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This Is the Way to Win Elections (But It Makes Governing Harder)

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

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

This is how you win elections. But it makes governing harder

On Sunday, the New York Times observed that Hillary Clinton plans to follow Barack Obama’s general-election playbook -- competing in the same battleground states Obama contested (and mostly won) in 2008 and 2012. But that means not playing in some of the southern states that Bill Clinton won in 1992 and 1996 (like Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky). David Plouffe, Obama’s former top political strategist, summed it up this way: “If you run a campaign trying to appeal to 60 to 70 percent of the electorate, you’re not going to run a very compelling campaign for the voters you need.” In today’s highly polarized political world, this is how you win elections -- by motivating your base and by recognizing there are few swing voters left. But it also makes governing harder, especially when the parties are trading electoral victories every two years (with Democrats benefitting from presidential turnouts, and with Republicans benefitting from midterm turnouts). When you have data-driven candidates appealing to win 51% of voters, it means that a president’s job-approval rating is never going to get much higher than that, and it means that bipartisan policy goals (like the TPP free-trade agreement) are the exception rather than the rule.

What came first? The chicken (these red-blue campaigns)? Or the egg (a polarized America)?

Of course, there’s a chicken-or-the-egg question here: What came first -- this red-blue campaign strategy we’ve seen since 2000, or America’s political/geographical/cultural polarization? There’s a strong argument to be made that it’s the latter. Campaigns see an America more polarized than ever, and winning is all about coming out ahead in this polarized world. But it makes governing harder than it already was. Bottom line: Campaigns don't engage in persuasion anymore. They simply look for unmotivated like-minded potential voters and find an issue to motivate them. And if someone wins office by not having to persuade a voter who actually swings between the two parties, there isn't any motivation for said elected official to compromise. This cycle of polarization will continue until someone wins a massive election based on a different premise.

Wrapping Joni Ernst’s “Roast and Ride” cattle call

Here were some of the highlights at Saturday’s “Roast and Ride” GOP cattle call organized by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), per NBC’s Emily Gold:

  • Scott Walker: “I love a senator (Ernst) who knows how to castrate a pig, ride a hog, and cut the pork from Washington, DC. Now wouldn’t it be nice to give her an ally in the White House to help get the job done?”
  • Marco Rubio: “I’m 44 years old, but I feel 45,” he said, according to the New York Times. “I don’t make $11 million a year giving speeches to special interests.”
  • Mike Huckabee: “People are struggling because we continue to have policies that move the jobs to China, to Indonesia, to Japan, to Korea, to Mexico. Folks, I want you to understand I dont want to be president so I can create jobs in China. I want to be president so we can create good jobs in America.”
  • Ben Carson: “Some people think the only experience that is worthwhile when it comes to solving problems is government experience; you have to be an elected official… There are people from all walks of life who have wisdom and who know how to do things.”

Campaigning by cattle call

Since the spring, it seems like there’s a GOP cattle call in Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada every week or two. And it raises the question: When candidates are spending every other weekend or so at a cattle call, what happens to retail politicking?

Lindsey Graham on Caitlyn Jenner: “She is welcome in my party”

Over the weekend, GOP presidential candidate Lindsey Graham said this about Caitlyn Jenner: "I haven't walked in her shoes. I don't have all the answers to the mysteries of life," he said. "I can only imagine the torment that Bruce Jenner went through. I hope he's -- I hope she has found peace," he told CNN. Graham went on to say, "I'm a pro-life, traditional marriage kind of guy, but I'm running to be president of the United States. If Caitlyn Jenner wants to be a Republican, she is welcome in my party." Those comments are a stark contrast to Mike Huckabee's comments made public about a week ago. "Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE," he said.

Merkel: G-7 nations need to send “united signal” to Russia on unrest in Ukraine

Turning away from the 2016 race to the G-7 summit in the Bavarian Alps, the story is all about Russia and Ukraine. NBC News: “Germany's leader has urged world powers at the G-7 summit to send a ‘united signal’ that economic sanctions on Russia would only be lifted if a peace agreement is implemented in Ukraine. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday that the economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West following Moscow's annexation of Crimea last year were not the end goal. She told NBC News' German partner ZDF at the summit that the sanctions ‘can be dispensed with when the conditions under which they were introduced are no longer there and the problems are resolved.’”

Erdogan receives “stunning blow” in Turkey’s elections

Also abroad, we found out that Turkey remains a real democracy – dealing a blow to its president who was wanting to give himself new powers. “In a stunning blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, preliminary results from Turkey's parliamentary election Sunday suggested that his party could lose its simple majority in Parliament,” the AP writes. “With 99 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, had the support of around 41 percent of voters, according to state-run TRT television. According to projections, that would give it 258 seats — 18 below the minimum needed to keep its majority.” More: “In an indication of how precipitously Erdogan's fortunes have fallen, he had begun the campaign asking voters for 400 seats, a massive majority that would have allowed the party to change the constitution to give the president extraordinary powers.” Put it this way: Many in the American foreign-policy community are relieved to see Erdogan get checked here.

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