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First Thoughts: What we learned this week

What we learned this week in the early ’12 presidential race… If the goal of yesterday’s health-care speech was to put the health issue behind him, then the address was an “un-Mitt-igated” failure… The strongest part of the speech: his defense of MA’s mandate; the weakest part: why the federal government shouldn’t do the same… Flip-flopping vs. sticking to your guns… Bush World wants Daniels in the race… Yet another sign Huckabee isn’t running… Ron Paul makes it official… Team Obama woos the Latino vote… An emboldened GOP on the debt ceiling… WV GOV primary is tomorrow… And mark your calendars: A discussion on covering the Middle East takes place on Tuesday, May 17.

 *** What we learned this week: In what might have been one of the busiest weeks to date of the early 2012 presidential race, we learned several things. For starters, we discovered that despite President Obama getting a bump in the polls after Osama bin Laden’s death, current attitudes about the economy (and especially gas prices) have tempered the size of that bump. We found out that the White House wants to make immigration and Latino outreach a BIG ’12 topic, even though there aren’t the votes in Congress to pass any kind of immigration reform this Congress. We learned that health care isn’t going away as an issue for Romney, not by a long shot. We also saw that Newt Gingrich -- despite his absence over the past few weeks -- is now officially in the race. So, too, is Ron Paul, who made it official on ABC this morning. And if we weren't totally sure BushWorld was firmly for Mitch Daniels getting into the race, we do now. 

*** An “un-Mitt-igated” failure? If the goal of yesterday’s speech was to put health care behind him, then Romney’s address yesterday was an un-Mitt-igated failure. The strongest part of his speech was his defense of the Massachusetts health law, especially its individual mandate. “I … recognize that a lot of pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up say this whole thing was a mistake,” he said. “But there's only one problem with that: It wouldn't be honest.” As Politico's Ben Smith observed, Romney's defense was similar to Hillary Clinton's on Iraq in 2007-08 -- don't apologize and move on. (Pawlenty, on the other hand, has taken the Edwards-like position when it comes to cap-and-trade -- apologize.) Of course, Hillary had the burden of trying to become the nation’s first female commander-in-chief. The weakest part of the speech was his insistence that a state-based mandate is different from a federal-based one. It’s STILL a mandate. Moreover, how is a mandate a good thing in one state, while a “power grab” if extended federally? Can the U.S. really drive down its health-care costs if one state insures everyone and another doesn't, forcing taxpayers and emergency rooms to pick up the tab in one state or more?

NBC's Domenico Montanaro looks at whether Mitt Romney can overcome his health-care problem, does Ron Paul have a chance, and what does Bush support mean for Mitch Daniels?

*** Flip-flopping vs. sticking to your guns: Yet here’s a question to ponder: Would it have been better for Romney to have apologized for his Massachusetts law (what the Wall Street Journal editorial page wanted him to do), or stick to his guns? After what we saw in ’08, another instance of flip-flopping was probably worse than sticking to his guns. However, it was pretty clear that the Wall Street Journal editorial got under his skin; the start of his PowerPoint presentation struck us as tentative and defensive. And then he fired off a letter to Paul Gigot and Co.. “I was not surprised to read yet another editorial in the Journal yesterday criticizing the health-care reforms we enacted in Massachusetts,” he wrote. “I was, however, not expecting the distortions of what we accomplished.”

*** Bush World wants Daniels in the race: The twin speeches that Mitch Daniels and his wife, Cheri, gave at last night’s Indiana GOP dinner were hardly political, NBC’s Lauren Selsky notes. But what WAS political was the news, via CBS, that former First Lady Laura Bush “called Cheri Daniels personally to encourage her to support the effort [of a Daniels presidential bid] and offer advice on how to define what her role on the campaign--and potentially in the White House--would be.” CBS also reported that Gov. Daniels “has been assured backing from big-money donors who supported George W. Bush, in addition to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as well as top sitting Republican governors.” We can report that for months, Bushies have quietly been urging him to run, in fact, other candidates who have jumped in have been told this when making their own obligatory treks to Texas. It’s clear that Bush World is ramping up the pressure on Daniels to get in. If he does decide to get into the race, he’s going to have to demonstrate that he wants to do this. If he doesn’t get in, he’s going to leave a very big vacuum. As Politico’s Martin writes, “It’s becoming a recurring pattern: the more supporters of Mitch Daniels attempt to pump him up, the less he appears to want to run for president.”

*** Yet another sign Huckabee isn’t running: Is this what a serious presidential candidate does? The New York Daily News reports that Mike Huckabee has launched a new education company that sells animated history videos for kids. The first video: “n the teaser, a group of kids take a time travel machine to the recession-troubled 1970s, where they're confronted by a knife-wielding thug wearing a ‘disco’ shirt. They then learn how Ronald Reagan ‘swiftly changed the course of the nation.’ In another clip, a woman at a campaign rally exclaims the Reagan ‘believes we can do anything! We just need to get the government out of the way.’” Explain to us how this isn’t propaganda…

*** Paul makes it official: Ron Paul made his presidential campaign official. “I am officially announcing that I am a candidate for president in the Republican primary,” he told ABC this morning. Why run again after two other failed bids? Paul answered that more and more people are agreeing with what he has to say. Why did he say he would have conducted the raid against Osama bin Laden differently? He said that it was “antagonistic” toward Pakistan. On why, as a libertarian, he doesn’t believe in FEMA: “I don’t think someone in New York or New Hampshire has to pay for my flood on the Gulf Coast.” Paul holds a rally at 10:00 am ET today in Exeter, NH. He also appears on MSNBC’s “Hardball” at 5:00 pm ET.

*** Elsewhere on the 2012 trail: Cain is in Austin, TX… Gingrich delivers two speeches (one in DC to the annual Washington Conference and another in Macon, GA to the Georgia GOP convention)… And Pawlenty is in Iowa. 

*** Wooing the Latino vote: On the Democratic side, want proof of the message discipline that David Plouffe has brought to the White House? Just look at how committed they are on reaching out to the Latino community. This week alone, President Obama delivered a speech on immigration reform, he attended the Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, and he sat down for an interview with Telemundo. And this follows previous meetings the White House has had with stakeholders in the immigration-reform debate and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. But if it were about one week, it wouldn't be THAT impressive on the discipline front. Instead, look at the president's schedule over the last mont -- a slew of meetings with key Latinos, trying to reassure them that the president has NOT backed off on key promises.

*** An emboldened GOP on the debt ceiling: Regarding the debate over the debt ceiling, it shouldn’t be surprising that Republicans feel emboldened and have ramped up their rhetoric and demands. The reason: There is no hurry -- right now.  However, if we’re still hearing this in July, then there’s a problem.

*** WV GOV primary is tomorrow: By the way, tomorrow is the special gubernatorial primary in West Virginia. The general election is on Oct. 4.

*** Mark your calendars: This Tuesday in DC, NBC’s David Gregory will moderate a discussion -- featuring NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Ron Allen, the New York Times’ Helene Cooper, NPR’s Andy Carvin, and the U.S. State Department’s Alec Ross -- on covering the Middle East.

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 11 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 92 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 123 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 179 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 269 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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