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Why Biden running could actually help Hillary Clinton

“She's a terrible front-runner but she's a marvelous candidate when she gets into the middle of the race."
Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks during a campaign stop at Dr. William U. Pearson Community Center on August 18, 2015 in North Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty)
Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks during a campaign stop at Dr. William U. Pearson Community Center on August 18, 2015 in North Las Vegas, Nev.

Why Biden running could actually help Hillary Clinton… But can Biden truly mount a competitive campaign? That has to be his biggest consideration right now... Love (for Biden) will tear us apart: White House is divided/conflicted over a Biden bid… Scott Walker’s bad, terrible, no good, very bad August… Can Trump find a second act?... Ted Cruz criticizes Jimmy Carter -- right after his cancer admission… Scowcroft backs Iran deal… And so does Harry Reid, which gives the White House 27 Senate Dems in support.

Why Biden running could actually help Hillary Clinton: The Joe Biden buzz continues -- after the vice president met with Elizabeth Warren on Saturday and after the Wall Street Journal reports that he’s increasingly leaning toward a White House run. Yet despite how a Biden bid could initially hurt Hillary Clinton (make no mistake, it would be a clear rebuke to her), there are two reasons why Biden running could actually help her.

First, it would force Clinton and her campaign to step up their game. “She's a terrible front-runner but she's a marvelous candidate when she gets into the middle of the race,” as NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) put it on “Meet the Press” yesterday. In other words, give her a real Democratic race -- a la what she experienced in the spring of 2008 when Clinton trailed Barack Obama -- and it’ll force her to be a stronger candidate.

Two, Biden jumping in would swap the scandal-focused coverage of Clinton and replace it with horserace-focused coverage. It has become increasingly apparent that Hillary Clinton might not be able to beat a unified political press corps on constant scandal patrol. But she could beat Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

But can Biden truly mount a competitive campaign? As we mentioned above, the Wall Street Journal said last night that Biden is “increasingly leaning toward entering the race,” but it adds one VERY IMPORTANT caveat to this -- “if he can knit together a competitive campaign at this late date.” That’s a big “if”. Translation: He wants to run, but he’s trying to find a way if he can beat not only Hillary Clinton, but a well-financed Bernie Sanders, too. Where will Biden find the $50 million to $100 million he’ll need to compete as the sitting vice president? (Remember, firing up Air Force Two to fly to Iowa and New Hampshire will cost at least tens of thousands of dollars a day.)

Where is the groundswell of support for Biden coming from? (Right now, it looks like there are more political reporters cheering his possible entry rather than rank-and-file Democrats.) Is he ready to attack his good friend Hillary Clinton? (If he gets in, he will need to be prepared to make a contrast with her on Day 1). And how does he run? As a populist (even though Bernie Sanders has left little room here), or as the heir to Obama (even though Clinton has left little room here)? Maybe that’s the best way to view Biden’s meeting with Warren: He’s trying to see if the populist left would support him over Sanders. But that won’t be an easy task.

Love (for Biden) will tear us apart: There is one additional Biden angle to mention today: The vice president entering the 2016 race would divide the Obama White House. “Biden versus Hillary Clinton would tear at loyalties, emotions, political calculations — and in some cases, actual contracts already signed with Clinton’s Brooklyn campaign headquarters,” Politico says. And it’s worth noting that today is President Obama’s first full day back from his two-week vacation. And today, Obama and Biden have their weekly private lunch at the White House. At some point, Obama is going to have to address the possibility of Biden vs. Clinton.

Scott Walker’s bad, terrible, no good, very bad August: Whether it was his performance in that first debate, his changing positions on birthright citizenship, or him losing the immigration issue to Donald Trump, Scott Walker has had a very rough August. Just look at that birthright citizenship issue. A week ago, he told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt that he supported ending birthright citizenship. (Hunt:We should end birthright citizenship? Walker: Yeah, to me it's about enforcing the laws in this country.) Then, after saying that issues like birthright citizenship shouldn’t be considered until border security was resolved, Walker told CNBC’s John Harwood: "I'm not taking a position on [birthright citizenship] one way or the other."

