Discuss as:

First Thoughts: In need of a Second Act

Obama in need of a Second Act… But so far, especially after a weekend of bad news, the president has been silent… Any regrets for the Republicans who decided against running for president?... First Read no longer sleeps… Huntsman -- who’s been a presidential candidate for just 48 days -- talks about the “grueling, never-ending” campaign… Romney returns to the trail… And Total Recall: Breaking down tomorrow’s recall races in Wisconsin.

*** In need of a Second Act: There have been many ups and downs in President Obama’s first two and half years in the White House. But last week was arguably the worst of his presidency. It began with a debt deal that pleased few and represented retreat after retreat by the administration. Then came the Dow’s 500-point plunge on Thursday (and 800-point loss for the week). Next was S&P’s controversial downgrade of U.S. debt. And finally, on Saturday morning, the nation learned that Taliban forces shot down a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan, killing more than 30 American soldiers. Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative -- it was a trying week for the country, as well as for Obama’s re-election chances. The question is whether the president uses this moment to reassure Democrats (who are worried about his political standing), the U.S. markets (that are reacting to the S&P news), and Americans (who are watching these negative stories unfold). This is a leadership moment. Will Obama seize it?

*** So far, presidential silence: But over the weekend, he was silent, although he released a paper statement about the losses in Afghanistan and his chief spokesman and Treasury secretary reacted to the S&P news. And today, his public schedule is mostly empty except for two fundraisers he attends tonight. He has to say something at some point, right? The S&P story, in particular, is an opportunity if he takes it. Partisans are using it for their own gain -- conservatives say it’s proof that the debt was too large, liberals are calling it the “Tea Party downgrade,” and GOP presidential candidates are happy to make the point that it happened under Obama’s watch. Yet as the president with the bully pulpit, Obama has the ability to call Congress to end its recess; tackle the mix of revenue increases and entitlement reforms that S&P says it wants (and which the White House itself proposed!); and explain what happened. Does he try to revive the “grand bargain”? Does he push the "Tea Party downgrade" talking point? Or does he hunker down for the month under the "We have the long view; you guys in Washington and in the pundit class always over-react to August news"? Bottom line: This feels different than a typical August distraction.

*** Any regrets? With this cascade of bad news, we’ve got to ask: How many Republicans are now regretting not getting into the presidential contest? Haley Barbour? Mitch Daniels? John Thune? Mike Huckabee? Even Mike Pence? If Obama looked formidable three months ago, he looks equally vulnerable now. Then again, those ups and downs are proof that so much can happen in the next 15 months…

*** First Read no longer sleeps: With five days until the Ames Straw Poll, and with NBC embed reporters covering the GOP presidential candidates and early nominating states, First Read no longer sleeps. Over the weekend, we covered Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting in Houston, the mystery donor to that pro-Romney PAC coming forward, and even long-shots Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer campaigning in New Hampshire. And later this morning, per NBC’s Jamie Novogrod, we’ll run a dispatch of Michele Bachmann attending an Iowa church yesterday, where the pastor preached against homosexuality and showed a video testimonial from a man named Adam Hood, who claims to have been gay before experiencing a conversation with God. "I am so happy God has given me natural affection for a woman," Hood said in the video, adding that his wife is nine months pregnant.

*** The grueling, never-ending part of the campaign has yet to really begin: Don’t miss this quote from Jon Huntsman, via Huffington Post: “‘He's never run before,’ he said of [Rick] Perry. ‘So I think he'll find that running for president is a grueling, never ending exercise.’” But get this: Huntsman has only been an official presidential candidate for 48 days now (he announced his bid on June 21). So the grueling, never-ending part of the campaign has yet to really begin… The quote may have SUPPOSED to have been about Perry, but it may have said a lot more about Huntsman. It only feeds the storyline that he's not happy on the trail or with the campaign.

*** Profiling Bachmann: In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza profiles Bachmann. We’ll have more on the piece later, but our early takeaway is this: It provides the road map -- for both a primary and general election -- how her opponents will try and take her on.

*** Romney returns: After his vacation -- and after Politico coined the phrase “Mittness Protection Program -- Romney is back on the campaign trail today, in New Hampshire. WMUR reports: “The former Massachusetts governor will be in Concord Monday morning before heading to Manchester to address the Rotary Club at noon.  Monday night, he's scheduled to hold a town hall meeting at a VFW hall in Nashua.” Per NBC’s Garrett Haake, campaign officials have indicated that Romney will focus almost completely on economic issues, including criticism of the president for Friday's S&P downgrade. In fact, Romney will talk up how Massachusetts' credit rating went UP in his term as governor.

*** On the 2012 trail: Bachmann, Cain, Pawlenty, and Santorum are in Iowa… Romney’s in New Hampshire… And Huntsman’s in South Carolina.

*** Total Recall: Tomorrow brings us the most consequential races in Wisconsin’s recall story. On Tuesday, six GOP state senators who voted for Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) anti-collective-bargaining law -- Robert Cowles, Alberta Darling, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Randy Hopper, and Dan Kapanke -- are receiving challenges from Democrats. To win back control of the state Senate, Democrats have to gain a net of THREE seats, and they believe two of them (Hopper’s and Kapanke’s) are already in the bag, while two others are toss-ups (Darling’s and Olsen’s). If Democrats win three or more races tomorrow, then they must defend two state Senate seats currently held by Democrats facing recalls next week. While some could argue that the recalls are a referendum on Walker or on Democrats’ standing in the Midwest, perhaps the biggest referendum is on organized labor. They’re the ones who are waging the recall battle, and they have more to gain and lose than anybody else.

*** Monday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: CNBC’s John Harwood on S&P’s downgrade and NBC’s Richard Engel from Kabul on the deaths of 30 Americans in Afghanistan… Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe on the economy, jobs and 2012… Newark Mayor Cory Booker on education as part of MSNBC’s “Making the Grade” focus this week… 2012 politics with NBC News campaign reporters on the trail and our panel of USA Today’s Susan Page, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, and former Dem Rep. Robert Wexler.

Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for GOP senators: 1 day
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 5 days
Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for Dem senators: 8 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 36 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 92 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 182 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower