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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.
Pressure’s On: No one needs a stronger debate performance than Jeb
We can’t emphasize enough how important Wednesday’s debate and the next couple of weeks are for Jeb Bush’s struggling campaign. Consider:
- Jeb’s Super PAC, Right to Rise, has advertised more than any other 2016 entity, but that hasn’t moved the poll numbers in the early states;
- The campaign, as we reported last week, has begun to cut salaries and staff – a telltale sign the political buzzards are circling over a candidate’s head;
- And Jeb’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, has become anxious and even incredulous at Donald Trump’s impact on the race, as the New York Times noted.
Asked on Saturday if his campaign is falling apart, Bush responded, per NBC’s Jordan Frasier: “Blah, blah, blah, blah… October is not when you elect people; it’s February. And then you move into March, and we have a campaign that is designed to win. And I’m going to win.” He’s right:. But we’re now less than 100 days until Iowa, and the clock is ticking if he can turn things around and become John McCain of 2008 (who won the nomination after a near-death political experience) instead of John Connally of 1980 (who had so much money at his disposal but never, ever caught fire).
Trump vs. Carson
While our eyes are fixed on Jeb over the next 72 hours, the biggest fireworks on the Republican side have been between Trump and Ben Carson, the top-polling GOP presidential candidates. During a rally in Florida on Saturday, Trump alluded to Carson’s religion, saying that “I just don’t know about” the retired neurosurgeon’s Seventh-day Adventist faith. (His own Presbyterianism, Trump added, is “down the middle of the road.”) Trump says he sees no reason to apologize for the comment. And as Carson rises in polls in Iowa, Trump is also reupping his famous attack of Jeb Bush, calling his newest rival “super low energy.” Also on a TODAY Show town hall this morning, he called Carson “weak” on immigration (along with Bush and Rubio), and he dismissed recent Iowa polling showing a Carson surge as inaccurate. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Carson replied, “I have plenty of energy. But, you know, I am soft-spoken. I do have a tendency to be relaxed. I wasn't always like that… As a teenager. I would go after people with rocks, and bricks, and baseball bats, and hammers. And, of course, many people know the story when I was 14 and I tried to stab someone.” To quote “Anchorman,” that sure escalated quickly…
Carson: “I would love to see [Roe v. Wade] overturned”
Also on “Meet,” Carson was asked about his views on abortion, and he compared the practice to slavery. “Think about this: During slavery-- and I know that's one of those words you're not supposed to say, but I'm saying it. During slavery, a lot of the slave owners thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave. Anything that they chose to do. And, you know, what if the abolitionist had said, you know, "I don't believe in slavery. I think it's wrong. But you guys do whatever you want to do?” Where would we be?” When he was pressed on whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned, Carson answered, “Ultimately, I would love to see it overturned.”
Working for the weekend
The Washington Post reaches this conclusion about Marco Rubio’s time on Capitol Hill: He really, really does not like being in the Senate. A longtime friend tells the paper “He hates it,” and Rubio himself concedes “I’m frustrated.” The piece comes after Rubio defended skipping Senate work in an interview Sunday, telling CNN “I'm not missing votes because I'm on vacation." Team Rubio tells NBC’s Hallie Jackson “"It's no secret that he's been very frustrated with the lack of action in Washington over the last five years. It's why he's running for president!" The worst part of this story here for Rubio: It underscores foes’ implication that Rubio, like onetime Sen. Barack Obama, is too ambitious and impatient to build the resume necessary for the White House. (Remember, Obama had a similar reputation for rolling his eyes at the pace of Capitol Hill.) On the plus side for the Florida senator, GOP voters certainly aren’t rewarding legislative experience right now, and perhaps the dirtiest words in politics at the moment are “career politician.” The question is: Do voters punish him if they think he’s not doing a job he’s elected to do, or do they give him a pass because he’s upset with the same institution that’s fueling their anger at Washington?
Biden explains his big decision
It appears thatJoe Biden reached the same conclusion as many political observers who calculated how the odds were stacked against his success in a 2016 run: It was just too late for him to get in it and win it. “If I thought we could’ve put together the campaign that our supporters deserve and our contributors deserved, I would have gone ahead and done it,” Biden said in an interview on “60 Minutes.” The vice president described emotional moments with his 11 year-old granddaughter as she dealt with the death of her father, Beau, and said that the family’s healing process simply took too long to make a 2016 run feasible. (As we pointed out before his decision last week, Biden would have started the race in third place and $60 million in the hole compared to the cash on hand banked by Sanders and Clinton.) Also from the interview: Biden denied that his remark about Republicans not being his “enemy” was aimed at Hillary Clinton, insisting that he and the former secretary of state are friendly. ““The only reason to run is because I still think I could do a better job than anybody else could do,” he said. “That’s the reason to run. I wouldn’t run against Hillary.”
Sanders on offense in Iowa
While Biden tried to take some heat off of Clinton over the weekend, don’t miss Bernie Sanders’ big slam of the Democratic frontrunner from Saturday night.. Sanders unleashed his most direct criticism of Clinton yet at Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, mentioning her positions on trade policy, the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Iraq War. And then there was this focus on her support for the Defense of Marriage Act: “Today, some are trying to rewrite history by saying they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse,” Sanders said. “Let us be clear. That’s just not true. There was a small minority opposed to discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters. Not everybody held that position in 1996,” Sanders said. More: “I will not abandon any segment of society, black or white gay or straight, just because it is expedient at a given time.” As the Des Moines Register writes, the dinner will be remembered as the moment that Sanders sharpened the knives.
Vitter heads to runoff in LA-GOV
He’s still plagued by that 2007 prostitution scandal, but gubernatorial hopeful Sen. David Vitter lives to fight another day. From the AP: “Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter survived challenges Saturday from two GOP rivals who called his years-old prostitution scandal a stain on Louisiana, reaching a runoff against Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards in the governor's race. The Nov. 21 runoff will decide who follows Republican presidential hopeful Gov. Bobby Jindal into office, the winner inheriting leadership of a state mired in financial problems that both candidates blame on the term-limited governor.”
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