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GOP Bracketology: Contenders Compete at Three Very Different Gatherings

There are enough GOP cattle calls and meetings to keep the political world busy this weekend.
Image: Republican presidential nominee Romney and former Florida Governor Bush pose for a photograph together after a campaign rally in Tampa
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (L) pose for a photograph together after a 2012 Romney for President campaign rally in Tampa, Florida, in this file photo taken October 31, 2012. Leading potential Republican presidential candidates Bush and Romney, who are engaged in a behind-the-scenes competition for dollars and support among party loyalists, are to meet in Utah on Thursday. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

There’s no competitive football to watch this weekend -- we have to wait until next Sunday for that -- but there are enough GOP cattle calls and meetings to keep the political world busy. On Saturday, several potential Republican presidential candidates gather at Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) Iowa Freedom Summit. The line-up of speakers includes Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Scott Walker, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina. (Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and, yes, Donald Trump are speaking too.) With a couple of exceptions (Christie, Fiorina), these are the folks who are vying in the CONSERVATIVE bracket in the GOP nominating contest. A second Republican cattle call over the weekend is happening at the Koch Brothers’ winter retreat in Palm Springs, CA. As usual, it’s a secretive meeting that doesn’t allow TV cameras and reporters to cover it. But for the first time, one Koch political group is releasing to news organizations a livestream of a Sunday night discussion with Sens. Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. These are the folks vying to win the KOCH BROTHERS primary. And the third Republican meeting took place last night -- between Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney in Utah. The New York Times’ readout: “The meeting was cordial and touched on both policy and the Republicans’ need to field a strong contender for the presidency in 2016.” These are the men competing in the ESTABLISHMENT bracket.

Jeb certainly hasn’t cleared the GOP field -- at least not yet

Speaking of Jeb, it’s worth noting that -- despite all of his well-publicized moves over the past month -- he certainly hasn’t cleared the potential Republican field (especially compared with the way Kamala Harris has in California). Well, at least not yet. Consider: Mitt Romney appears closer to a presidential bid than anyone expected two weeks ago; Christie, despite his problems at home, hasn’t closed the door and heads to Iowa this weekend; and now Rubio is taking new steps toward a presidential run. NBC News confirms that Rubio has hired a new finance director (Anna Rogers from the Karl Rove-backed group American Crossroads), has planned early state visits for next month, and is skipping Senate votes next week to raise money in California. What’s more, we also can report that Rubio has locked down two big GOP donors (George Seay in Dallas and Jim Rubrich in Atlanta). If Bush ultimately runs, we’re pretty confident that he’ll be able to lock up much of the GOP establishment money. But so far, he hasn’t frightened his potential GOP rivals.

The scariest news in the world is coming out of Yemen

In the news world, this has been a week about deflated footballs, protocol over a future foreign leader’s visit, and 2016 cattle calls. But all of these things seem so small compared with what’s probably the most important story going on in the world right now: the instability in Yemen. The headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Yemen’s Government Falls Amid Standoff.” The story: “Yemen’s president and cabinet resigned on Thursday amid a standoff with a powerful anti-American militia, signaling deep uncertainty for U.S. counterterrorism strategy in the country and the future of a drone program in what has become a cornerstone of the global war on terror.” Folks, this is the single scariest thing going on in the world right now. It creates a dangerous vacuum in a dangerous part of the world. The United States used to have sway and influence with the old government. The new? Not so much…

Steyer says no to Senate bid, likely setting up Harris-vs.-Villaraigosa contest

On Thursday, wealthy environmentalist Tom Steyer announced he would NOT run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), which means that the race is looking like Kamala Harris vs. Antonio Villaraigosa (if he runs). And if that’s the contest, it will be FASCINATING to watch -- both demographically and geographically.

On “Meet” this Sunday

Chuck Todd’s guests include former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

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