Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is interviewed for a television news station before speaking at the RedState Gathering, Aug. 7, 2015, in Atlanta.
Photo by David Goldman/AP

The summer of outsiders

The Outsiders Club … What everyone having an August moment has in common … Rand Paul is the latest to take the fight to Donald Trump … The differences between the political professionals and primary voters when it comes to rewarding debate performances … Hillary Clinton leads in Iowa … A campaign trail roundup … and a summer Friday for First Read. 

FIRST THOUGHTS.

*** The Outsiders Club: Of the 2016 candidates who can be said to be having a “moment” this August, all of them have something in common: They’re outsiders who upend what we traditionally think about politics. There’s Trump, who’s, well, Trump. Then there are Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, neither of whom have held public office before, showing signs of post-debate mini-surges. And Ted Cruz, famed for jamming a wrench in the government’s gears, is on the move upwards too in the latest series of polls, including the CNN/ORC poll of Iowa Republicans out yesterday. Here’s a number we noticed inside the new CNN poll: Asked which candidate is most likely to change the way things work in Washington, here were the top four: Trump (44%!), Carson (9%), Cruz (8%), Fiorina (7%). And by the way, the Democrat who’s enjoying his own moment right now is Bernie Sanders, who’s operated outside of the two-party system for most of his career. More than any policy positions, any previous experience, or any personal narratives, this is a top criteria that voters are hinging their early choices upon: Who can smash up D.C. and drive its politicos and eggheads the most crazy?

*** War (with Trump). What is it good for? One name we didn’t mention in the category of “outsider” was the candidate who started off believing he’d be the party’s big maverick: Rand Paul. It’s dark days for Team Paul – he’s struggling in polls, dealing with a close ally’s indictment, and engaging in a full-throttle war with Donald Trump. In the most direct and personal challenge to Trump yet, Paul is on the stump doing his best impressions of Trump’s bluster (“You know the reason I tell woman they’re ugly is because I’m so good-lookin!”) and accusing him of “purchasing access.” Here’s the thing: Donald Trump likes to say that the last two candidates who tried to take him on, Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry, are in a worse position NOW than they were before. Does he have a point? And if he does, could the end result for Rand Paul look different?

*** Critical acclaim, but no bump. Speaking of the aforementioned politicos and eggheads, plenty of them gave Marco Rubio and John Kasich the best reviews for their debate performance last week (including us, by the way). Both men stood out in Cleveland for getting their messages across and smartly leveraging their political assets, but the payoff just has not been there in the polls. The latest CNN/ORC Iowa poll shows Rubio stuck at 5%; he’s at just 4% in the newest FPU/Herald New Hampshire poll. Yes, we know that Kasich has jumped to third place in New Hampshire, but that’s probably a lot more about his team dropping $4 million in ads in the Granite State and drowning out all of his competition than it is about his debate chops. Right now, it’s all about the outsiders – and it’s a good reminder that how professionals judge a debate vs how primary voters assess it can reflect two completely different world views.

*** Hillary Clinton gets a good headline out of Iowa. The latest CNN/ORC poll of Iowa Democrats won Clinton a relieving headline after yesterday’s double-whammy of one tough poll in New Hampshire and a new round of email dustups. She’s way ahead in the key state, sitting at 50% with likely caucus-goers, compared to 31% for Bernie Sanders. But there are two ways to look at these numbers: 1) it’s a commanding lead that shows that Democrats are standing by their front-runner, or 2) Clinton’s only at 50% against rivals with a fraction of her fundraising haul (Sanders) or with no official 2016 infrastructure at all (Joe Biden.) One thing worth noting: Joe Biden’s inclusion in these recent polls might be depressing Clinton’s number a little bit; if Biden doesn’t run, CNN notes that a majority of his supporters in Iowa would be poised to reallocate to Team Hillary.

***  Dispatches from the trail: NBC’s Jordan Frasier reports that Jeb Bush was interrupted by ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters last night in Las Vegas. NBC’s Danny Freeman talks to a voter in Iowa who explains why she switched from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. And NBC’s Kailani Koenig reports that Rand Paul blasted Donald Trump in New Hampshire as a “reality star” who claims “I must be smart, I’m rich!”

Click here to sign up for First Read emails

*** A programming note: It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so First Read is going to take a breather tomorrow. We’ll be back on Monday. Have a great weekend, folks. 

OFF THE RACES: Biden polls friends and family on ’16 run

Writes the Washington Post: “Across the ideological spectrum, candidates are gaining traction by separating themselves from the political and economic system that many everyday Americans view as rigged against them.”

BIDEN: The Wall Street Journal reports: “Vice President Joe Biden is using part of his vacation in South Carolina this week to sound out friends and family about a presidential bid, as some Democrats press him to enter the race and give the party another option in the face of lingering controversies involving Hillary Clinton. From his vacation spot on Kiawah Island, Mr. Biden is giving the strongest signal yet that he is actively considering making a third run at the presidency. He is asking political allies for advice and gauging the strength of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign as he weighs his options, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Biden is expected to announce his decision next month.”

BUSH: NBC’s Jordan Frasier reports that Jeb Bush was disrupted by ‘Black Lives Matter’ activists during an event in Las Vegas Wednesday night.

The Sioux City Journal reports that he’s rolling out a second round of Iowa supporters.

CARSON: He said during a FOX News appearance yesterday of Planned Parenthood: “One of the reasons you find most of their clinics in black neighborhoods is so that you can find a way to control that population.”

CLINTON: Top aide Huma Abedin is increasingly in the spotlight in the email controversy after revelations that she had her own account on Clinton’s homebrew server, POLITICO reports.

Her team sent a memo to supporters urging them to remain calm.

FIORINA:The New York Times writes about how she’s taken on Donald Trump from her unique spot as the party’s only female presidential candidate.

KASICH: The Boston Globe notes of his rise in New Hampshire: “First, his operation recently spent significant funds in the state — $4 million on television advertisements, according to a spokeswoman for Kasich’s super PAC. During this time, only Christie’s super PAC was on the air, spending $1.1 million on its advertisement buy, according to its spokesman. Kasich had another advantage: He enjoys being one of the newest candidates on the scene, having entered the presidential race on July 21, months after most of his competitors got in.”

O’MALLEY: He’s rolling out 15 goals to “rebuild the American dream,” the Union Leader reports.

PAUL:The Washington Post has the full rundown of his fight with The Donald.

SANDERS: He told Andrea Mitchell in an interview yesterday that he’s getting a boost in the polls because ‘people are saying enough is enough.’

He’s moving to a bigger campaign office in New Hampshire after just six weeks, NH1.com reports.

Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump

The summer of outsiders