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What 'Bernie-mentum' tells us about 2016

The biggest development in the presidential campaign so far this month? It’s not Jeb’s or Trump’s announcements, or Hillary Clinton’s re-announcement.

Three things that ‘Bernie-mentum’ in New Hampshire tell us … June is a big legacy month for Obama … GOP believes it still has a path to saving Obama’s trade agenda … The challenge Donald Trump presents to news organizations … A reminder about Trump: If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned … And recommendations to reform the presidential debates for the general election.


*** Three things that ‘Bernie-mentum’ tell us: The biggest development in the presidential campaign so far this month? It’s not Jeb’s or Trump’s announcements, or Hillary Clinton’s re-announcement. Rather, it’s the faster-than-expected rise of Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton still has maybe the clearest path that any non-incumbent has had to win a party’s presidential nomination in modern times. But you also can’t ignore the momentum -- Bernie-mentum! -- that Bernie Sanders seems to have in the Democratic race right now. Sure, it’s just two polls (one phone survey, another that’s partially online) that show him within 10-12 points of Clinton. And sure, they’re both in New Hampshire, which is right next door to Sanders’ Vermont. But they could also be a canary in the progressive coal mine. And they tell us three things: One, the Elizabeth Warren supporters have seamlessly moved over into Sanders’ corner. Two, Sanders’ momentum suggests that there might not be breathing room for other Democratic challengers like Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb. And three, as political scientist Jonathan Bernstein points out, it’s also a reminder on the GOP side “that any candidate can benefit from a public opinion surge.” Make no mistake: Poll after poll shows Clinton in outstanding shape with Democratic voters. But Sanders’ rise -- if it lasts -- does put Team Clinton in a bit of a box. After all, punching down is not something that will make the candidate or campaign look good.

*** A big legacy month for Obama: Already, we’re more than half way through June -- which happens to be a big legacy month for President Obama’s second term. Democrats and organized labor last week delivered an uppercut to Obama’s plans on striking a trade deal with Asian/Pacific countries, though there is still a path to get it done (see below). Later this month, we’ll get the opinion in King vs. Burwell, which either could gut his health-care law or further cement the law’s place in American society. And at the end of the month is supposed to be the final/final/final deadline to strike a detailed deal with Iran. There may be other stories overshadowing the actions right now in the Obama administration, but this month will matter a lot in assessing the Obama presidency for future historians and biographers.

*** GOP believes it has another path to saving Obama’s trade agenda: Vox’s Jonathan Allen says that the way GOP leaders think they can save Obama’s trade agenda is by passing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) by itself -- without Trade Adjustment Assistance. “In the scenario envisioned by GOP leaders — which they haven't yet committed to — the House would pass the fast-track bill without TAA and send it to the Senate (though fast-track already passed, the House would still need to vote on it again for procedural reasons). Then, pro-trade Senate Democrats would be asked to vote for the fast-track bill with a promise that the TAA bill would also pass the House and be signed by President Barack Obama later. That's a tall order in and of itself. But the idea is that if fast track has already passed in the Senate, then House Democrats would have nothing to lose by backing TAA, and it'd be much likelier to pass.”

*** The challenge Donald Trump presents to news organizations: Now that he’s an announced presidential candidate, here is the question all news organizations must grapple with: Do you cover every single controversial thing he says? Or do you decide he’s unworthy of the coverage? We get how some of our journalist brethren don’t want to alienate/offend a celebrity, especially one they encounter a lot in New York City. But consider this: We’ve seen plenty of past celebrities run for office before -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Al Franken. But the difference between them and Trump is that Schwarzenegger, Ventura, Franken went out of their way to be serious politicians and to respect the process. The same couldn’t be said of Trump yesterday, who looked more like a political streaker -- “Hey, look at me!!!!” -- than someone who truly wants the office and respects the process to get it.

*** If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned: Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of GOP hand-wringing about Donald Trump the day after his announcement. Will he hurt the party’s brand and other candidates? What, exactly, will he say on that debate stage if he makes the cut? Which candidates could lose a spot on the stage if he makes the cut? But don’t forget this: In the last presidential cycle, the Republican Party went out of its way to embrace Trump -- even after he led the “birther” charge against President Obama. Mitt Romney accepted his primary endorsement in a public appearance. Trump was even going to play a role at the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa -- until the first day got rained out.

