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First Thoughts: Palin vs. the GOP establishment

New pro-Palin documentary attacks GOP establishment and sees parallels between Reagan in 1976 and Palin now… The movie will have a limited regional release on July 15… 24,000 Palin emails get dumped today… Making sense of Team Newt’s mass exodus… How it’s different from McCain’s in ’07… How it potentially benefits Rick Perry, if he runs… And after the news, Romney announces he won’t compete in Ames straw poll… But Romney sang a different tune about it in ’07… Dems, including Bill Clinton, are furious at Weiner… Rubio’s maiden speech on Tuesday… And Santorum to appear on “Meet the Press” this Sunday.

*** Palin vs. the GOP establishment: Much of the upcoming documentary on Sarah Palin, “The Undefeated,” which First Read screened yesterday, is unsurprising. It portrays her reforms in Alaska as heroic, it paints her as a victim of Hollywood liberals and the media (though not as many shots at the media as we expected), and it elevates her as the leader of the Tea Party movement. In short, Palin supporters will love it; Democrats won’t. But the most striking part of the film is its attack on the Republican establishment. “To hell to the establishment,” says conservative activist Andrew Breitbart near the end of the movie. Then come pictures of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor. Breitbart’s beef with the GOP establishment: It didn’t defend Palin from the attacks she received after the ’08 campaign. “I see eunuchs,” he added in the "CODA" of the nearly two-hour movie. (Yes, he said eunuchs, we'll refrain from the obvious Weiner reference, but we digress…)

*** Tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1976: In fact, the film compares the GOP establishment’s attitude toward Palin to how it received Ronald Reagan’s primary challenge against Gerald Ford in 1976. Conservative filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon, who made “The Undefeated,” said in an interview with reporters after the screening that he believes the Republican Party and conservative movement need another 1976. And: “It’s very important for [Palin’s] voice to be in it.” Indeed, Bannon said that the Palin documentary is “the story of a woman who always goes up against the establishment” -- whether it the Alaska establishment, the Democratic establishment, the media establishment, or the GOP establishment. Of course, the potential implication here is that Tea Party supporters still want a fight -- in 2012 -- against the GOP establishment. Bannon is most animated about starting this fight inside the party. Asked whether he wants Palin to run outside the party in some third-party capacity, he quickly ruled that out. Instead, he reinforced his belief -- says he's channeling talk radio host Mark Levin, who appears in the movie as well -- about this need for the conservative movement to have another 1976 moment.

*** Coming to theaters near you in July-August: According to Bannon, the Palin documentary will have a limited regional release by AMC on July 15. And his hope is that strong ticket sales during the limited release will lead to a larger pick-up across the country throughout July and August. It's in the hands of movie-goers to see what kind of interest the movie sparks before AMC decides on a wider release. Back to the plot of the movie… Perhaps the biggest contradiction in the movie: It hails her bipartisan accomplishments in Alaska (on ethics reform, the budget, and key oil and gas measures), but then transitions to her no-holds-barred rhetoric against Democrats and President Obama. As the Atlantic Monthly's Josh Green recently wrote, "Since 2008, Sarah Palin has influenced her party, and the tenor of its politics, perhaps more than any other Republican, but in a way that is almost the antithesis of what she did in Alaska." The movie plays down significantly that she worked more with Democrats in Alaska than many inside the Republican Party.

*** One giant Friday news dump: Speaking of Palin, NBC’s Michael Isikoff reported on “TODAY” this morning that the state of Alaska today will release more than 24,000 Palin emails from her two years as governor, many of them business she conducted from her personal email accounts. The Anchorage Daily News has more: “The emails were first requested during the 2008 White House race by citizens and news organizations as they vetted a vice presidential nominee whose political experience included less than one term as governor of Alaska and a term as mayor of the small town of Wasilla. The nearly three-year delay has been attributed largely to the sheer volume of the release and the flood of requests.”

