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First Read: Terrorism Focus Aids Hawks, Insiders — But For How Long?

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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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.

Terror focus benefits the 2016 hawks. But how long does the focus last?

Three days after the deadly and tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, it’s pretty safe to conclude that the terror focus benefits the hawks running in the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating contests. Think Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, even Jeb Bush on the Republican side, and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race. And it probably helps the insiders vs. the outsiders (although the outsiders running for the White House have had more staying power than anyone would have thought three months ago). As journalist Jeff Greenfield remarked on “Meet the Press” yesterday, “When people feel threatened, whether it's war or terrorism or even crime back in the '80s, the political compass tends to swing right, and it tends to swing to secure.” The question we have: How long does it last? Is this a news story that lasts just a week -- before we move on to other ones? Or is it much, much longer? That answer could have profound consequences on the 2016 presidential race.

Obama to hold press conference at 10:30 am ET

And the answer could very well hinge on what President Obama -- who holds a press conference at 10:30 am ET at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Turkey -- decides to do. He will dictate the debate. On “Meet” yesterday, White House adviser Ben Rhodes said, “Clearly there's going to have to be an intensification of our efforts.” But what, exactly, is that intensification? By the way, there’s another consideration here: The focus against ISIS is likely to help Assad in Syria. Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin: “The world's attention is now on the Islamic State, taking the pressure off the Syrian regime right at the moment when pressure might have been effective.”

Tough talk, but few details

Here’s one other immediate 2016 consequence of the terrorist attacks in Paris: It’s produced plenty of tough talk in the 2016 race. Bush repeated his call for a no-fly zone in Syria on “Meet the Press” (and he delivers a military/foreign policy speech on Wednesday in South Carolina). Rubio blasted the Democratic presidential candidates for avoiding the term “radical Islam,” saying: “That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party but weren’t violent themselves. We are at war with radical Islam, with an interpretation of Islam by a significant number of people around the world, who they believe now justifies them in killing those who don’t agree with their ideology.”

And in a Washington Post op-ed, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney wrote, “Now is the time, not merely to contain the Islamic State, but to eradicate it once and for all” -- even suggesting U.S. boots on the ground there. But here’s what we’ve haven’t heard much: How do you eradicate it? With how many U.S. troops? And for how long?

The GOP’s hard line on Syrian refugees

One other point on the political rhetoric: Note the talk on refugees. “On the Republican side of the presidential race, there has been a race to the right since Friday night to see who can take the hardest line on accepting new refugees,” the Washington Post writes. Here’s even Louisiana gubernatorial candidate David Vitter (R): “Syrians have already started arriving in Louisiana. That needs to stop immediately. I'll continue to lead that fight & protect Louisianians.”

Clinton catches a break -- but still a lot of heat -- on 9/11 comment

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton caught a break after she appeared to link her Wall Street donations to the 9/11 terrorist attacks during Saturday’s Democratic debate. Why a break? Because it would have dominated a news cycle or two had there been no focus on the Paris attacks. Still, that didn’t stop her opponents from unloading on her. Speaking with reporters the day after the debate, Martin O’Malley said Clinton made a “gaffe” in a “very, very distasteful way, trying to pump out a smokescreen for her coziness with the big banks of Wall Street by invoking the tragedy of 9/11 and those attacks — and especially so fresh after so many were murdered in Paris,” per MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald. And the New York Times editorial page pounced, too. “Her effort to tug on Americans’ heartstrings instead of explaining her Wall Street ties — on a day that the scars of 9/11 were exposed anew — was at best botched rhetoric.

At worst it was the type of cynical move that Mrs. Clinton would have condemned in Republicans.” It’s pretty amazing that as soon as Clinton races back to the clear lead of the Democratic race, she makes an unforced error.

Clinton plays defense at Democratic debate

By the way, one of us who was covering the Democratic debate in Des Moines, IA on Saturday wrote that Clinton played defense, even during the focus on Paris and foreign policy at the top. “The takeaway for Clinton after this foreign policy focused debate, especially when it comes to Libya and ISIS: It's not easy defending the Obama administration's handling of the Middle East. The takeaway for Sanders' and O'Malley's answers on these same topics: It isn't easy to offer solutions and remedies to that volatile and complex part of the world.”

Is Steve King going to endorse someone in the ’16 race?

And will that someone be Ted Cruz? NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard reports that Rep. Steve King (R-IA) will make an announcement today at 10:30 am ET -- presumably on his 2016 endorsement or lack thereof. The clear favorite to pick up King’s endorsement, Hillyard adds, is Ted Cruz -- though the Cruz campaign in Iowa Sunday night remained mum on its morning plans. King did not endorse in 2012 and backed Fred Thompson in 2008. King's son works for the pro-Cruz super PAC Keep the Promise in Iowa. Cruz also partook two weeks ago in King's annual pheasant hunt in northwest Iowa.

On the trail

Trump holds a rally in Knoxville, TN at 7:00 pm ET… Carly Fiorina campaigns in New Hampshire… Ted Cruz stumps in South Carolina… And Bernie Sanders holds a rally in Cleveland, OH.

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