Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks during an event at the College of Southern Nevada on Oct. 21, 2015 in North Las Vegas, Nev.
Photo by David Becker/Getty

Jeb Bush tries to reboot

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.

Jeb tries to reset campaign

After his roughest week of his candidacy to date, Jeb Bush will deliver a speech in Tampa, FL at 10:30 am ET trying to reset his campaign by distinguishing what he says is his “hopeful and optimistic” message versus the rest of the field’s. “We need to be hopeful and optimistic, have an aspirational message,” Bush said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” over the weekend. “I don’t think conservatives are going to win the presidency unless we campaign with our arms wide open, inclusive.” More Bush: “I’m not a grievance candidate, I’m a candidate that believes we’re on the verge of greatness but it’s going to require the leadership skills to fix things.” And here’s what else Bush said on “Meet” yesterday: “Look, I know that I got to get better at doing the debate. I’m a grinder. I mean, when I see that I’m not doing something well then I reset and I get better.”

Excerpts from Jeb Bush’s re-launch speech

“Our story is about action. Doing, not just talking. Listening, not just lecturing,” Jeb Bush is expected to say in his speech, according to advance excerpts of his remarks. “That is my story. And I’m so grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to lead this great state as your governor.” Bush will also say, “This election is not about a set of personalities. It’s about a set of principles. It is about leadership. It is about the right vision to lead America through turbulent waters, after two terms of a divider-in-chief who has sliced and diced the electorate by class, income, grievance and creed.” And note this not-so-subtle shot at Marco Rubio: “The challenges we face as a nation are too great to roll the dice on another presidential experiment. To trust the rhetoric of reform over a record of reform.”

GOP campaigns to RNC: We want control of the debate process

“Republican campaigns agreed to take a larger role in negotiating the parameters of the upcoming presidential debates and largely cut the Republican National Committee out of the process during an unprecedented meeting of advisors for all but one campaign on Sunday night,” NBC’s Alex Jaffe reports. “All campaigns agreed they want to limit the debates to two hours, allow each candidate to get 30 seconds each for opening and closing statements, have final approval of on-screen graphics, and figure out a way for the candidates to get more equal speaking time.” The Washington Post got its hands on a draft letter listing the campaigns’ demands. Some of them:

  • “Will you commit to provide equal time/an equal number of questions to each candidate?”
  • “Will you commit that you will not - ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question; ask yes/no questions without time to provide a substantive answer; allow candidate-to-candidate questioning…?”
  • “Can you pledge that the temperature in the hall be kept below 67 degrees?”

Two reasons for this “debate over the debates”

While many of those demands are reasonable, there are two explanations for this “debate over the debates” is happening compared with past presidential cycles. One, we’ve never seen this many candidates in one party’s field before – 14 total, 10 on the main stage, four in the undercard. And two, it’s another example of how weaker the political parties have become. In the past, the campaigns would trust the parties to control the debating parameters with the TV networks. Well, not this time. (Even on the Dem side, the Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders campaigns have criticized the Democratic National Committee over the number of debates this season.)

What the list of debate demands DIDN’T include

Interestingly, the draft letter listing the campaigns’ debate demands didn’t include anything about the moderators. But that wasn’t the case when the candidates gathered in Iowa on Saturday. Here was Ted Cruz, per the New York Times: “How about if we say from now on if you have never voted in a Republican primary in your life you don’t get to moderate a Republican primary debate?” Here was Carly Fiorina, according to the Washington Post: “This is a debate series for Republican primary voters. And when you don’t have a single conservative moderator, when the moderation earns boos from the audience — I mean I’ve never seen that before where an audience booed the moderation.” And here was Ben Carson on ABC yesterday: “Well, I think we should have moderators who are interested in disseminating the information about the candidates as opposed to, you know, ‘gotcha,’ ‘you did this’ and ‘defend yourself on that,’ you know.” Of course, a big part of the job of running for president – and especially being president – is answering lots of questions from all kinds of journalists. As Chris Christie put it: “If you can’t handle that stage, you’ve got no chance of handling Hillary Clinton.”

To quote that post-election RNC autopsy report

“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself”: And we have one more thought on the debate over the debates, especially the demands that moderators be conservatives – and it comes from the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” autopsy after the 2012 election: “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.” Hmmmm….

Bernie Sanders releases first TV ad

As first mentioned on “Meet the Press” yesterday, Bernie Sanders’ campaign is up with its first TV ad. The one-minute advertisement is mostly a bio spot. It ends with this: “Bernie Sanders – husband, father, grandfather, an honest leader building a movement with you.” Note the “honest leader” part, which seems to be a dig at Hillary Clinton. NBC’s Shawna Thomas has the specifics: “The campaign says the ad buy is over $2 million. It will run in Iowa and New Hampshire to start and then they expect to take it to other states.”

NBC’s Lester Holt to interview Obama on criminal justice reform

This afternoon, President Obama heads to Newark, NJ to discuss criminal justice reform. Per the White House, “While in Newark, the President will highlight the re-entry process of formerly incarcerated individuals who are working to put their lives back on track and earn their second chance.” And NBC’s Lester Holt will interview Obama on this topic while in New Jersey, and the interview will be broadcast on NBC’s Nightly News. MSNBC’s Ari Melber has more: “On Monday, President Obama is announcing a new order to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal government employees and contractors. It is a step towards what many criminal justice reformers call ‘ban the box’ - the effort to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have a criminal record. While the rule was once seen as a common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it has been increasingly criticized as a hurdle that fosters employment discrimination against former inmates, regardless of the severity of their offense or how long ago it occurred. Banning the box delays when employers learn of an applicant’s record.”

A quick preview of tomorrow’s KY GOV race: Anti-Obama vs. anti-Tea Party

Meanwhile, tomorrow is Kentucky’s gubernatorial race between Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin. One way to think of the contest: It’s anti-Obama (the GOP’s attacks on Conway) vs. anti-Tea Party (the Dems’ attacks on Bevin). The Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy on the race: “It’s still very close, but put a thumb on the scale for Conway.”

RIP, Fred Thompson

Finally: “Former Sen. Fred Thompson, the Watergate investigator-turned-actor-turned national political figure, died Sunday at 73 from lymphoma, with which he had struggled for more than a decade, his family said,” per NBC News. “Thompson, a towering, burly man with a deep, Southern-inflected voice, parlayed his fame as a key investigator of the Watergate scandal into a TV and movie career before he was elected to finish the Senate term of Al Gore of Tennessee, who vacated the seat when he became vice president.”

On the trail

Jeb Bush campaigns in Florida… Ben Carson is also in the Sunshine State, though he’s selling his book… John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, and Rick Santorum are in Iowa… Rand Paul stumps in New Hampshire… And Mike Huckabee files his election paperwork in Arkansas before holding a “Raise the Roof” rally.

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Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush tries to reboot