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
Playing the role of McCain 3.0
One of us(!) talked to Lindsey Graham yesterday about his 2016 pitch, and one big takeaway was just how much he’s trying to claim the mantle of truth-teller within the GOP. On immigration, Iraq and fixing congressional gridlock, Graham wants to be the guy who’s not afraid to take on his party, who speaks truth to power and who’s happy to lay out unpopular solutions -- polls be damned. It’s McCain 3.0 – a recipe that worked for the 2008 GOP nominee, by the way, in part because he was accessible to the press and acceptable to the chunk of the GOP that believes the direction – or at least the tone – of the party is off track. But Graham isn’t the only player in the 2016 field who’s vying for the Truth Teller spot. John Kasich and Chris Christie are also positioning themselves as the candidate who’s willing to be honest with the GOP base about its problems. (Even Ted Cruz is perhaps serving that role specifically within the conservative movement.) Right now, none of these candidates is brushing the top tier, but one of them is almost sure to pop at some point in the race. And if they do, the person it will hurt most is Jeb Bush.
Graham on Iraq: “You don’t get out”
Speaking of Graham, perhaps most notable in our talk with him in New Hampshire was his response to the question of how the country can eventually get out of Iraq. “You don’t get out,” he said. We understand the argument that Graham’s trying to make here; he wants to be the race’s foreign policy grown-up, telling Americans the tough truth that the persistent scourge of terror in the Middle East needs a major on-the-ground U.S. presence. There's a variation here on the Colin Powell argument: We broke it, so we have a responsibility to fix it. The problem for Graham is that it’s an incredibly tough sell, given that even half of Republicans say the war was a bad idea or not worth it. And Americans don’t picture a lingering U.S. presence in Iraq as a replica of troop outposts in Korea or Germany, where service members aren’t in the line of fire. This is more blood and treasure at risk, in perpetuity. But Graham will argue the next president will end up being forced to be involved no matter what they claim on the trail, so he's just being upfront.
Yet another big day of stories about the Clinton Foundation
Two more big Clinton Foundation stories are hitting today, giving us yet another look into why this problem is persisting for the Democratic candidate. First, in the Washington Times: “Bill Clinton’s foundation set up a fundraising arm in Sweden that collected $26 million in donations at the same time that country was lobbying Hillary Rodham Clinton’s State Department to forgo sanctions that threatened its thriving business with Iran, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Washington Times.” It’s another Foundation story that doesn’t quite reveal a smoking gun, but – again – there’s just a whiff of shadiness and something that feels weird about the whole deal. A lottery supported the foundation? Just sounds odd. And the Washington Post offers a big look at how the Foundation grew from a germ of an idea into a sprawling $2 billion empire. Our biggest takeaway from the Post piece: Does the Foundation maintain its success if Clinton doesn’t end up in the White House? It’s something neither the campaign nor the Foundation want to address, because acknowledging that donors are anticipating a Hillary Clinton win would imply that check-writers really do think they’re currying favor not just with a former president, but with a future one too.
Iowa and the George W. Bush question
The Des Moines Register points this out in its new poll: Iowa GOP caucusgoers aren’t as down on George W. Bush as you might think. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans likely to caucus say it would be “mostly good” if the former president were to serve as an advisor to his brother if Jeb Bush wins the presidency. And Democrats are even more enthusiastic about Bill Clinton, with more than eight in ten saying that they’d be happy to see him serving as a top adviser to his wife. Sure, these are the party faithful, but these are interesting data points to keep in mind when we’re talking about the distaste for political dynasties that we sometimes see popping up in national polls.
The moment seems so right for a third party moment, but we’re just not there yet
It’s a question we ponder a lot and we get asked about all the time: Why isn’t there a bigger third-party movement in America? Jeff Greenfield has a smart take in the Daily Beast today on why the moment seems so ripe for an independent surge, but the country’s not quite there yet – even still. With nearly two-thirds of Americans upset with the way government works and about the same amount saying they’re comfortable voting for an independent, on paper, it seems kind of amazing that you’re not seeing a bigger push, especially if the general election features two political dynasties. But, he adds, “the appetite for such an effort is in part more rhetorical than real” – with self-identified independents being, more often than not, less independent than they think they are. Between that, the risk of being a spoiler for a more palatable general election candidate (see: General Election, 2000) and the increasing polarization of the electorate, we’re just not there yet.
Lincoln Chafee becomes Clinton’s third official Democratic challenger
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is expected to announce his presidential bid in Arlington, Va this afternoon. Chafee has indicated that he’ll try to hammer Clinton on her Iraq war vote – the same issue that plagued her in 2008. But Chafee’s party record may drown out much of what he has to say policy-wise: He’s a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who ditched a re-election bid after registering a 25 percent job approval rating in his home state.
Rubio ditches his ‘House of Horrors’
POLTICO’s Marc Caputo reports that Marco Rubio has finally sold the Tallahassee house he co-owned with former Rep. David Rivera, who’s been plagued by campaign finance scandals. “Though Rubio ultimately lost money on the deal, the sale saves the Florida senator from having to worry about the bills and upkeep of the property, which had become a burden over the years — at one point, the home flooded… And, most embarrassingly in 2010, the bank that held the mortgage on the three-bedroom house initiated foreclosure proceedings against Rubio and Rivera amid a dispute.”
Moving forward on NSA: The consumer story
The political dispute on the National Security Agency’s storage of bulk metadata telephone records may be over, but now, it’s become a consumer story. As we wrote earlier this week, the same public that pushed Congress towards stripping some of the Patriot Act’s powers will be looking for answers about how the telephone companies will actually comply with the new law. Just because the USA Freedom Act is signed into law doesn’t mean that this problem is all wrapped up with a bow.