Republican presidential candidates take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. 
Photo by John Minchillo/AP

What has changed heading into the second GOP debate

What has changed heading into the second GOP debate … If he wants to win, Biden doesn’t have until October/November to make up his mind … Christie: “Let’s stop reading the newspapers” … Polls galore! … Walker goes after the unions … And Perry becomes first candidate to drop out of 2016 contest.

FIRST THOUGHTS.

*** What has changed heading into the second GOP debate: This week’s big political event is the second Republican debate on Wednesday. And it’s worth recapping what has changed in the month since the first one:

  • Donald Trump has solidified his lead in the polls, and the critical coverage he received in July/August has been replaced by a perception that he’s bulletproof – at least for now;
  • Ben Carson has surged into second place, despite what originally seemed like a lackluster performance at the first debate and despite very little campaign activity;
  • Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have dropped – with Walker’s fall even more striking than Hillary Clinton’s decline over the past month;
  • On the issues front, the Iran deal is essentially a done deal, while the odds of a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood have increased;
  • Carly Fiorina has made it to the main debate stage, with CNN changing its debate criteria to allow for 11 to participate in the main debate, instead of the 10 we saw last month;
  • And Rick Perry became the first casualty of the GOP race after he dropped out on Friday afternoon. That means that there will be one fewer Republican on the smaller debate stage Wednesday.

One other thing worth noting: There is going to be a significant time gap between Wednesday’s debate and the next one (in late October). That means some extra pressure on the GOP candidates – and maybe even more incentive to go a bit negative. Remember, the current fundraising quarter ends on Sept. 30.

*** If he wants to win, Biden doesn’t have until October/November to make up his mind: On the Democratic side, something has changed, too, in the last month: The increased buzz and chatter that Vice President Joe Biden might jump into the race amid Hillary Clinton’s declining poll numbers. Bloomberg News reports that Biden met with a top Obama bundler, but it also contains this news: “[A]ccording to multiple sources familiar with the planning under way, Bidenworld is now gaming out, and perhaps even leaning towards, a new timetable—with the vice president waiting until late October or early November to join the race.” But as we’ve said before, Biden potentially waiting another month to start raising money limits how credible of a campaign he could mount. Remember, a sitting vice president running for the White House is an EXPENSIVE endeavor – with his security apparatus, Biden can fly coach on South Airlines to Iowa and New Hampshire. If he’s going to run and build the organization that would make him a credible candidate (built for the general), he needs to get in ASAP.

*** Christie: “Let’s stop reading the newspapers”: On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Chris Christie downplayed an alleged quid pro quo involving his former head of the New Jersey/New York Port Authority, David Samson, and United Airlines (which forced the resignation of United’s CEO). When one of us asked Christie about this story – as well as his other former aides who were ensnared by the Bridge-gate scandal – Christie replied, “I’ve set an incredibly high standard for all of our people to have to reach every day. And I hold them to that standard. And here’s what a real leader does: You can’t, when you have 60,000 people working for you…” But that prompted this immediate follow-up: Samson, described as Christie’s political mentor, was no ordinary state employee. Christie’s answer: “First of all, you have absolutely no idea. You have no idea, as you sit here today, that he did anything wrong. Nor does anybody else. And so let’s stop just reading the newspapers… Let’s stop reading the newspapers and just blathering back what that is, okay?… When you have all these folks working for you, and David included, the fact is that you hold them to high standards. And if they don’t meet those high standards, what a decisive leader does is you take action and you terminate them.”

*** By that standard, the GOP should no longer criticize Hillary over her emails: Stop reading the newspapers? There’s no proof yet that Samson did anything wrong? By those same standards, then the Republican Party shouldn’t be criticizing Hillary Clinton over her emails – since those stories have been advanced by the newspapers and since Clinton hasn’t been charged of any crime. 

*** Polls galore! According to results from a new national MSNBC/Marist poll, Hillary Clinton defeats Donald Trump (53%-40%), Jeb Bush (49%-45%), Marco Rubio (50%-44%), and Ted Cruz (52%-41%) in hypothetical general-election matchups. But Biden’s leads over the same Republicans is even bigger – 56%-38% vs. Trump, 50%-42% vs. Bush, 50%-42% vs. Rubio, and 54%-39% over Cruz. Meanwhile, a new national Washington Post/ABC poll shows Trump (at 33%) and Carson (at 20%) leading the GOP field, as Clinton (at 42%), Sanders (at 24%), and Biden (at 21%) top the Dem field.

*** Walker goes after the unions: Per the AP: “At a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, Walker will propose:

• Eliminating unions for employees of the federal government.

• Making all workplaces right-to-work unless individual states vote otherwise.

