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First thoughts: Next week's decision

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Next week's decision: On "TODAY," NBC's Savannah Guthrie reported that President Obama is set to announce his decision on Afghanistan-Pakistan next week (likely on Tuesday, Dec. 1), and he'll likely do it via a primetime address (although it probably won't be from the Oval Office). Guthrie's reporting comes after Obama last night concluded his ninth meeting with his national security team on Afghanistan. "After completing a rigorous final meeting, President Obama has the information he wants and needs to make his decision and he will announce that decision within days," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Guthrie adds that every adviser at the table gave their opinion, and that OMB Director Peter Orszag was present, underscoring how budget issues are a concern. (Also present -- in person -- was U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.) As mentioned before, all the options Obama is considering would increase the number of U.S. troops (from 10,000 to 40,000). But Guthrie says the White House also wants to couple this increase with an exit strategy.

*** The GOP's Reagan obsession: To us, the most striking feature of the resolution that the Republican National Committee might consider at its winter meeting in January wasn't its insistence that GOP politicians and candidates must adhere to at least eight of 10 conservative purity tests. Nor was its labeling of President Obama's agenda as "socialist." Instead, the most revealing thing about the draft resolution was its obsession with Ronald Reagan. "WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan believed that the Republican Party should support and espouse conservative principles and public policies," the resolution reads. "WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan also believed the Republican Party should welcome those with diverse views; and WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan believed, as a result, that someone who agreed with him 8 out of 10 times was his friend, not his opponent…"

*** Does Reagan apply in a non-Reagan world? We've asked this question before and we'll ask it again: Why are Republicans still so fixated on Reagan? The Cold War ended some 20 years ago… Income-tax rates are at historically low levels… And does anyone remember what a "Contra" is? It's a lot like how it took Democrats generations to kick their Kennedy and FDR habits. Can the GOP keep playing the Reagan card in a world that's changed so much since his presidency? Did you know that the youngest person to have cast a ballot for Reagan in 1984 is now 43 years old? And that, by 2012, that person will be 46?

*** Rallying around Reagan -- but not the Bushes: It's amazing what everyone in the conservative movement now applies to Reagan. As we and others have pointed out, Reagan himself might not have passed this purity test when he was governor of California or even president (remember his tax increases, the deficits he racked up, and his amnesty for illegal immigrants?). A Bush has run for president FOUR of the last SIX presidential elections, and yet that name apparently is now a four-letter word with GOP activists. They need someone else to rally around. So in the absence of someone currently, the gravitation is Reagan. We get it on one level. But the nostalgia doomed the Democrats for years because the hardest thing to do in politics is look favorable against a ghost. It can't be done.

*** Today's state visit: At 9:15 am ET, the president and the first lady welcome India's prime minister and his wife to the White House. At 11:35 am, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh hold a joint press conference. And this evening, the Obamas host a state dinner for their guests. While much of the focus is on tonight's big state dinner, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reminds us that the dinner is just the end of VERY IMPORTANT diplomatic talks during the day. Remember that India and the U.S. have much to discuss: Pakistan, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, global warming, and the global recession. (Turning back to the dinner, however, NBC's Norah O'Donnell reports that Jennifer Hudson will perform at the event…)

*** 'Fundamentals' vs. 'Core Strengths': Yesterday, in his comments on the economy, President Obama said, "There are core strengths to the American economy that will put us in good stead over the long term." While realizing that our economy has come a LONG way since Sept. 15, 2008 and that a campaign is MUCH different than a presidency, people who worked on the McCain campaign might argue that Obama's "core strengths" wasn't all that dissimilar from McCain's "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." Discuss. Remember, as a candidate, Obama was able to run against an economic philosophy. Now, he has to reassure that his is the right one.

*** Dems get their man in Texas? The last time a Democrat was governor of Texas, Bill Clinton was in his second year in office, grunge music was still all the rage, Troy Aikman was quarterback for the Cowboys, and the Texas A&M Aggies were the dominant college football team in the state. My, how things change… But after yesterday's chain of events -- Tom Schieffer (D) exiting the gubernatorial contest and Houston Mayor Bill White (D) apparently turning his focus from the Senate contest to the gubernatorial one -- Democrats now seem to have a path to win the governor's mansion. This could be especially true if Rick Perry defeats Kay Bailey Hutchison in their increasingly bitter GOP primary, which could alienate female voters and independents. Perhaps this is why RGA Chairman Haley Barbour told reporters last week he preferred for Hutchison to remain in the Senate… 

*** It's easier for a Texas Dem to win state office than federal office: The entrance of White is also a tacit acknowledgement on his part that it's A LOT easier to be a Democrat in Texas running for state office than federal office. Perhaps he's learning the lesson of another big city Texas Democratic mayor whom many in the business community loved: Ron Kirk. What if Kirk had run for governor in 2002 rather than Senate? Would the Dallas business community have rallied around him? It's a "what-if" plenty of Texas Democrats have played over the years. Also, White's likely move to the governor's race also means two Democrats won't beat each other up in a Senate contest, as longtime Democratic lawmaker John Sharp is raising money as well. 

*** Happy Thanksgiving: Finally, we won't be publishing our morning and afternoon notes Wednesday through Friday, although we'll update the blog as news warrants. Our notes will return on Monday. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Countdown to MA Special Primary: 14 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 56 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 343 days

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