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First Read: Jeb Bush Punches Back at Donald Trump

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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Jeb punches back at Trump

It began last week in New Hampshire, but escalated yesterday in McAllen, TX: Jeb Bush is increasingly punching back at Donald Trump. He argued that Trump’s immigration plan to round up all undocumented immigrants isn’t “grounded in conservative principles," saying: "The simple fact is that his proposal is unrealistic, it will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, it will violate people's civil liberties, it will create friction with our third largest trading partner.” As the New York Times puts it, “The change in Mr. Bush’s tone is a calculated strategy, interviews show, with two different but crucial aims now that Mr. Trump is proving to be a long-term obstacle, not a passing nuisance: to dilute Mr. Trump’s right-wing support by proving that he is not a genuine conservative and to show a wary Republican Party that Mr. Bush is enough of a street fighter to survive a nasty nomination contest.” And there is another bonus, at least from the Bush point of view -- elevating Trump as his main foil, which demotes the rest of the field of anti-Bushes.

But that comes with a big risk for Bush

Yet there is a danger as Jeb increasingly feels free to mix it up with Trump: The New York media mogul is always going to hit back harder -- and often with brass knuckles. “Trump is not playing by the usual rules,” the Atlantic’s David Frum writes. “Show Trump a line, and he’ll cross it. He has crossed it. And Jeb Bush is a candidate who needs lines respected almost more than any other.” Consider these tweets that Trump fired off today at Bush, per NBC’s Ali Vitali:

  • “In a clumsy move to get out of his ‘anchor babies’ dilemma, where he signed that he would not use the term and now uses it, he blamed ASIANS”;
  • “Asians are very offended that JEB said that anchor babies applies to them as a way to be more politically correct to hispanics. A mess!”

Or consider the video Trump put out yesterday with Bush’s mother’s old quote that “we’ve had enough Bushes.” The video ends with these words: “Mother knows best, Jeb!” So every time Bush fires off a rhetorical gun at Trump, Trump is going to reciprocate with a 16-inch battleship blast. And get ready for more blasts when Trump holds a rally in Dubuque, IA tonight.

Jeb: When I was talking about “anchor babies,” I meant Asians

As for Jeb’s “anchor baby” explanation that Trump referred to above, the former Florida governor yesterday said in Texas that he was referring to Asian immigrants, as one of us wrote yesterday. Bush said that he used the term "anchor babies" specifically to refer to fraud -- sometimes called "birth tourism" -- in a "specific targeted kind of case" involving mothers who travel to the United States only to win citizenship for their unborn children. "Frankly it's more Asian people," he added. But as colleague Benjy Sarlin points out, “The current ‘anchor baby’ talk is not because of widespread GOP voter fear of Chinese elites flying to LA to give birth.” By the way, not for nothing, but can the GOP risk alienating one of the OTHER fast-growing voting groups in the country: Asians? One of the priorities of the RNC was to improve with this voting group as well, given that it used to be a swing group. Jeb didn't help things here.

Reading the Biden tea leaves

There are two stories out today that still give us doubts that Joe Biden will eventually give the green light for a presidential run. The first is this piece from the Washington Post’s Dan Balz: “As Vice President Biden weighs a possible run for president, personal issues stand as the biggest unresolved obstacle, with Biden trying to gauge whether his family is emotionally prepared for a grueling campaign while still grieving the recent death of his son Beau, according to people familiar with his deliberations… Biden is now leaning more toward running than he was earlier in the summer, though he is still weeks from a decision.” Folks, if Biden is going to be competitive, he has to set up SOME kind of fundraising committee in the next week or two -- just to be able to campaign in Iowa or New Hampshire. (Maybe this is what his meeting with Dem lawyer Bob Bauer and wife Anita Dunn was all about. But he’s got to move quickly.) Here’s the second tea leaf via Politico: “Elizabeth Warren backers lukewarm on Joe Biden.” As we wrote yesterday, Biden doesn’t have a natural base if he runs -- outside of the new media right now.

Don’t over-interpret yesterday’s 2016 news from the White House

A word of advice to our peers: Don’t over-interpret White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s effusive praise of Joe Biden yesterday -- it would have been awkward if Earnest hadn’t done this, since Biden works with them. Also, Obama possibly endorsing in the Dem primaries has ALWAYS been the cards.

Scott Walker’s terrible, very bad, no good month continues

“One of Scott Walker’s top fundraisers [Wall Street’s Anthony Scaramucci] met with Donald Trump on Monday and discussed the possibility of leaving the Wisconsin governor’s camp to work for the GOP presidential front-runner’s campaign, the fundraiser and Mr. Trump said,” per the Wall Street Journal. “… Scaramucci, a national finance co-chairman for Mr. Walker's campaign, said in a phone interview that the two discussed the possibility of his defecting to Mr. Trump but that he told the businessman it wasn't possible." So it looks like Scaramucci is staying with Walker, but what a rough headline for Team Walker in the Wall Street Journal, of all places. Meanwhile, the campaign is calling on President Obama to cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the White House next month.

Rick Perry’s terrible, very bad, no good campaign continues

As one of us confirmed yesterday, Iowa Republican activist Sam Clovis has stepped down as Rick Perry's chairman in the state. "Gov. Perry remains committed to competing in Iowa, as well as South Carolina and New Hampshire, and there are many people across the country who continue to work to elect Rick Perry as president. We wish Sam the best in his next endeavor," said Perry campaign spokeswoman Lucy Nashed. Perry's team has been working without pay since earlier this month amid fundraising woes.

Two pieces of good news for John Kasich

First, Quinnipiac has his job approval in Ohio at 61% (compare that with Scott Walker’s 39% in Wisconsin). Second, Kasich announced the endorsement of former Sen. Trent Lott, R-MS. Of course, one person’s former Senate leader is another person’s current Washington lobbyist.

On the trail

Jeb Bush holds a town hall in Engelwood, CO… Ted Cruz is in Tuscaloosa, AL (Roll Tide…)… Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee campaign in Iowa… Rand Paul stumps in Alaska… And Donald Trump holds a rally in Dubuque, IA.

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