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First Read: Jeb's Electability Challenge

Jeb’s biggest challenge from now until the first Republican contests is convincing his party that he could win a straight “Clinton-vs.-Bush” contest.
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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.

Jeb’s electability challenge

Jeb Bush’s campaign kickoff event yesterday was a reminder that no one should dismiss his potential to win the GOP presidential nomination -- it was enthusiastic, diverse, and perhaps the best-executed announcement to date in either party. But Jeb’s biggest challenge from now until the first Republican contests is convincing his party that he could win a straight “Clinton-vs.-Bush” contest. Right now, the polling doesn’t bear that out: Recent surveys (like CNN’s and Quinnipiac’s) show other Republicans performing better head-to-head against Hillary than Jeb does. The perception among some conservative opinion leaders doesn’t bear it out, either. “In a general election, nominating Bush would neutralize one of Hillary Clinton's biggest liabilities (the idea that she, too, is a figure from the past trying to ride her last name to power),” the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein wrote earlier this year. And then there’s the record comparing the Clinton years vs. the Bush ones (both under 41 and 43). “There is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of 4% a year,” Jeb said yesterday -- when it turns out that it DID grow at 4% a year during Bill Clinton’s presidency, but not during his brother’s. A skeptical base will forgive when they perceive you as the most electable candidate (see McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012). But right now, Jeb doesn't look like the most electable against Clinton.

Showcasing the 21st Century Republican

Maybe this is why Jeb’s announcement event was designed like a convention-acceptance speech -- to force skeptical Republicans to IMAGINE that this could be Cleveland in 2016 if they nominate Bush. A diverse audience? Check. A Spanish-speaking nominee? Check. Latino and African-American validators? Check. In fact, Jeb’s entire program seemed designed to showcase being a 21 Century Republican -- and perhaps in a stronger way than Marco Rubio’s own announcement in Miami two months ago. Again, that was one impressive display in South Miami-Dade County yesterday. We are still learning whether Jeb will be an "A" candidate, but he clearly has an "A" campaign team.

Immigration protesters bail out Jeb

But also think about how awkward this could have been: Jeb Bush officially announcing his presidential bid before a diverse crowd of Cuban and Latino Americans and speaking in Spanish -- but not mentioning the words “immigration reform,” which is something he supports. That would have been the case had pro-immigration reform protesters interrupted Bush’s speech, because the prepared remarks didn’t contain a single mention of immigration. Jeb’s response: “The next president of the United States will pass meaningful immigration reform, so that will be solved, not by executive order.” Immigration’s near absence from Bush’s kickoff speech is another reminder how potentially problematic the issue could be for Jeb when he’s speaking with GOP Iowa caucus-goers and New Hampshire primary voters.

Jeb’s middle-of-the-pack Facebook data

Facebook has been releasing their statistics on the activity (number of people sharing interactions) surrounding presidential announcements. And the numbers on Jeb show he’s closer to Mike Huckabee than to Hillary Clinton -- or even Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz. The top activity so far:

  • Hillary Clinton: 4.7 million unique people, 10.1 million interactions
  • Ted Cruz: 2.1 million unique people, 5.5 million interactions
  • Rand Paul: 865,000 unique people, 1.9 million interactions
  • Ben Carson: 847,000 unique people, 1.5 million interactions
  • Marco Rubio: 695,000 unique people, 1.3 million interactions
  • Bernie Sanders: 592,000 unique people, 1.2 million interactions
  • Jeb Bush: 493,000 unique people, 849,000 interactions
  • Mike Huckabee: 458,000 unique people, 814,000 interactions

While these numbers aren’t a perfect way to measure activism, they seem closer than most. And if Jeb is middle of the pack here, he’s got his work cut out for him. Social media is the terrain of the political activists and opinion leaders, big and small. And remember, Jeb has been trying to portray himself as the “social media” candidate on the GOP side.

Obama and Boehner deciding to wait until July 30 to give trade vote a second try isn’t good news for Hillary

The development that President Obama and House Speaker Boehner have decided to wait until July 30 to attempt to pass the controversial TAA legislation (Trade Adjustment Assistance) isn’t good news for Hillary Clinton. Why? Because it means she will have to endure another six weeks of questions about this matter. Had the House voted today on the measure – and had it gone down to defeat – it’s likely that trade wouldn’t be a question on the minds of the reporters following her.

Blumenthal to appear before Benghazi committee

Here’s other unwelcome news for Hillary: Confidant Sidney Blumenthal is testifying today on Capitol Hill before Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi commmittee. The New York Times: “Emails that a longtime confidant to Hillary Rodham Clinton recently handed over to the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, raise new questions about whether the State Department and Mrs. Clinton have complied with a series of requests from the panel. The emails, provided by Sidney Blumenthal, a close adviser to Mrs. Clinton, include information about weapons that were circulating in Libya and about the security situation in Benghazi in the year and a half before the attacks. The committee has asked the State Department and Mrs. Clinton several times in the past year for emails from her and other department officials about “weapons located or found in” Libya and about the decision to open and maintain a diplomatic mission in Benghazi.”

The Pope and climate change

Folks, this is turning into a potentially big political story. “Pope Francis says most climate change is due to human activity and calls it one of the most important moral issues facing society, according to a draft leaked Monday of his long-awaited encyclical on global warming,” USA Today notes. “The 191-page draft says the problem needs urgent action and is a key issue related to development and poverty. The leaked draft in Italian was posted online Monday by L'Espresso magazine, prompting consternation from the Vatican. The final document is scheduled to be released Thursday. The Vatican asked journalists to "respect professional standards" and await the final text.”

Why Trump’s announcement is more of a shiny metal object than a real 2016 development

If you wanted proof that Donald Trump’s presidential announcement is more of a media spectacle than news of someone who has a chance of being competitive in the GOP field, just remember these numbers from our March NBC/WSJ poll: 23% of Republican voters say they could see themselves supporting him, versus a whopping 74% who say they couldn’t. Indeed, no possible GOP contender scored worse on this question than Trump did.

You can’t take Trump seriously as a candidate until he submits his GOVERNMENT financial-disclosure form

We’ve had our doubts that Trump would ever get to this point, simply due to the requirement for actual presidential candidates to release their financial information. But the Washington Post reports that Trump will release a two-page summary showing assets of about $9 billion. Yet a little caveat here: This two-page summary WILL NOT be the actual financial-disclosure report that candidates are supposed to file to the Federal Election Commission within 30 days of becoming a candidate. (Trump could theoretically delay releasing this information for 120 days from today -- by getting two 45-day extensions. And the penalty for submitting false information here is a no more than a year in jail or a $50,000 fine.) But you can’t take Trump’s candidacy seriously until he fills out the GOVERNMENT financial-disclosure form. Remember, we found out about Hillary’s paid speeches and Rubio’s liquidated IRA from their financial disclosures. They didn’t submit a one- or two-page summary. So if Trump is only submitting this summary, it actually is proof he isn't that serious about this -- it’s about trying to get into the debates but keeping up appearances in time for him to start a new season of “The Apprentice” in January. That said, he is one helluva promoter and he will get plenty of folks to bite as we will see over the next 48 hours.