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First Read: The GOP's Bush 43 Wounds Still Haven't Healed

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 GOP’s Bush 43 wounds still haven’t healed

If there’s a bigger story behind the last 24 hours of back-and-forth over George H.W. Bush’s comments about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld not serving his son well, it’s maybe this -- the Republican Party still hasn’t resolved George W. Bush’s legacy. And it’s not just a problem for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign; it’s a problem for the entire party. You see this when it comes to the presidential field’s rhetoric on ISIS and Russia (is military force and swagger the best approach, or is it diplomacy and multilateralism?); you see it when it comes to debates about the size of government (is government spending a force for good or bad?); you see it when it comes to tax cuts (should they be skewed to the Top 1% or to the middle class?); and you see it when it comes to immigration (was Bush right or wrong to pursue comprehensive immigration reform?). Yes, the Republican Party is back in control of the House and Senate after the Bush 43 years. And, yes, the GOP continues to win political races (see this week’s contest in Kentucky). Yet perhaps the Republican Party’s biggest challenge in winning back the White House in 2016 is resolving -- once and for all -- what happened from 2001-2008.

Recapping the Bush back-and-forth

To recap the back-and-forth over the past 24 hours:

  • "In interviews with his biographer, [George H.W. 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 wrote of the Jon Meacham book on Bush 41.
  • Rumsfeld fired back with this statement to NBC News: “Bush 41 is getting up in years and misjudges Bush 43, who I found made his own decisions."
  • Here was Cheney on Fox News: "I saw my role as being a tough and aggressive as needed to be to carry out the President's policy.
  • George W. Bush’s statement: “I am proud to have served with Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.”
  • And Jeb Bush to NBC’s Kasie Hunt: "I think my dad, like a lot of people that love George want to try to create a different narrative… But George would say this is: This is under my watch, I was Commander-in-Chief."

The Republican field winnows a bit more?

That’s the question after organizers of next week’s Fox Business/WSJ debate announced that, according to their criteria, Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be relegated to the undercard debate -- and that Lindsey Graham and George Pataki wouldn’t be on ANY stage. This is a blow to Graham/Pataki and (to a lesser extent) Christie/Huckabee, because if you can’t be in the debates, it’s hard to continue to go on. Just an observation: Had the Fox Business/WSJ organizers NOT included the Investor’s Business Daily poll, a survey that’s never been considered a top-shelf media poll, Huckabee would have cleared the 2.5% average needed to be included in the main-stage debate, per our math. And the Investor’s Business Daily poll was also the reason why Jindal made the undercard debate, and why Lindsey Graham didn’t.

What happened to Mike Huckabee?

We ask that question because: 1) He was one of the best performers in the 2008 cycle, especially at debates, and 2) He had plenty of potential in this contest (as a former Fox News host, his past experience, his evangelical connections). But outside a comment here or there, and outside the Kim Davis story, Huckabee hasn’t stood out in this race. Some possible theories: Has he fallen out of touch with the electorate over the last eight years? Is he too far removed from his days as Arkansas governor? Whatever the reason, his demeanor has changed -- the politician who was often the happy warrior in ’07-’08 hasn’t seemed as happy this time around.

CNN poll of Iowa

Trump, Carson lead the pack: Here are the numbers, according to a new CNN poll of Iowa: Trump 25%, Carson 23%, Rubio 13%, Cruz 11%, Bush 5%, Fiorina 4%, Jindal 4%.

Will we see a more combative Bernie Sanders at tonight’s MSNBC forum in South Carolina?

Turning to the Democratic race, tonight is the MSNBC forum in South Carolina, which will be moderated by Rachel Maddow, and next Saturday brings us the second Democratic debate -- so two big events in the next eight days. And we’ll see at these two events if the more combative Sanders that’s been previewed by aides and recent interviews shows up. In fact, here was Sanders before the Boston Globe’s editorial board: “I disagree with Hillary Clinton on virtually everything.”

A big October jobs report: 271,000 jobs created, unemployment rate falls to 5.0%

Finally, the AP reports on today’s BIG jobs report: “U.S. hiring roared back in October after two disappointing months as employers added 271,000 jobs, the most since December. The unemployment rate fell to a fresh seven-year low of 5 percent. Companies shrugged off slower overseas growth and a weak U.S manufacturing sector to add jobs across a range of industries. Big gains occurred in construction, health care and retail. Healthy consumer spending is supporting strong job gains even as factory payrolls were flat and oil and gas drillers cut jobs.”

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