Finally yesterday on ABC, when he was asked if he was seeking to repeal the 14th Amendment (to change birthright citizenship), Walker answered, “No.” If you’re counting, that’s three different positions in less than a week. In the last two presidential cycles, we’ve seen two different candidates have AWFUL Augusts -- Barack Obama (in 2007) and Tim Pawlenty (in 2011). One ultimately succeeded; the other didn’t make it past the end of the month.

Can Trump find a second act? As for Donald Trump, conservative writer Byron York makes a smart point: “In the spirit of all predictions about Trump being wrong, I'm now skeptical of stories about his staying power.” Indeed, one of Trump’s upcoming challenges will be finding a second act. There are two ways to interpret a candidate with 100% name ID at 25% in the polls. One, he’s leading the field. Two, 75% of the party isn’t choosing him right now.

Ted Cruz criticizes Jimmy Carter: This happened on Friday, but it bears repeating: In his “soapbox” remarks at the Iowa State Fair late last week, Ted Cruz criticized Jimmy Carter’s presidency -- a day after Carter’s moving public admission about his cancer. “I think where we are today is very, very much like the late 1970’s. I think the parallels between this administration and the Carter administration are uncanny -- same failed domestic policy, same misery, stagnation and malaise. Same feckless and naive foreign policy, in fact the exact same countries Russia and Iran, openly laughing at and mocking the president of the United States.” It’s worth noting that Cruz, in June, also joked about Joe Biden after the death of Biden’s son, Beau. 

Cruz later apologized. Is Cruz so programmed into his stump speech that he becomes tone deaf after tragic news? For Cruz, it simply was an odd tone deaf moment in what was otherwise a very impressive under-the-radar week in Iowa. He had some 2,000 show up for one event. There is still a lot of upside to Cruz, and he held his own during the impromptu debate with "Juno" actress Ellen Page, but he needs to be a tad more nimble on the stump 

Scowcroft backs Iran deal: Back at the White House after his August vacation, President Obama now turns to the home stretch of selling the Iran deal. And he gets some good news from an endorsement from Bush 41 national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who penned a Washington Post op-ed in support of the deal. “If we walk away, we walk away alone. The world’s leading powers worked together effectively because of U.S. leadership. To turn our back on this accomplishment would be an abdication of the United States’ unique role and responsibility, incurring justified dismay among our allies and friends.”

He concluded, “[D]ecades of experience strongly suggest that there are epochal moments that should not be squandered. President Nixon realized it with China. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush realized it with the Soviet Union. And I believe we face it with Iran today.” Even though they no longer serve, Scowcroft and Dick Lugar supporting the Iran deal isn’t insignificant.

With Harry Reid, 27 Senate Democrats now back the Iran deal: As for those who still serve in office, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid announced his support for the Iran deal yesterday (it took him a while because he allowed big Nevada constituent Sheldon Adelson time to make his case). Per the count by NBC’s Frank Thorp, Reid now makes it 27 Senate Democrats who support the deal – seven votes away from thwarting a veto override, and 14 votes away from Democrats being able to filibuster a resolution of disapproval. Bottom line: It increasingly looks like the White House has the votes to prevent Congress from blocking the deal.         

On the trail: Jeb Bush travels to McAllen, TX, where he will talk border security and speak with reporters… Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and Ben Carson are all in South Carolina for Rep. Jeff Duncan’s fifth annual “Faith and Freedom BBQ”… Chris Christie and Bernie Sanders are in New Hampshire… Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal are in Iowa.

OBAMA AGENDA: Watching the stock markets

The latest on the market drop, from the Wall Street Journal: "European stocks and U.S. stock futures fell sharply as a rout in Chinese shares accelerated, wiping out gains for the year. Oil prices continued to drop, while Treasurys gained as investors sought the relative safety of government bonds. Fears that China’s economy is slowing dramatically have sparked heavy selling around the globe in recent days. Beijing’s unexpected move to devalue its currency two weeks ago raised the alarm that the world’s second-largest economy may be in worse shape than many investors had thought. Since then, weak economic data have fueled worries that a drop-off in Chinese growth could cause a global slowdown."

