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First Read: GOP Hopefuls Keep Focus on Foreign Policy

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
Image: Former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks
Former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks during the Freedom Summit in Greenville, South Carolina May 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris KeaneCHRIS KEANE / Reuters

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 presidential field remains focused on foreign policy

A week ago, we wrote how national security is now Republican voters’ top concern in the NBC/WSJ poll (vs. the economy being the top concern for Democratic voters). Well, guess what the top issue was at Saturday’s GOP confab in South Carolina -- national security and foreign policy.

  • Here was Marco Rubio, per NBC’s Emily Gold: “People ask what should our strategy be on global jihadists and terrorists, I refer them to the movie ‘Taken.’… ‘We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.”
  • Here was Scott Walker: “We need a president who’s gonna back away from that deal in Iran and set the record straight.”
  • Rick Santorum: “I think it’s time we have a president that honors and supports the American military,” he said. “I would just be happy if the president would be able to tell the difference between our friends and our enemies.”
  • And Ted Cruz: “We saw the ugly face of Islamic terrorism in my home state of Texas in Garland where two jihadists came to commit murder. Thankfully one police officer helped them meet their virgins.”

Four reasons why

There are at least four reasons why the GOP candidates are focused so heavily on foreign affairs -- more so than at this time in the 2012 presidential cycle. One, the economy has improved (223,000 jobs were created last month, and Obama’s economic handling is up to 49% in the latest NBC/WSJ poll), while the deficit has decreased. Two, there’s the rise of ISIS. Three, there’s the Iran deal that the Obama administration is racing to finalize by next month. And four, there’s the GOP recognition that focusing on foreign policy is maybe the best way to go after Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state. Indeed, here’s Rand Paul: “Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya has made us less safe,” Paul (R-Ky.) told John Catsimatidis on The Answer 970 AM radio. “It made it a hotbed for jihadists, and, in fact, I think Libya now is a jihadist wonderland.”

Jeb would have authorized 2003 invasion of Iraq

Speaking of foreign policy, in a Fox News interview set to air today, Jeb Bush said would have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Washington Post writes. “‘I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,’ the likely 2016 presidential contender said. As a senator from New York, Clinton voted in favor of the invasion — a decision she has since said was wrong. The mistakes, Bush argued, were in the decisions made in the aftermath: ‘Once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn’t focus on security first.’” Worth noting: The Oct. 2014 NBC/WSJ poll found 66% of American voters saying that the Iraq war wasn’t worth it.

Meet Marco Rubio’s billionaire patron

If you apply the same logic that conservative author Peter Schweizer used for Hillary Clinton -- that donations to the Clinton Foundation appeared to influence policy decisions by Hillary Clinton’s State Department -- then the New York Times’ profile of big Marco Rubio patron Norman Braman is equally eyebrow-raising. What Braman has given Rubio over the years: He’s helped finance Rubio’s campaigns; hired Rubio as a lawyer; employed Rubio’s wife; paid Rubio’s salary as an instructor at a Miami college; and now has committed about $10 million to the pro-Rubio Super PAC in 2016. What Braman has gotten in return: Rubio helped steer millions of taxpayer funds to Braman-backed charities. Rubio defended his actions in an interview with MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt. “The only thing Norman Braman’s ever asked my help on is charities, whether it’s a cancer center, or a genomics center at the University of Miami.”

That time Rubio helped out Braman’s cancer institute, despite Jeb Bush’s veto threat

But as the Times piece points out, not every GOP politician supported these charities. Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush, had vetoed the [cancer institute] funding in 2004, incurring Mr. Braman’s public fury... Mr. Rubio did not let it happen again. The next year, he secured the cancer funding over Mr. Bush’s objections. “Marco,” Mr. Bush wrote in a somewhat grudging email to a lobbyist at the time, “strongly wanted the Braman Cancer money.”

Bill won’t play role in Hillary’s campaign -- in 2015

Meanwhile, the Washington Post scoops that Bill Clinton is unlikely to play any kind of role in Hillary Clinton’s campaign this year. “Senior aides say he does not plan to do any campaign activities for his wife in 2015, including fundraisers for her campaign or allied super PACs. He has said privately that she should lead the campaign on her own, aides said. ‘He’s completely focused right now on the foundation,’ said Tina Flournoy, Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. ‘That does not mean that he does not realize his wife is running for president. But he is not directly engaged in the campaign. As he has said before, if his advice is asked for, he’s happy to give it.’” Of course, Bill not playing a role in 2015 shouldn’t be all that surprising with Hillary WAY AHEAD in the early Democratic field, which so far includes just one other candidate -- Bernie Sanders.

Wrapping Fiorina’s “Meet” appearance

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, 2016 GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina defended her lack of experience in elective office. “I understand how the economy works. I understand how the world works. I know more world leaders on the stage today than anyone running, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton.” She explained why she’s against the current free-trade deal, but supported free trade in the past. “The truth is, we don't know what's in this deal. The truth is we know that we have trading partners who have violated agreements in trade deals, China being one of them. And so I think it's important to understand some of the fine print of this deal.” And Fiorina responded to being fired at Hewlett Packard. “Well, they did fire me. I've been very open about that. I was fired in a boardroom brawl. We had board members who were leaking information out of the boardroom. You know, the truth is this: it is a leader's job to challenge the status quo. And when you do, you make enemies.”

Huck on that diabetes treatment, Carson on his flat-tax proposal

Also on the Sunday shows, Mike was asked about promoting a dietary supplement that claims to cure diabetes: "I don't have to defend everything that I've ever done," he replied. And Ben Carson defended his support of the flat tax: “I like the idea of a proportional tax. That way you pay according to your ability. And I got that idea, quite frankly, from the Bible, tithing. You make $10 billion a year, you pay $1 billion. You make $10 a year, you pay $1. You get the same rights. That's pretty darn fair, if you ask me. Now, some people say it's not fair because, you know, the poor people can't afford to pay that dollar. That's very condescending. You know, I grew up very poor. I experienced every economic level. And I can tell you poor people have pride, too. And they don't want to be just taken care of.”

On the trail today

Ben Carson and Rand Paul are in New Hampshire… Bernie Sanders has an event in Charlottesville, VA… And Scott Walker remains in Israel.

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