*** Trump gets a lot of attention on Facebook: But you can say this about Trump: He knows how to get to attention -- even on Facebook. According to Facebook’s statistics, Trump had the highest activity on its social media site in the 24 hours of endorsement for any 2016 candidate not named Hillary Clinton. Here are the numbers:

  • Hillary Clinton: 4.7 million unique people, 10.1 million interactions
  • Donald Trump: 3.4 million unique people, 6.4 million interactions
  • Ted Cruz: 2.1 million unique people, 5.5 million interactions
  • Rand Paul: 865,000 unique people, 1.9 million interactions
  • Ben Carson: 847,000 unique people, 1.5 million interactions
  • Marco Rubio: 695,000 unique people, 1.3 million interactions
  • Bernie Sanders: 592,000 unique people, 1.2 million interactions
  • Jeb Bush: 493,000 unique people, 849,000 interactions
  • Mike Huckabee: 458,000 unique people, 814,000 interactions

What’s scary for those in the GOP who are privately wishing Trump would go away but are publicly scared of confronting him is that Trump does channel an anger that is lingering within certain parts of the GOP electorate. It’s not a majority, but it is loud minority of the party. And that’s yet another reason you see hesitance by some of the likely GOP nominees to pick at him. Plus, as anyone who has dealt with Trump can attest to, he doesn’t play by any set of rules so he’ll all ALWAYS play dirtier media pool than anyone who tries to confront him.

*** Recommendations to reform the presidential debates for the general election: The Annenberg Working Group on Presidential Campaign Debate Reform has offered some recommendations:

  • “Expanding the role of social media and including more diverse media outlets to host the debates, as well as enlarging the pool of moderators to include print journalists, retired judges and other experts, instead of solely relying on television journalists”;  
  • “Eliminating on-site audiences for debates other than a town hall style debate. The Working Group noted that the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960 are widely regarded as among the more successful debates, and had small studio audiences”;
  • “Revising the debate timetable to take into account the rise of early voting”; 
  • “Employing a ‘chess clock’ model to encourage more substantive answers and allow the candidates to go into greater depth on issues that are important to them.”

*** On the trail: Hillary Clinton is in South Carolina; Jeb Bush stumps in Iowa; Ben Carson gives a speech at the NALEO conference in Las Vegas; Mike Huckabee campaigns in the Hawkeye State; and Donald Trump is in New Hampshire.

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OFF TO THE RACES: Polling the swing states

A new Quinnipiac poll finds Florida Sen. Marco Rubio runs best against Hillary Clinton in the key swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell speaks with some of the campaigns in danger of losing a spot on the debate stage to Donald Trump.

Democrats beware: The Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson are working closer than ever, the Huffington Post reports.  

Pope Francis’ remarks on climate change put the five Catholics in the potential GOP field in an awkward position, the New York Times reports.

BUSH: His team announced a number of Iowa endorsements ahead of his first trip to the Hawkeye State as a declared candidate. But the Associated Press reports he is essentially starting from scratch in the state.

The Wall Street Journal takes an in-depth look at the Florida connections Bush used to help facilitate his rise in the state.

And last night he slow jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon.

CLINTON: She campaigns in South Carolina today where she is expected to propose a new tax credit for businesses that hire and train apprentices, the Wall Street Journal reports.

FIORINA: And in today’s example of how nuanced elections laws have become, the Wall Street Journal reports that the FEC rejected a pro-Fiorina super PAC called “Carly for America.” So the name was changed to “Conservative, Authentic, Responsive Leadership for You and America,” which will go by the acronym CARLY for America.  

SANDERS: A Suffolk University poll released yesterday found the Vermont senator closing in on Clinton in New Hampshire.

TRUMP: Neil Young has a message for Donald Trump: Quit using “Rockin’ in The Free World.”

WALKER: With a budget battle raging at home, Scott Walker has gone abroad -- sometimes at taxpayer expense, the Washington Post reports.

And around the country…

WISCONSIN: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is hitting GOP Sen. Ron Johnson for not yet signing his Democratic opponent Russ Feingold’s pledge to limit outside money in the Wisconsin Senate race.  

Per a DSCC release: “Ron Johnson is refusing to give a clear answer regarding Russ Feingold's proposed ‘Badger Pledge’ to keep shadowy, outside money from dominating Wisconsin's Senate race. But that's no surprise considering Ron Johnson already has a shady campaign finance issue that he's refused to come clean about for the last several years.”

CONGRESS: Issa gets booted from Benghazi deposition

Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal told the House Select Committee on Benghazi Tuesday that he did not author or know the source of any of the Libya intelligence he passed to Clinton when she served as Secretary of State, Politico reports.  

Rep. Darrell Issa was kicked out after trying to crash the deposition. And NBC’s Frank Thorp caught it on Vine.

The Wall Street Journal reports the House on Tuesday “voted to extend the window for reconsidering a key part of trade legislation that Democrats defeated on Friday, leaving President Obama’s trade agenda in limbo.”

Per the New York Times: “Republicans who have been hoping that the Supreme Court will upend President Obama’s health care law are now confronting an urgent and uncomfortable question: What if they win?”

NBC News' Andrew Rafferty contributed.