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First Read: How a Biden Run Could Actually Help Hillary Clinton

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

Why Biden running could actually help Hillary Clinton

The Joe Biden buzz continues -- after the vice president met with Elizabeth Warren on Saturday and after the Wall Street Journal reports that he’s increasingly leaning toward a White House run. Yet despite how a Biden bid could initially hurt Hillary Clinton (make no mistake, it would be a clear rebuke to her), there are two reasons why Biden running could actually help her. First, it would force Clinton and her campaign to step up their game. “She's a terrible front-runner but she's a marvelous candidate when she gets into the middle of the race,” as NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) put it on “Meet the Press” yesterday. In other words, give her a real Democratic race -- a la what she experienced in the spring of 2008 when Clinton trailed Barack Obama -- and it’ll force her to be a stronger candidate. Two, Biden jumping in would swap the scandal-focused coverage of Clinton and replace it with horserace-focused coverage. It has become increasingly apparent that Hillary Clinton might not be able to beat a unified political press corps on constant scandal patrol. But she could beat Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

But can Biden truly mount a competitive campaign?

As we mentioned above, the Wall Street Journal said last night that Biden is “increasingly leaning toward entering the race,” but it adds one VERY IMPORTANT caveat to this -- “if he can knit together a competitive campaign at this late date.” That’s a big “if”. Translation: He wants to run, but he’s trying to find a way if he can beat not only Hillary Clinton, but a well-financed Bernie Sanders, too. Where will Biden find the $50 million to $100 million he’ll need to compete as the sitting vice president? (Remember, firing up Air Force Two to fly to Iowa and New Hampshire will cost at least tens of thousands of dollars a day.) Where is the groundswell of support for Biden coming from? (Right now, it looks like there are more political reporters cheering his possible entry rather than rank-and-file Democrats.) Is he ready to attack his good friend Hillary Clinton? (If he gets in, he will need to be prepared to make a contrast with her on Day 1). And how does he run? As a populist (even though Bernie Sanders has left little room here), or as the heir to Obama (even though Clinton has left little room here)? Maybe that’s the best way to view Biden’s meeting with Warren: He’s trying to see if the populist left would support him over Sanders. But that won’t be an easy task.

Love (for Biden) will tear us apart

There is one additional Biden angle to mention today: The vice president entering the 2016 race would divide the Obama White House. “Biden versus Hillary Clinton would tear at loyalties, emotions, political calculations — and in some cases, actual contracts already signed with Clinton’s Brooklyn campaign headquarters,” Politico says. And it’s worth noting that today is President Obama’s first full day back from his two-week vacation. And today, Obama and Biden have their weekly private lunch at the White House. At some point, Obama is going to have to address the possibility of Biden vs. Clinton.

Scott Walker’s bad, terrible, no good, very bad August

Whether it was his performance in that first debate, his changing positions on birthright citizenship, or him losing the immigration issue to Donald Trump, Scott Walker has had a very rough August. Just look at that birthright citizenship issue. A week ago, he told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt that he supported ending birthright citizenship. (Hunt:We should end birthright citizenship? Walker: Yeah, to me it's about enforcing the laws in this country.) Then, after saying that issues like birthright citizenship shouldn’t be considered until border security was resolved, Walker told CNBC’s John Harwood: "I'm not taking a position on [birthright citizenship] one way or the other." Finally yesterday on ABC, when he was asked if he was seeking to repeal the 14th Amendment (to change birthright citizenship), Walker answered, “No.” If you’re counting, that’s three different positions in less than a week. In the last two presidential cycles, we’ve seen two different candidates have AWFUL Augusts -- Barack Obama (in 2007) and Tim Pawlenty (in 2011). One ultimately succeeded; the other didn’t make it past the end of the month.

Can Trump find a second act?

As for Donald Trump, conservative writer Byron York makes a smart point: “In the spirit of all predictions about Trump being wrong, I'm now skeptical of stories about his staying power.” Indeed, one of Trump’s upcoming challenges will be finding a second act. There are two ways to interpret a candidate with 100% name ID at 25% in the polls. One, he’s leading the field. Two, 75% of the party isn’t choosing him right now.

Ted Cruz criticizes Jimmy Carter

This happened on Friday, but it bears repeating: In his “soapbox” remarks at the Iowa State Fair late last week, Ted Cruz criticized Jimmy Carter’s presidency -- a day after Carter’s moving public admission about his cancer. “I think where we are today is very, very much like the late 1970’s. I think the parallels between this administration and the Carter administration are uncanny -- same failed domestic policy, same misery, stagnation and malaise. Same feckless and naive foreign policy, in fact the exact same countries Russia and Iran, openly laughing at and mocking the president of the United States.” It’s worth noting that Cruz, in June, also joked about Joe Biden after the death of Biden’s son, Beau. Cruz later apologized. Is Cruz so programmed into his stump speech that he becomes tone deaf after tragic news? For Cruz, it simply was an odd tone deaf moment in what was otherwise a very impressive under-the-radar week in Iowa. He had some 2,000 show up for one event. There is still a lot of upside to Cruz, and he held his own during the impromptu debate with Juno actress Ellen Page, but he needs to be a tad more nimble on the stump

Scowcroft backs Iran deal

Back at the White House after his August vacation, President Obama now turns to the home stretch of selling the Iran deal. And he gets some good news from an endorsement from Bush 41 national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who penned a Washington Post op-ed in support of the deal. “If we walk away, we walk away alone. The world’s leading powers worked together effectively because of U.S. leadership. To turn our back on this accomplishment would be an abdication of the United States’ unique role and responsibility, incurring justified dismay among our allies and friends.” He concluded, “[D]ecades of experience strongly suggest that there are epochal moments that should not be squandered. President Nixon realized it with China. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush realized it with the Soviet Union. And I believe we face it with Iran today.” Even though they no longer serve, Scowcroft and Dick Lugar supporting the Iran deal isn’t insignificant.

With Harry Reid, 27 Senate Democrats now back the Iran deal

As for those who still serve in office, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid announced his support for the Iran deal yesterday (it took him a while because he allowed big Nevada constituent Sheldon Adelson time to make his case). Per the count by NBC’s Frank Thorp, Reid now makes it 27 Senate Democrats who support the deal – seven votes away from thwarting a veto override, and 14 votes away from Democrats being able to filibuster a resolution of disapproval. Bottom line: It increasingly looks like the White House has the votes to prevent Congress from blocking the deal.

On the trail

Jeb Bush travels to McAllen, TX, where he will talk border security and speak with reporters… Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and Ben Carson are all in South Carolina for Rep. Jeff Duncan’s fifth annual “Faith and Freedom BBQ”… Chris Christie and Bernie Sanders are in New Hampshire… Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal are in Iowa.

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