*** Newt: All by myself: Yes, we know that John McCain still won the GOP nomination after his own campaign exodus in 2007. But there’s one big difference between McCain’s departures and Newt Gingrich’s yesterday: McCain actually FIRED folks in his high command after finding his campaign running low on money, while Newt’s top staffers QUIT. And they quit because it became clear to them that Gingrich wasn’t willing do the things needed to actually win the GOP nomination. One reported complaint was his recent vacation to the Greek isles. Another, per the New York Times, was the promotion of his documentaries. “During a conference call on Wednesday, top strategists confronted Mr. Gingrich over what they believed was a lack of focus. They demanded that he spend 90 percent of his time in three early-voting states and curtail distractions like screenings of his documentaries.” If top campaign aides are questioning the fire in the belly, what does that tell donors and voters?

*** Gingrich’s discipline and judgment: As we wrote earlier, this Gingrich quote from his “Meet the Press” interview last month sums up the state of Gingrich’s campaign: “I think it's fair to say that I'm going to have -- one of the tests on this campaign trail is going to be whether I have the discipline and the judgment to be president. I think that's a perfectly fair question.”

*** The eyes of the Beltway are upon you: So who benefits from this Gingrich news? As we said yesterday, it’s potentially Rick Perry. Two aides who left the campaign -- campaign manager Rob Johnson and strategist Dave Carney -- have previously worked for Perry. And for many of the same reasons we said to take Michele Bachmann seriously, the same holds true for Perry if he runs. The “Summer of Speculation” will turn to Austin, TX for the next few weeks… 

*** Romney says no to the Ames straw poll: Also after the so-called “Newtiny,” Mitt Romney’s campaign announced that the candidate would not be participating in the Ames (IA) straw poll in August, as well as other straw polls in Florida and Michigan. “We respect the straw poll process,” campaign manager Matt Rhoades said in a statement. “In the last presidential campaign we were both strengthened as an organization and learned some important lessons by participating in them. This time we will focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses.” Of course, critics will point to this as yet another change from Romney 2.0 to Romney 3.0, because Romney’s ’08 campaign cared A LOT about the Ames straw poll.

*** What Romney said about the straw poll in ’07: For instance, he said this on FOX in August ’07, per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill: “[I]f you can't compete in Iowa in August, how are you going to compete in January when the caucuses are held, and how are you going to compete in November of '08?” In 2007, moreover, Romney posted a video on his Web site, titled, “Why the Ames Straw Poll is important.” After he won it, his campaign team sent one of those glowing post-straw poll emails, headlined: “What they’re really saying about Governor Mitt Romney winning Iowa Republican Straw Poll.” And in his speech after his straw-poll victory, he said, “Well, it’s too bad the other guys weren’t competing here; if they thought they’d have been successful, they’d have been here. Their decision not to compete here was not a position based on a position of strength… I’m pleased as punch that I won.” While this will give Romney flip-flop headaches, it seems smart strategically because it keeps Pawlenty -- or anyone else -- from getting a big organizational win from the straw poll. In fact, the decision to skip the straw poll ramps up pressure on Pawlenty to win it.

*** Dems furious at Weiner: While embattled Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner seems intent about staying in his job -- and he’s been bolstered by a poll showing that a majority of his constituents say he shouldn’t resign -- we can report that Democratic leaders, including former President Bill Clinton, are frustrated and some even furious at him. The reason: He isn’t doing his party any favors by staying in his job. The VERY few folks advising him to stay are the only folks he is listening to. Monday will be intense for him ,because the House is back and the Democratic caucus may speak as a group. By the way, even Mark Foley is saying he should resign.

*** Rubio’s “maiden” speech: After five months in the Senate, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio is set to deliver his first official speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, NBC’s Libby Leist reports. The Florida senator will be the last of the freshman class to make his/her debut on the floor. He plans to announce the speech today to his supporters via Web video, and he will tell them: "Since our nation's founding, the Senate floor is where our leaders have stood, debated and ultimately made consequential decisions to address the great challenges of their time. Next week, I will have my first chance."

*** Meet’s Sunday lineup: On “Meet the Press” this Sunday, NBC’s David Gregory will interview GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, as well as host a debate between RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. On the program’s weekly “Press Pass,” Gregory interviewed the New York Times’ David Sanger on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 64 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 95 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 151 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 241 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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