• Scrapping the federal agency that oversees unfair labor practices.

• Making it more difficult for unions to organize.

Many of Walker’s proposals are focused on unions for workers at all levels of government, while others would also affect private-sector unions. Labor law experts said such an effort, if successful, would substantially reduce the power of organized labor in America.”

*** Perry becomes first candidate to drop out of 2016 contest: On Friday afternoon, Rick Perry became the first presidential candidate – Republican or Democrat – to drop out of the 2016 race, winnowing the GOP field from 17 candidates to 16. “We have a tremendous field – the best in a generation – so I step aside knowing our party is in good hands, and as long as we listen to the grassroots, the cause of conservatism will be, too,” he said on Friday at the Eagle Forum confab in Missouri. “I share this news with no regrets. It has been a privilege and an honor to travel this country, to speak with the American people about their hopes and dreams, to see a sense of optimism prevalent despite a season of cynical politics.” The reality is that Perry was a MUCH better candidate this time than in 2011-2012. But to quote the 21st Century philosopher Eminem, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime…”

*** On the trail: Hillary Clinton stumps in Iowa, hitting Cedar Falls and Decorah… Donald Trump holds a 7:00 pm ET rally in Dallas, TX… Chris Christie is in New Hampshire… Scott Walker outlines his plans on unions at 7:30 pm ET in Las Vegas… And Bernie Sanders campaigns in Virginia.

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OBAMA AGENDA: Des Moines, here we come

Amid all the 2016 fervor, Obama will spend the afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa

More on the trip, from the Des Moines Register: “Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education announced the schedule of Secretary Arne Duncan’s sixth annual back-to-school bus tour. Last week, the White House announced Obama would join the tour at a town hall at North to discuss the importance of attending college and its affordability.”

Kim Davis is returning to work this morning after being jailed for refusing to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples.

The Ferguson Commission will formally release a 198-page report detailing proposed changes to address racial inequality.

OFF THE RACES: Trump leads GOP by 13 points…

A new Washington Post/ ABC News poll shows Trump at 33% and Carson at 20%, 14 points higher than in July.

Tech group Lincoln Labs is out with a new “innovation report” white paper outlining proposed changes to intellectual property laws and regulatory policy.

The National Immigration Forum Action Fund has a new ad contrasting Ronald Reagan’s welcoming words for immigrants to Republicans’ current rhetoric.

NBC’s Danny Freeman examines how Democrats are courting Latinos in Iowa.

BIDEN: He met with Robert Wolf, the former CEO of UBS Americas and a publicly committed bundler for Hillary Clinton.

BUSH: His debate style will face another big test in Wednesday’s Simi Valley contest.

CARSON: He says that his comments about Trump’s faith were “inappropriate” and that he’s apologized for them.

CHRISTIE: He said “nothing has been proven” when it comes to accusations of a quid pro quo between former ally David Samson and the head of United airlines.

CLINTON: A new American Crossroads digital ad is called “Orange is the New Black” – a reference to Clinton’s orange suit during one of her press conferences about her email use.

“The company that managed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private e-mail server said it has “no knowledge of the server being wiped,” the strongest indication to date that tens of thousands of e-mails that Clinton has said were deleted could be recovered,” writes the Washington Post.

But: “In a little noticed brief, filed on Wednesday to a federal court, Department of Justice lawyers outlined a comprehensive defense of the contentious decision by Hillary Clinton to wipe the private email server she used as secretary of state: The attorneys assert that, regardless of whether she used a personal or government account, Clinton was within her legal right to handpick the emails that qualified as federal records — and to delete the ones she deemed personal,” Buzzfeed says.

FIORINA: She called Trump an “entertainer” during a stop in New Hampshire Saturday, writes NBC’s Kailani Koenig.

RUBIO: He has a two-minute web video laying out his higher-education plan.

SANDERS: He’ll do events at Liberty University and in Northern Virginia.

On Meet the Press, he wouldn’t say how many Syrian refugees the United States should accept.

TRUMP: The Washington Post reports on his education venture, Trump University. “In three pending lawsuits, including one in which the New York attorney general is seeking $40 million in restitution, former students allege that the enterprise bilked them out of their money with misleading advertisements.”

The Wall Street Journal looks at how he’s continuing to eschew a traditional campaign structure.

WALKER: He’s focusing on a sweeping plan to restrict labor unions as he tries to regain traction for his campaign. From the AP: “At a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, Walker will propose eliminating unions for employees of the federal government, making all workplaces right-to-work unless individual states vote otherwise, scrapping the federal agency that oversees unfair labor practices and making it more difficult for unions to organize.”

He’s announcing campaign chairs in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. 

NBC News’ Carrie Dann contributed.

What has changed heading into the second GOP debate