worst things that can happen to an insurgent presidential candidate (Howard Dean, Rand Paul) is when they start sounding like a typical politician. And Bernie Sanders, losing ground to Hillary Clinton in the polls, appears to be approaching that territory after suggesting that Clinton's emails are now fair game -- when he appeared to take them off the table in the first Democratic debate. "If her email practices foiled public-records requests or compromised classified information, those are 'valid questions,' Mr. Sanders said," per the Wall Street Journal. Of course, it was in last month's Democratic debate when Sanders said this: "Let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails... Enough of the e-mails. Let's talk about the real issues facing America." It is very hard to say that in front of 15 million Americans watching the debate on TV and then even half raise the issue again.
Walk like an Egyptian
Whoever thought that the Egyptian pyramids and grain storage would be issues in a presidential election, but here we are. Per NBC's Shaquille Brewster, after Buzzfeed unearthed a 1998 Ben Carson speech when he stated that the Egyptian pyramids were built by the biblical figure Joseph to store grain - and not as tombs for pharaohs - Carson defended his '98 comments, saying "it's still my belief." Well the pyramids were made in a way that they had hermetically sealed compartments," Carson said yesterday. "You would need that if you were trying to preserve grain for a long period of time." Also on the Carson front, CNN finds some inconsistencies with his narrative as a violent youth. "But nine friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson told CNN they have no memory of the anger or violence the candidate has described. That person is unrecognizable to those whom CNN interviewed, who knew him during those formative years. All of the people interviewed expressed surprise about the incidents Carson has described. No one challenged the stories directly. Some of those interviewed expressed skepticism, but noted that they could not know what had happened behind closed doors."
Bush 41 lashes out at Cheney, Rumsfeld
"In interviews with his biographer, Mr. Bush said that Mr. Cheney had built 'his own empire' and asserted too much 'hard-line' influence within George W. Bush's White House in pushing for the use of force around the world. Mr. Rumsfeld, the elder Mr. Bush said, was an 'arrogant fellow' who could not see how others thought and 'served the president badly,'" the New York Times writes. "Mr. Bush's sharp assessments, contained in a biography by Jon Meacham to be published by Random House next week, gave voice to sentiments that many long suspected he had harbored but kept private until now. While he continued to praise his son, he did tell Mr. Meacham that the younger Mr. Bush was responsible for empowering Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld and was at times too bellicose in his language."
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