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First Read: Why Joe Biden's 2016 Odds Are Getting Even Longer

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.

Why Biden now faces even longer odds if he enters the ’16 race

The waiting game for both Joe Biden (in the presidential race) and Paul Ryan (for House speaker) continues. But as the new numbers from our NBC/WSJ poll show, Ryan has the better chance of success if he says yes -- and that’s saying something given the problems that outgoing Speaker John Boehner experienced over the last four years. Why? According to our poll, more Democratic primary voters would prefer Biden NOT run (38%) than jump into the race (30%), with another 31% not having an opinion. By contrast, 63% of Republican primary voters say they’d be “comfortable and positive” with Ryan as the next speaker, versus 28% who would be “skeptical and uncertain.” Bottom line: Republicans are mostly upbeat about Ryan becoming speaker, while Democrats are divided -- at best -- over whether Biden should run. And then there are the horserace numbers in our NBC/WSJ poll: Hillary Clinton has increased her lead since last week’s Democratic debate. She’s ahead of Bernie Sanders by 20 points, 49%-29%, with Biden in third at 15%. Last month, Clinton’s lead over Sanders was just seven points, 42%-35%, with Biden at 17%. And without Biden in the race, Hillary’s ahead by 25 points in the new NBC/WSJ poll, 58%-33%.

Why Biden seems so undecided

It’s clear he’s uncomfortable living with the decision he wants to make-- whether it’s a yes or no: Those are just the polling numbers for Biden, while the lack of infrastructure (no organizers in Iowa and New Hampshire), establishment support (Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina is warning Biden not get in), and money (he has zero dollars in the bank, versus a combined $60 million for Clinton and Sanders) are maybe even more daunting. But here’s the reason why we still haven’t received a “yes” or “no” from Biden, despite those long odds: It’s clear he’s uncomfortable living with the decision he wants to make. If he’s leaning to get into the race, then he sees the long odds and small chance for success. If he’s leaning no, then he realizes that such a decision ends his political career. It’s not an easy choice. Then again, running for president is among the EASIEST decisions a president actually has to make.

It’s Do-Or-Die Day for Paul Ryan

As for Paul Ryan and the mounting pressure for him to be speaker, today is Do-Or-Die Day. Why? If he’s going to be a no, he has to give his party the time and space to find alternatives. He’s had plenty of time to make up his mind after the congressional recess, and he returns to Capitol Hill today. Yet while Ryan’s chances for success are greater than Joe Biden’s, as we write above, it still won’t be an easy job if he says yes. Per our NBC/WSJ poll, 56% of GOP primary voters want the next speaker to stand up for principles, versus 40% who prefer the speaker to seek compromise -- the same dynamic that John Boehner faced.

Trump and Carson are only getting stronger

Also from our new NBC/WSJ poll numbers, Donald Trump and Ben Carson are only getting STRONGER as we head into next week’s third GOP debate. Trump leads the pack at 25% (up four points from last month) and Carson is second at 22% (up two points) -- followed by Marco Rubio at 13% (up two points), Ted Cruz at 9% (up four points), Jeb Bush at 8% (up one point), and Carly Fiorina at 7% (down four points). Mike Murphy, who heads Jeb Bush’s Super PAC, explains Trump’s impact on the GOP race to Bloomberg News. “It created a false zombie frontrunner. He’s dead politically, he'll never be president of the United States, ever. By definition I don't think you can be a frontrunner if you're totally un-electable. I think there's there an a-priori logic problem in that." But here is what should frighten Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or even Ted Cruz: GOP voters who aren’t comfortable with Trump are going with Ben Carson -- not the more establishment candidates. Indeed, Carson is the top second choice in the NBC/WSJ poll.

George W. Bush on Ted Cruz: “I just don’t like the guy”

That’s what the former president reportedly said at a fundraising event for his brother on Sunday, per Politico. “One donor in the room said the former president had been offering mostly anodyne accounts of how the Bush family network views the current campaign and charming off-the-cuff jokes, until he launched into Cruz. ‘I was like, “Holy sh-t, did he just say that?”’ the donor said. ‘I remember looking around and seeing that other people were also looking around surprised.’ ‘The tenor of what he said about the other candidates was really pretty pleasant,’ another donor said. ‘Until he got to Cruz.’” To sum up the last week: Jeb Bush attacked Donald Trump, Jeb Jr. went after Marco Rubio, and now George W. Bush is going after Ted Cruz. This is a family that seems a little nervous, no? By the way, here’s the response from Cruz, per NBC’s Hallie Jackson: “I have great respect for George W. Bush, and was proud to work on his 2000 campaign and in his administration. It's no surprise that President Bush is supporting his brother and attacking the candidates he believes pose a threat to his campaign. I have no intention of reciprocating. I met my wife Heidi working on his campaign, and so I will always be grateful to him."

Three points on Jim Webb possibly running as an indie

At 1:00 pm ET today at the National Press Club in DC, Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb will hold a news conference on the possibility of him running for president as an independent. Three points here: One, if Webb runs as an independent, it will be an INCREDIBILY expensive enterprise to gain ballot access in the 50 states, plus DC (especially for a candidate who has raised less than $1 million so far). Two, if Webb was disappointed in the lack of exposure he received at last week’s Dem debate, he’ll get even less debate exposure as an independent. And three, running as an independent now would make him look like a sore loser. There was always a route for Webb to run as independent, and he stands out as a military veteran -- as well for his foreign-policy views (he’s more of dove, though he opposes the Iran deal). But running as an independent after not getting any traction at all in the Democratic race isn’t a galvanizing political move.

Liberal Party wins in Canada

Finally, according to the CBC: "Justin Trudeau will be Canada's next prime minister after leading the Liberal Party to a stunning majority government win, dashing the hopes of Stephen Harper, who had been seeking his fourth consecutive mandate, but will now step down as party leader.” We always hesitate to draw connections between our elections and other countries’, but here is one point we want to make: It is very hard for a party to hold on for power for more than a decade.

On the trail

Beyond Webb’s press conference, there isn’t much activity on the 2016 trail: Donald Trump appears on Jimmy Kimmel… And Ben Carson continues his book tour in Texas.

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