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Jeb Bush's Trial Balloon: If He Runs, It's on His Own Terms

Says GOP nominee must be willing to 'lose the primary to win the general'
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) addresses the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst    (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) addresses the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)JONATHAN ERNST / Reuters

Boy, there’s plenty of 2016 news this morning -- from Hillary Clinton, Rob Portman, and Rand Paul. But we begin with the trial balloon that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush floated on Monday to a conference of CEOs sponsored by the Wall Street Journal. The gist of the trial balloon: If Bush is going to run, he’s going to do it on his own terms. In other words, he’d be pulling a kind of “Bulworth,” the 1990s-era movie about a politician who finally decides to speak his mind. "I don't know if I'd be a good candidate or a bad one," Bush said, per MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt. "I kinda know how a Republican can win, whether it's me or somebody else -- and it has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more willing to be, 'Lose the primary to win the general' without violating your principles. It's not an easy task to be honest with you." In his conversation with the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, Bush said this would be the central question that would determine if he runs: "Do I have the skills to do it in a way that lifts people's spirits and not get sucked into the vortex?" When Seib asked Bush if there were things a politician had to do to win a Republican primary -- like oppose immigration reform and Common Core -- the former governor shot back, "Well, frankly, no one really knows that because it hasn't been tried recently."

If he can run like he wants to, he’s in; if he can’t, he won’t

This is exactly the type of campaign that American voters say they want to see -- a politician standing up for what he or she believes, no matter the consequences and blowback from the base. But it’s also the kind of campaign that normally gets a politician crushed in a primary contest. For instance, just see Sen. David Vitter’s (R-LA) newfound opposition to Common Core with him running for Louisiana governor next year. Bottom line: There are just things you have to say and do to win a primary. Barack Obama had to be against free trade and NAFTA during the ’08 Democratic primaries, but he came back to the middle in the general election. Hillary Clinton had to disavow her 2002 Iraq war vote. Mitt Romney had to go out of his way to make the case that his Massachusetts health-care law was different than the federal one. And even John McCain had to reverse himself on immigration reform to win the ’08 GOP presidential nomination. So color us skeptical about Jeb ultimately running. He’s in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and Common Core, while the energy of his party is FERVENTLY against those things. But what he’s saying is that if he CAN run like this, he will. And if he CAN’T, he won’t.

Portman decides against 2016 presidential run

In other 2016-related news, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced in a statement late last night that he won’t be running for president in ‘16 -- and will instead run for re-election for his Senate seat, which is likely to be one of the most competitive races two years from now. “I don't think I can run for president and be an effective senator at the same time,” Portman said. “While I appreciate the encouragement I have received from many to run for president, my focus will remain on Ohio and running for re-election to the Senate in 2016. I look forward to formally announcing my re-election campaign in the new year.” Due to his impressive resume (former U.S. trade representative, George W. Bush’s OMB director), he could very well be a VP possibility in ’16. But given how potentially competitive his Senate re-election might be, can the GOP afford to take him out of Ohio for five to six months in 2016? Or would the ticket just decide to keep him in the Buckeye State? Then again, after their disastrous ’14 gubernatorial campaign, can Democrats even find someone to run against Portman?

Paul says he’s running for Senate re-election in ‘16, but what about the White House?

Also in 2016 news, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announced he’s running for re-election in 2016, but he made no mention about his presidential plans. Under Kentucky law, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt reminds us, Paul is prohibited from running for TWO offices (president and senator) at the SAME TIME. His team has been trying to change Kentucky law, but with Democrats in control of the state House, it’s unlikely the law will change. But is there another way around this? As Politico reported last month, Paul and his supporters have been exploring the possibility of changing’s Kentucky’s presidential-nomination contest from a primary to a caucus. “The law, as currently stated, says ‘no candidate’s name shall appear on any voting machine or absentee ballot more than once,’ with the exception of certain special election scenarios... Since most caucuses do not vote by paper ballot, Paul could theoretically avoid that restriction in the law.” This is going to be a story to watch over the next year…

Hillary is still giving speeches

One the Democratic side of the 2016 equation, Hillary Clinton is still planning on giving speeches in 2015. The Washington Post: “Hillary Rodham Clinton has added several speeches to her January and February schedule, indicating that the likely 2016 presidential candidate will continue her lucrative paid speaking career into the new year. As her advisers and supporters prepare for her likely presidential campaign, Clinton is set to deliver two speeches in Canada at events sponsored by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. She also is scheduled to address the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women on Feb. 24… It was not immediately clear whether Clinton is being paid for these appearances, but they are similar to her paid speeches over the past two years, for which she has earned $200,000 or more per appearance.” Our question: If she is truly eyeing 2016, as we believe she is, why is Hillary still giving paid speeches?

Take the early 2016 polls with a grain of salt

Given that the 2016 presidential cycle has already begun -- like it or not -- expect to see a ton of ’16-related polls over the next few months, including from us. But here’s a word of advice: Take them with a grain of salt. After all, our Dec. 2006 NBC/WSJ poll showed McCain leading Hillary by four points and Obama by five points in early hypothetical general-election polls. And in the primary matchups, here was the early GOP field: Giuliani 34%, McCain 29%, Gingrich 10%, Romney 8%, Huckabee 2%. And here was the Dem field: Hillary 37%, Obama 18%, Edwards 14%.

Jeh Johnson heads to Capitol Hill to defend executive action on immigration

Here’s the big story on Capitol Hill today: “The architect of President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, setting up the first big public clash between the White House and Republicans in Congress over the directive that shields millions of undocumented immigrants from deportations,” Politico reports. “Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who crafted the plan Obama unveiled two weeks ago, plans to fiercely defend it, despite intense criticism from a band of Republicans who have vowed to tie the president’s actions to funding the government and cabinet confirmation hearings.” This hearing, before the House Homeland Security Committee, begins at 9:00 am ET.

Ferguson activists disappointed in Obama’s response

Meanwhile, NBC’s Perry Bacon reports that the Obama administration announced Monday that “it would establish $75 million in funding each year to help local police departments buy at least 50,000 cameras that officers would wear on their bodies when interacting with the public. It was a strong presidential endorsement of body cameras, an idea that civil rights advocates have urged. The president also created a task force on policing that will examine what other changes might be needed.” But Ferguson activists, Bacon adds, say these measures fall short. “‘We appreciate the president wanted to meet with us, but now he must deliver with meaningful policy,’ said James Hayes, political director for the Ohio Students Association, who was one of the young activists who met with the president. In a statement, he added, ‘We are calling on everyone who believes that Black lives matter to continue taking to the streets until we get real change for our communities.’ Antoine White, a hip-hop artist from St. Louis who is known as T-Dubb-O, said of body cameras during an interview, ‘I still consider it a Band-Aid" on a much larger problem.’”

Wrapping the final Landrieu-Cassidy debate

Finally, NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell wraps the final debate between Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy. “In the 60-minute debate, Landrieu focused on questions surrounding Cassidy's work as a doctor with Louisiana State University where he receives more than $2,000 per month for a questionable amount of work.” More: “Cassidy, meanwhile, attempted to tie Landrieu to President Barack Obama, a continuation of a strategy that has been the basis of his entire campaign in the state where the president's approval rating is in the 30s.”

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