Man of the Hour: Scott Walker's Big Moment

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Just as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is about to introduce himself to Republican donors -- especially now that Mitt Romney isn’t running -- this past weekend’s Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll shows him in first place in Iowa. Yes, he’s ahead of Rand Paul by just one point, but consider that Walker is the only candidate at the top of the list who either hasn’t run before (a la Mike Huckabee), or whose father did (a la Paul). So as the 2016 race is now getting underway, this is a big moment for Walker. After all, poll position matters, as does the timing of the poll position. Remember, if the 2012 race is any guide, plenty of candidates will get their moment. The question is: What do you do with it?

Groundhog Day: As 2016 contest begins, GOP remains deeply divided

Forgive us if you’ve heard this before, but since it’s Groundhog Day, it’s worth repeating (over and over and over and over): The establishment-vs.-conservative divide inside the Republican Party continues to be as a wide as ever. The aforementioned Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll is the latest example of this. Not only does the poll show Walker leading the early GOP pack in Iowa, it also has Jeb Bush coming in sixth (!!!) with Mitt Romney included in the field and fifth (!!!) without him. What’s more, Bush’s fav/unfav among likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers is just 46%-43%, compared with 66%-28% for Mike Huckabee, 64%-25% for Rand Paul, 64%-26% for Rick Perry, 60%-12% for Scott Walker, and 58%-21% for Ted Cruz. Yes, Jeb is going to be able to raise A LOT of money, but his story of 2015 could very well be whether he can make up ground with conservative grassroots voters.

Christie is in Giuliani territory

By the way, Chris Christie’s numbers among Iowa Republican caucus-goers is even worse -- he’s either tied for sixth (without Romney) or eighth (with Romney), and his fav/unfav is upside down at 36%-54%. Folks, this is Rudy Giuliani territory. Bottom line: There are two 2016 GOP races going on right now: One, the establishment contest, where Jeb and Christie are wooing deep-pocketed donors, especially now that Romney is out of the race. And two, the conservative grassroots contest, where the candidates will be jockeying to prove themselves as the most in tune with today’s Republican Party.

Walker has the potential to straddle both the establishment and conservative worlds

The establishment-vs.-conservative divide is what makes Walker worth watching over the next year, because he has the ability to straddle both worlds. Given that Walker has battled with Wisconsin Democrats -- and won -- few conservatives are going to question his conservative bona fides. And given that he’s won his state of Wisconsin three times in the past four years (2010 election, 2012 recall, 2014 re-election), he could appeal to some establishment Republicans who are looking for a non-Bush winner.

Obama’s budget to focus on relieving income inequality, not reducing the deficit

At 11:55 am ET, President Obama delivers remarks on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget his administration is unveiling today. And the headline from this budget is that the administration is more interested in addressing income inequality than reducing the deficit. “President Obama will propose a 10-year budget on Monday that stabilizes the federal deficit but does not seek balance, instead focusing on policies to address income inequality as he adds nearly $6 trillion to the debt,” the New York Times writes. “The budget — $4 trillion for the 2016 fiscal year — would hit corporations that park profits overseas, raise taxes on the richest of the rich and increase the incomes of the middle class through new spending and tax credits. Mr. Obama will challenge the newly elected Republican Congress to answer his emphasis on wage stagnation, according to congressional aides briefed on the details.” More: “The central question that Mr. Obama’s budget will pose to Congress is this: Should Washington worry about what may be the defining economic issue of the era — the widening gap between the rich and everyone else — or should policy makers primarily seek to address a mountain of debt that the White House hopes to control but only marginally reduce as a share of the economy?”

Defining “success” against ISIS

Obama, meanwhile, discussed several topics in his Super Bowl interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie (Deflate-gate, 2016, his triumphant-sounding State of the Union address). But the part of the interview that grabbed our attention was Obama mentioning that he has witnessed the ISIS beheading videos. “I think it would affect anybody who has an ounce of humanity. And it's part of the reason why I think we've been so successful in organizing such a broad-based coalition. But what's also important, though, Savannah, is for us to maintain some perspective about these issues.” But while Obama was talking about success when it comes to assembling a coalition against ISIS, his former Defense secretary – Robert Gates – said the United States is far from winning, especially when the objective is to “dismantle and destroy it.” On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Gates said, “I think we've made some steps, some successful steps to contain it. But at the same time, in a way, ISIS has sort of reached the natural limits of where they would have sympathetic people, the Sunni areas of northern and western Iraq in particular. But I think that the airstrikes have contributed to containing them. But we're a long way, in my view, from being in a position to roll them back or push them out of Iraq.” So if the goal is containing ISIS, that’s working. But if it’s dismantling and destroying them, not so much.

Christie calls for “balance” and “choice” when it comes to vaccinating children

Finally, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, files this dispatch while covering Christie’s trip in London. “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday said the government needs to strike a ‘balance’ between public health and parental choice in making decisions about vaccinating kids, even as an outbreak of measles is spreading among unvaccinated people in the United States. ‘We vaccinate ours [kids], and so, you know that's the best expression I can give you of my opinion,’ Christie said when asked if he would urge Americans to vaccinate their children. ‘You know it's much more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. And that's what we do. But I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that's the balance that the government has to decide.’” Compare Christie's answer with what Obama told NBC's Guthrie: “I understand that there are families that, in some cases, are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”

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