First Read: There's No Honeymoon Start to This 2016 Campaign

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Image: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame
epa04665137 Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks after being inducted into the 2015 Irish America Hall of Fame in New York, New York, USA, 16 March 2015. Clinton is inducted to the Irish America Hall of Fame, recognizing her role and commitment to the Irish peace process. EPA/ANDREW GOMBERTANDREW GOMBERT / EPA

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If there’s one big difference between the start to the 2016 presidential race and the 2008 contest eight years ago, it’s that few -- if anyone -- seem to be getting honeymoon coverage. Hillary Clinton hasn’t even announced her all-but-expected bid, and the focus has been on her emails and Clinton Foundation donors. As for Jeb Bush, the press has already scrutinized his business practices and his last-name problem. And while Scott Walker received positive coverage (after his well-received speech in Iowa back in January and after his rise in the polls), he’s already getting hammered for flip-flops and not fighting to keep an aide who criticized Iowa in old tweets. The political scientist Lynn Vavreck has data to illustrate this lack of honeymoon coverage. “Using social analytics tools provided by Crimson Hexagon, I examined all of the news about Mrs. Clinton — and a few other hopefuls — beginning in February and running through last Thursday… The data for Mrs. Clinton in February, before the email story broke, show a clear pattern: 43 percent of her coverage was negative in tone and only 2 percent was positive (with the remainder neutral). As a result, Mrs. Clinton’s net score was quite low: -41.” And: “Other 2016 hopefuls are in similar positions. All of them have negative news shares in the 40 percent range, but some have positive news shares that inch close to double digits. Scott Walker’s news coverage, for example, is three times as positive as Mrs. Clinton’s (6 percent), giving him a net sentiment score of -39.”

Three reasons why there hasn’t been much of a honeymoon

One reason for the preponderance of negative coverage is that the campaigns *technically* haven’t even begun. Yes, they’re acting like candidates, but they haven’t quite filled out their staff and most haven’t even filed their presidential paperwork to the FEC. So before these folks even begin to say, “Today, I’m announcing my presidential bid,” we’re already kicking the tires. Another reason is the proliferation of the national political press corps; there are simply more political reporters and outlets than there were back in 2007. And for Clinton, the chief reason why she isn’t getting a honeymoon at all is because she’s essentially running as a quasi-incumbent. More from Vavreck: “Without a [primary] major opponent, she will have no moments of victory providing positive momentum along the way. She is going to skip right over the part of the campaign when voters learn about her and get excited about her possibilities. This is both because everyone is already familiar with Mrs. Clinton and also because she has no serious competition to beat.”

What this all mean

If things are this negative now in the PRE-campaign stage, just wait until the actual campaign. Are we destined to elect a president who will begin their time in office with a net-negative personal rating? Can anyone sustain a positive image in this media climate? In this age of constant opposition research that takes place inside both parties?

Netanyahu walks it back -- a bit

In an interview yesterday with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, victorious Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu walked back his pre-election comments opposing a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. “I haven't changed my policy,” he said. “I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change.” (Translation: Right now is not the time for a Palestinian state.) Netanyahu also tried to clarify his warning to conservative voters that Arab Israelis were “coming out in droves!” He told Mitchell: “I wasn't trying to suppress a vote… I was calling on our voters to come out.” (But imagine the backlash an American politician would get for saying that blacks/Latinos/whites were “coming out in droves!” to spur your own voters to mobilize.)

Obama congratulates Netanyahu -- two days later

The Obama White House wasn’t exactly buying Netanyahu’s walk-backs. The New York Times: “President Obama waited nearly two full days before making a congratulatory phone call to Mr. Netanyahu on Thursday evening, as his administration was still seething over the Israeli leader’s pre-election comments. In a striking indication of how bitter tensions remain between the two, Mr. Obama told Mr. Netanyahu directly that the United States would have to ‘re-assess our options’ after the prime minister’s ‘new positions and comments’ on the two-state solution, according to a White House official who spoke without authorization to detail the private conversation. During the phone call, the official said, the two also discussed the comments the prime minister had made about Israeli Arabs.” We get why Netanyahu decided to speak with American news outlets after his victory on Tuesday: His pre-election declaration against a two-state solution is unsustainable in the long run. But the problem: It’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Obama releases video to Iranians telling them their leaders have a choice between two paths

The same day of his apparently icy phone call with Netanyahu, President Obama released a video message to Iranians celebrating Norwuz. “As I have said many times before, I believe that our countries should be able to resolve this issue [of Iran’s nuclear capabilities] peacefully, with diplomacy…. In this sense, Iran’s leaders have a choice between two paths. If they cannot agree to a reasonable deal, they will keep Iran on the path it’s on today—a path that has isolated Iran, and the Iranian people, from so much of the world, caused so much hardship for Iranian families, and deprived so many young Iranians of the jobs and opportunities they deserve.” More: “On the other hand, if Iran’s leaders can agree to a reasonable deal, it can lead to a better path—the path of greater opportunities for the Iranian people.”

More tough Clinton Foundation stories for Hillary

One, Reuters reports that -- despite her promise to President Obama to disclose all donors to the Clinton Foundation – the foundation’s health-care program stopped making disclosures in 2010. “In response to questions from Reuters, officials at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the foundation confirmed no complete list of donors to the Clintons' charities has been published since 2010. CHAI was spun off as a separate legal entity that year, but the officials acknowledged it still remains subject to the same disclosure agreement as the foundation.” Two, the Wall Street Journal says that while the Clinton Foundation said it wouldn’t receive money from foreign governments while Hillary was secretary of state, that didn’t stop foreign individuals and companies from contributing.

How Stephen Colbert taught Jeb Bush to run for president

Lastly, don’t miss this piece from NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell: “When late-night comedian Stephen Colbert entered the dark world of freewheeling political fundraising ahead of the 2012 presidential election, he unwittingly set the template for candidates in this presidential cycle. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's campaign activity in particular is closely mirroring what Colbert did four years ago. And Colbert's lawyer, a successful campaign finance attorney, is watching closely. In 2011, in an effort to poke fun at the country's newly unrestricted campaign finance system, Colbert created a super PAC with the tongue-in-cheek name "Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow." Through the political organization he was able to raise an unlimited amount of money from individuals, corporations and unions. Bush's super PAC is called Right to Rise. And he, too, can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and unions.”

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