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First Read: Style, Substance and the Looming Government Shutdown

Carly Fiorina Shines, Donald Trump Fends Off Attacks in Marathon GOP Debate 2:54

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.

Style and rhetoric vs. governing and results

With two Republican debates now in the books, it’s hard to ignore that two of the biggest standouts have been the loudest and toughest talkers, while two who’ve received some of the toughest reviews are those with actual conservative accomplishments under their belts. Of course, the standouts we’re talking about are Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina, who have fired up conservatives with their unrelenting rhetoric but who have never actually governed in the political arena. And the two Republicans who haven’t graded out as well at the debates are Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, who as governors signed a conservative’s dream list into law (tax cuts, abortion restrictions, union restrictions). As a result, they must feel a little like Jon Lovitz playing Michael Dukakis in that famous “Saturday Night Live” skit: “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy” -- or in this case, these guys and gals. Indeed, it is one of the problems of judging a presidential primary season based solely on the debates, as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes. “One of the weird and troublesome things about political debates is the disconnect between the qualities of showmanship that the format requires, and what such talents reveal about how a candidate would govern.”

That same dynamic is also playing out with the looming government shutdown

This style vs. governing dynamic also is playing out with the looming government shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aren’t RINOs. They’re against abortion, Planned Parenthood, and President Obama. But as we’ve written before, conservatives are upset at them over tactics -- that they seem unwilling to do whatever it takes (that is, shut down the government) over Planned Parenthood. In response, Sen. Kelly Ayottte (R-NH) has written a letter to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) asking him how he plans to defund Planned Parenthood without the necessary votes, NBC’s Frank Thorp reports. "Since we only received 53 votes on the previous vote to redirect money away from Planned Parenthood, what is your strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood?" Ayotte asked. "How do we get 60 votes? And if for some reason there were 60 votes, how do we get 67 votes in the Senate to overcome a Presidential veto?" Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, Ayotte said, “We’ve seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well.”

Is a Government Shutdown Ahead Over Planned Parenthood? 0:57

GOP field divided over shutdown

Speaking of the looming government shutdown over Planned Parenthood, it’s striking how the GOP’s presidential field was split over this issue. Arguing in FAVOR: Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker:

  • Cruz: I'll tell you, the fact that Republican leadership in both houses has begun this discussion by preemptively surrendering to Barack Obama and saying, "we'll give in because Obama threatens a veto."... We need to stop surrendering and start standing... for our principles.
  • Christie: We elected a Republican Congress to do this. And they should be doing it, and they're not. And they're giving the president a pass... Let's force him to do what he says he's going to do. Now I don't know whether he'll do it or not, but let's force him to do it.
  • Walker: [T]his is precisely why so many Republicans are upset with Washington. They see the House and they see the Senate and they say why can't we pass this. Why can't we defund Planned -- put it in a spending bill. Forget about the 60-vote rule, there's no reason -- and the Constitution doesn't call for 60 votes. Pass it with 51 votes, put it on the desk of the president.

Arguing AGAINST: John Kasich and Jeb Bush:

  • Kasich: I think there is a way to get this done by giving governors the ability to be able to act to defund Planned Parenthood. But when (ph) it comes to closing down the federal government, you gotta be very careful about that... The president of the United States is not going to sign this, and all we're gonna do is shut the government down, and then we're gonna open up -- open it up, and the American people are gonna shake their heads and say, "what's the story with these Republicans?
  • Bush: So here is a solution to this. Title X of the HHS funding, there is something that was the "Reagan Rule." It was passed in 1988. And in that rule it was defined, and the courts approved this, that a Planned Parenthood, you couldn't separate the money between the actual abortion procedures, and there are 330,000 abortions that take place in this clinic, and their promotion of it. He interpreted it the right way, the courts ruled in his favor, and Planned Parenthood did not get funding during that time until President Clinton came in. When I'm elected president, we will restore that interpretation of Title X. And this deal will be finished.

Hillary’s not-so subtle messages to Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden

Turning to the Democratic race, it’s worth noting the not-so-subtle messages that Hillary Clinton has been sending to both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden over the past 48 hours. The essential message to Bernie Sanders: “I campaigned yesterday with the Democratic governor of your home state (Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin), and today I’m campaigning with the Democratic governor of New Hampshire (Gov. Maggie Hassan).” And her message to Joe Biden: If you run, your past record as Delaware’s protector of big banks and credit-card companies will come back to haunt you. “Hillary Clinton defended her vote for a controversial bankruptcy bill reviled by the left on Thursday, and said she did so at the insistence of then-Sen. Joe Biden, who just happens to be considering challenging her for the Democratic presidential nomination,” the Wall Street Journal says. “Her comments suggest how the Clinton campaign might respond if Mr. Biden decides to run, and highlights the challenges the vice president would have in appealing to liberals in the party.”

Hillary puts White House on notice on Keystone, too

And Hillary Clinton also sent this message to the Obama White House: You gotta decide soon on Keystone. “Hillary Clinton put the White House ‘on notice’ Thursday, warning President Obama that if he did not make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline soon she would announce her own opinion ‘soon,’” MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald reports. “‘I have been waiting for the administration to make a decision. I thought I owed them that,’ Clinton said in response to a question on the pipeline at a town hall meeting in Concord, New Hampshire. ‘I can’t wait too much longer. I am putting the White House on notice. I am going to tell you what I think soon,’ she added facetiously.” Sounds like she’s a “no” on Keystone, but wants the White House to announce before she does -- given her past work on it as secretary of state. By the way, Clinton isn’t doing herself any favors with her non-response on Keystone or her explanation on supporting that bankruptcy bill. She is coming across as a VERY calculating politician in a time when that type of politics is being rejected. That doesn’t exactly help her image these days either.

Reading the Biden tea leaves

Finally, when it comes to Biden, Draft Biden Adviser Josh Alcorn — a former top adviser & finance director to Beau Biden — was overheard on a train boasting that ‘I am 100% Joe Biden is in,’ according to National Review, per NBC’s Alex Jaffe. But National Review also said this: “[A]nother party to the call, Draft Biden adviser Brad Bauman, said the comment was ‘ridiculous’ because the group hasn't been in contact with Biden, and that the group hadn't been testing ads. I've reached out to Draft Biden for comment, though not Josh Alcorn himself. Will update if I hear back. Alcorn confirmed to National Review that the call occurred & some, but not all, of the reported substance.” Here’s what we know: Biden definitely has been doing the kind of travel (L.A., Detroit and Columbus in the last 48 hours) that SUGGESTS someone who is more than thinking about a presidential run. But as we’ve said before, if he wants to run, he’s got to start raising the money ASAP.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton campaigns with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan in the Granite State… Lindsey Graham stumps in Iowa… Mike Huckabee speaks to California Republicans… Eleven Republicans speak at the Heritage Action Forum in Greenville, SC -- Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, and Chris Christie… And Cruz and Bush also speak at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in Michigan.

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