The Week in 2016: What Mattered (And What Didn't)

Image: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses the Detroit Economic Club about his "Reform Conservative Agenda" in Detroit, Michigan, February 4, 2015 REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)REBECCA COOK / Reuters

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In today's rapid-fire political news cycle, it's easy to get overwhelmed and difficult to sort it all out. So here's a look back at the past week in the 2016 presidential contest, making sense of the developments and events that we think mattered -- and those that didn't.

What Mattered

1. The GOP's early two-man contest: Our recent batch of NBC/Marist polls of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina showed that Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are your early 2016 GOP frontrunners. And the growing perception that Chris Christie isn't going to take off only seems to solidify that thinking.

2. Growing conservative backlash to Jeb Bush: In the span of 24 hours this week, influential conservative writer Philip Klein wrote that Republicans aren't likely to win a debate litigating the Clinton years vs. the Bush years, and then a conservative group released a web ad whacking Jeb and calling him “unelectable.”

3. Clinton Inc.'s conflict of interest: The news that Clinton Foundation is accepting donations from foreign governments is the latest in a long line of stories underscoring the Clintons' problematic fundraising practices. If these donations stopped when Hillary was secretary of state (because of an apparent conflict of interest), shouldn't they stop as she looks likely to pursue another presidential run?

4. Foreign-policy hawks spread their wings: There was Jeb Bush's hawkish foreign-speech, plus the Great Naming Debate of 2015 (whether or not to call ISIS "Islamic extremism" or just "extremism"). But one thing looks for certain as Daniel Drezner pointed out: Outside of Rand Paul, the 2016 rhetoric on foreign policy -- from both the GOP and Hillary -- will more hawkish than President Obama's.

What Didn't Matter

1. Hillary's early general-election poll position: Our NBC/Marist polls also showed Hillary Clinton leading the GOP competition in the swing states of Iowa and New Hampshire. But a little reality check: Eight years ago, Rudy Giuliani was ahead of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, according to a national March 2007 NBC/WSJ poll. How did that work out?

2. Giuliani-gate: Speaking of Giuliani, his controversial comments doubting that President Obama loves his country really don't matter for 2016. Why? Because Giuliani isn't running (and he’s been out of office for more than a decade). Now how the 2016ers reacted to his comments (Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal) is a separate matter.

3. The debate over Scott Walker's lack of a college degree: Put this in the same category as Seamus the dog (for Mitt Romney) or Jeremiah Wright (for Obama): Something that will fire up detractors but probably not influence voters, especially during the primary season.

4. Rand Paul's April 7 presidential announcement date: It's been pretty clear over the last two years that Paul will be making a White House bid. What we learned this week was simply the date of the announcement.