The Crazy and Insane Week In Presidential Politics

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Making sense of this crazy week in politics… The top takeaway from our poll is the most important story of the week, and it has big implications for Bush and Clinton… Fact vs. fiction in the Hillary Clinton email controversy, and what has and hasn’t changed… Walker comes out swinging: “Maybe we’re the front-runner” … and what’s really at issue on Iran (hint: it’s not the political squabbles)

Making sense of a crazy week in politics: In the crazy world of American politics, this was an especially crazy week. Hillary's emails! Doubts about her readiness for ’16! That Iran letter! Team Jeb taking early shots at Scott Walker! And all of the numbers from our recent NBC/WSJ poll! So since it's a Friday, let's make sense of this week and look at everything that’s happened with some perspective. Here are our top takeaways:

2016 is going to be a change election: More than the email controversy, more than the Iran letter, more than the Bush/Walker jockeying, the most important takeaway from this week in politics is that 2016 will be a change election. In our new poll, 59% prefer a candidate who will bring greater changes to current policies, even if he or she is less experienced and tested. That’s HIGHER than the 55% who said this in July 2008 during the general election contest between Barack Obama and John McCain. This where the Clinton email story matters. While we believe that some of it is overhyped (see below), the story reinforces the idea that she isn’t going to represent change. (Her supporters would argue that having a woman in the White House is plenty of change.) But here’s the rub: Jeb Bush is viewed as less of a change candidate than Clinton is, especially within their respective parties. Per the poll, 60% of all registered voters (including 42% of Republicans!) say that Bush represents a return to the policies of the past, versus 51% of all voters (and 24% of Democrats) who say the same of Clinton.

What we know about Hillary really hasn’t changed much since the email story began: A little fact vs. fiction in the aftermath of the email story:

Fact: Hillary Clinton remains the Democrat with the most fundraising potential, with the best ability to keep Obama's coalition together, and with the best chance of being a barrier-breaking candidate. Those aren’t insignificant attributes.

Fiction: The email controversy has hurt her standing. (In fact, no polls out there so far -- NBC/WSJ or Gallup-- show this story has dented her numbers.)

Fact: The story has given Democrats some concern about her political agility and the drama/baggage that comes with her candidacy, plus all the media frenzy.

Fiction: The story is going away. (In fact, congressional Republicans are going to be able to use their investigative committees to keep it alive.)

Fact: The other GOP candidates out there have the same liabilities -- if not more so -- when it comes to qualifications, last names, and party standing. Those things just haven’t gotten the same amount of attention over the past two weeks.

Walker declared himself the frontrunner: Overlooked in all of the other political stories this week was this interesting piece of news: Scott Walker had no qualms about declaring himself the GOP frontrunner. Asked during an interview with conservative outlet Breitbart why the president took aim at him for signing right-to-work legislation, Walker answered: “Well, it suggests maybe we’re the front-runner if somebody is taking an active interest in what a state governor is doing, particularly in light of the fact that we’re not the only one.” That’s quite a departure from the typical campaign tactic of managing expectations and nurturing a sense of upward momentum rather than a fight to retain the top spot. That said, Walker could be right. If you look at who’s actually going to vote in the Republican primary, Walker is unquestionably strong across the spectrum of key GOP constituencies, and Bush is unquestionably vulnerable with important blocs. For all the Acela corridor imaginings of Jeb Bush as the GOP nominee, any frontrunner label he’s getting right now is about his fundraising advantage, not his support among voters.

What’s really at issue when it comes to Iran: Finally, while Iran has devolved into your usual political back-and-forth -- “Republicans are traitors for sending that letter to Iran!” “No, Democrats started this first!” – there are huge, consequential questions being obscured by the squabbling. What should the United States’ relationship with Iran be? Are they enemies? (If so, then was the Iraq war a huge strategic mistake, because what it did was take away the one check on Iran?) Are they newfound allies when it comes to fighting ISIS? (If so, then how do you reconcile all the Iranian hostilities towards the United States and Israel?) Or is it somewhere in between? And then there’s this issue: If there is no deal with Iran, does anyone really think that the current sanctions regime stays in place? Remember how hard it was to get the Russians, the Chinese, the French and the Germans all on the same page on putting pressure on Iran – and that was BEFORE Russia was itself being sanctioned by the U.S. Unfortunately, these questions are largely being ignored as this story has turned into a full-fledged political debate.

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