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First Read: August's 2016 Winners and Losers

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.
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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 2016 winners and losers of August

This past weekend’s new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll of Iowa perfectly captures the presidential candidates who won August and the summer -- and those who didn’t. The winners on the Republican side: Donald Trump (who’s in first place in that Iowa poll at 23%) and Ben Carson (second at 18%). The winner on the Democratic side: Bernie Sanders, who has surged 14 points since May and now trails Hillary Clinton by just seven points in Iowa. The loser of August on the Democratic side? It’s Clinton, of course, whose lead in the Hawkeye State has dropped from 41 points to just seven (!!!) in the span of three months. The losers of August on the GOP side: Try Scott Walker (who is now tied for third with Ted Cruz in Iowa -- the state where he was seen as the clear frontrunner), Jeb Bush (who’s tied for fifth), and Marco Rubio (ditto). (Our friend Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report has a similar list of winners and losers; great minds think alike.) What do Trump, Carson, and Sanders all have in common? They’re political outsiders who are FAR from your business-as-usual politicians. Indeed, the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll finds 62% of GOP Iowa caucus-goers and 60% of Dem caucus-goers saying they’re dissatisfied with politicians in general.

He or she who wins August doesn’t necessarily win in the end

But keep this in mind: During the last three presidential cycles (2004, 2008, 2012), the winners of August didn’t go on to capture the presidential nomination. In 2004, the undisputed winner of the summer was Howard Dean, who ultimately finished third in Iowa and won only his home state of Vermont in the 2004 primaries. In 2008, Hillary Clinton was crushing Barack Obama in the August before the nominating contests, while John McCain was essentially given up for dead during that summer. And in 2012, the August winners were Michele Bachmann (who won the Iowa Straw Poll) and Rick Perry (who soared in the polls after his presidential launch). Now if Trump/Carson/Sanders end winning in February and capture their party’s nomination, we’ll look back on this August as the turning points for them. But if they don’t, they’ll join Dean, Hillary, Romney, Rudy, Bachmann, and Perry. One other point: While the Des Moines Register poll is the unquestioned gold standard in Iowa, it widely differs from the other August polling, which found Clinton up about 20-30 points in the Hawkeye State.

Why everyone needs to pay more attention to Ben Carson

For all of the attention Trump and Sanders have received this summer, it’s striking how little coverage the other August winner -- Carson -- has gotten by comparison. That, folks, needs to change ASAP. In the Des Moines Register poll, Carson is tied with Trump when you add up the first and second choices. He also enjoys the highest fav/unfav score among GOP caucus-goers:

  • Carson: 79%-8% (+71)
  • Walker: 71%-15% (+56)
  • Fiorina: 64%-15% (+49)
  • Rubio: 67%-20% (+47)
  • Jindal: 61%-18% (+43)
  • Cruz: 61%-24% (+37)
  • Huckabee: 61%-30% (+31)
  • Trump: 61%-35% (+26)
  • Bush: 45%-50% (-5)
  • Paul: 39%-49% (-10)
  • Christie: 29%-59% (-30)

Walker: It’s a “legitimate issue” to look at building a wall between the U.S. and Canada

Scott Walker has the second-best fav/unfav in the GOP race, according to that Iowa poll, and he still has lots of upside. But as we’ve written before, he’s had a BRUTAL last few weeks, and his talk about building wall on the U.S.-Canadian border isn’t going to change that perception. “Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire,” he said on “Meet the Press” yesterday. “They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at.” Here’s the Washington Post on Walker’s struggles: “Walker’s backers see a campaign discombobulated by Trump’s booming popularity and by his provocative language on immigration, China and other issues. They see in Walker a candidate who — in contrast to the discipline he showed in state races — continues to commit unforced errors, either out of lack of preparation or in an attempt to grab for part of the flamboyant businessman’s following.”

After a month of Biden buzz, he still hasn’t set up a fundraising committee

As for the speculation over Biden’s 2016 intentions (NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports that he made a surprise appearance in Delaware) it’s worth noting that the White House buzz began at the beginning of this month with that Maureen Dowd column, and Biden still hasn’t set up a fundraising committee -- either exploratory committee, Super PAC, 527, or something else. To us, that’s telling, because if he is going to compete against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, he’s got to raise between $50 million and $100 million before the first contests begin. Remember, a sitting vice president (with his security entourage) can’t fly coach on Southwest Airlines. It’s a very expensive endeavor to run for president as a sitting VP.

Fundraising woes for Jeb?

Speaking of fundraising, we learned over the weekend that three of Jeb Bush’s fundraisers left the campaign. “There are different versions of what transpired. The Florida-based fundraising consultants — Kris Money, Trey McCarley and Debbie Aleksander — have said that they voluntarily quit the campaign and were still working with Bush's super PAC, Right to Rise Super PAC. Others said the three, who worked under the same contract, were let go because they were no longer needed for the current phase of the campaign,” Politico writes. And Politico’s Marc Caputo adds that Jeb is grinding out fundraisers throughout September, wondering if it’s a sign of fundraising troubles. "[W]as his [hard-dollar] fundraising too little? Is Jeb's burn rate too high, prompting the recalculations, resizing of the campaign? The campaign says no, and that it'll have plenty of money, etc. So we'll have to see at the end of the quarter. Meantime, Bush and the family have a grueling fundraising schedule.”

Boehner vs. Obama over the name of the United States’ largest mountain

President Obama heads to Alaska today to discuss climate change, and we learned that the Obama administration changed the name of Alaska’s Mount McKinley -- in honor of former President William McKinley of Ohio -- to Mount Denali. That decision angered Ohio’s John Boehner: “There is a reason President McKinley’s name has served atop the highest peak in North America for more than 100 years, and that is because it is a testament to his great legacy. McKinley served our country with distinction during the Civil War as a member of the Army,” the House speaker said in a statement, per Roll Call. “He made a difference for his constituents and his state as a member of the House of Representatives and as Governor of the great state of Ohio. And he led this nation to prosperity and victory in the Spanish-American War as the 25th President of the United States. I’m deeply disappointed in this decision.”

On the trail

John Kasich stumps in Michigan… Marco Rubio is in Reno, NV… Ted Cruz has multiple events in New Hampshire… Rand Paul is in Vermont… And Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum campaign in Iowa.

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