From Bloomberg: "Chinese shares tumbled by the most since 2007, stocks in Germany headed for a bear market and commodities fell to a 16-year low. Russia’s ruble led a selloff in emerging-market currencies, while the yen strengthened and 10-year Treasury yields slid below 2 percent for the first time since April. Futures signaled U.S. equities will retreat for a fifth day."

Ex-cons say the president's talk on criminal justice reform doesn't always ring true when it comes to access to the White House.

Minority Leader Harry Reid will support the Iran deal.

By the way, here's an Iran deal whip count roundup from NBC's Frank Thorp

OFF THE RACES: Biden leaning toward jumping in?

BIDEN: From the WSJ: "Vice President Joe Biden, who has long been considering a presidential bid, is increasingly leaning toward entering the race if it is still possible he can knit together a competitive campaign at this late date, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Biden still could opt to sit out the 2016 race, and he is weighing multiple political, financial and family considerations before making a final decision. But conversations about the possibility were a prominent feature of an August stay in South Carolina and his home in Delaware last week, these people said."

He huddled privately with Elizabeth Warren in Washington D.C. over the weekend.

Writes Bloomberg: "Vice President Joe Biden is gearing up for a packed September schedule in his day job that could showcase him as the politician best poised to carry on President Barack Obama’s policies -– or open him up to new lines of attack if he stumbles. These include mid-September votes in Congress on an Iran deal that Biden has been deeply involved in promoting; visits to Washington by Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping; a looming budget showdown; and administration efforts on climate change, renewing the Export-Import Bank’s charter, criminal justice reform and closing the terrorism detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

POLITICO reports on how Obamaworld is reacting to the Biden buzz: "“If he decides to go on with this,” echoed a former senior Obama campaign official, “there will be a lot of people who make heart-and-gut decisions as opposed to head decisions.”

BUSH: He had to deal with an embarrassing mailer goof over the weekend.

CHRISTIE: Here's what he said about the markets in China: "To strengthen our economy, we don't need to worry about China. We need to worry about what's happening in the United States of America. Our taxes are too high, the tax code is rigged for the rich—not for everyday working folks."

He's out with a new ad highlighting his record as a "strong law enforcer."

CLINTON: Her message in Iowa has gone hyperlocal, writes the AP.

CRUZ: His pitch to evangelical voters is getting more aggressive, reports the Washington Post: "More than 100,000 pastors received e-mail invitations over the weekend to participate in conference calls with Cruz on Tuesday in which they will learn details of the plan to mobilize churchgoers in every congressional district beginning Aug. 30. The requests were sent on the heels of the Texas Republican’s “Rally for Religious Liberty,” which drew 2,500 people to a Des Moines ballroom Friday."

FIORINA: CNN's debate criteria could spell bad news for Carly Fiorina.

JINDAL: NBC's Vaughn Hillyard reports on Bobby Jindal's stop Sunday in Oskaloosa: "The idea of America is slipping away from us. What do I mean by that? Think about what we have seen these last seven years. Things you and I never thought we would see. 18 trillion dollars in debt. Obamacare when we can’t afford the entitlements we’ve got today. The EPA trying to regulate the water in your backyard. Planned Parenthood taking your tax dollars and dismembering babies and selling their organs across the country."

WALKER: Here's his quote to ABC on birthright citizenship: ""My point is any discussion that goes beyond securing the border and enforcing the laws are things that should be a red flag to voters out there, who for years have heard lip service from politicians and are understandably angry because those politicians haven’t been committed to following through on those promises."

TRUMP: He's taking on hedge fund managers: "The hedge fund guys didn't build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky."

George Will in the Washington Post: "It has come to this: The GOP, formerly the party of Lincoln and ostensibly the party of liberty and limited government, is being defined by clamors for a mass roundup and deportation of millions of human beings. To will an end is to will the means for the end, so the Republican clamors are also for the requisite expansion of government’s size and coercive powers."

Carrie Dann contributed reporting to this article.