Discuss as:

First Thoughts: The center cannot hold

It isn’t a great time to be a moderate in Congress -- or even to be perceived as one… Revisiting the state of the GOP brand… New Q-polls show Obama ahead of Romney (and at 50% or above) in FL, OH, and PA… Is it time to acknowledge that PA isn’t a toss-up state?... Romney returns back the U.S. and pens National Review op-ed -- on “culture” -- contradicting what he told FOX… Harry Reid on Romney’s taxes… And Cruz Control: Ted Cruz defeats David Dewhurst in GOP run-off.

*** The center cannot hold: These days, this isn’t a great time to be a moderate in Congress. And as we found out in Texas last night, it isn’t a great time to be perceived as a moderate, either. In announcing yesterday that he won’t seek re-election in November, Ohio GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette -- one of the most pro-labor Republicans in Congress -- bemoaned the partisanship on Capitol Hill. “I have reached the conclusion that the atmosphere today, and the reality that exists in the House of Representatives, no longer encourages the finding of common ground,” he said, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. A day earlier, fellow GOP Rep. Richard Hanna of New York told the Syracuse Post-Standard’s editorial board that his party is too willing to cater to the ideological extreme. “I have to say that I’m frustrated by how much we — I mean the Republican Party — are willing to give deferential treatment to our extremes in this moment in history,” referring to Michele Bachmann’s political witch hunt against a top State Department aide.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

In this file photo Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, gestures during an interview with the Associated Press in his on Capitol Hill.

*** That’s especially true when “moderate” becomes a four-letter word: And earlier this year, GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine channeled those same sentiments when she announced her upcoming retirement. “I do find it frustrating,” Snowe said, “that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.” In the years since we began covering politics in Washington, the job requirement for a member of Congress or senator has fundamentally changed. It’s no longer about bringing home deliverables to your state or congressional district (like roads, bridges, or new schools). Instead, it’s about scoring ideological points and waging partisan crusades. And that kind of environment isn’t friendly territory for moderates. The TV ad that Club for Growth aired against David Dewhurst in Texas -- labeling him as a moderate, even though he’s as conservative as Gov. Rick Perry -- tells you all you need to know right now. In fact, we’re pretty sure political scientists will use it 30 years from now to illustrate how conservative the GOP has currently become. By the way, a reminder on LaTourette: His primary had ALREADY PASSED! He was a shoo-in for re-election.

*** Revisiting the GOP brand: A final point here: One of the most underreported stories of this presidential election is how the Republican brand is in FAR WORSE shape than the Democratic brand. In our most recent NBC/WSJ poll, the GOP’s fav/unfav was 34%-43% vs. the Democrats’ 40%-40%. Indeed, the GOP has had a worse fav/unfav than the Democrats in every single NBC/WSJ poll (that’s 14 of them!!!) since Jan. 2011, after Republicans won control of the House. So as the Tea Party/grassroots/anti-establishment conservative wing of the GOP has become MORE powerful, the GOP’s overall brand image has gone down, especially with indies. It is hard not to believe these two facts aren’t connected. And this raises the question: Will this be a drag on Romney? Or here’s another way to put it: How can this not be a drag on him? Help us out with this riddle: When was the last time a presidential candidate won when their party was viewed MORE unfavorably than the other side?

*** Obama ahead (and at 50% or above) in FL, OH, and PA: We wrote yesterday how important August will be for Romney, especially after his rough July. And new polls in three important battleground states (well, make that 2 ½ battleground states) drive that point home. Brand new Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS surveys show Obama leading Romney among likely voters in Florida (51%-45%), Ohio (50%-44%), and Pennsylvania (53%-42%). And with that new polling, it turns out that President Obama begins a two-day swing through two of those states -- Ohio and Florida. Obama holds campaign events in Mansfield, OH at 11:40 am ET and Akron, OH at 3:55 pm ET. And tomorrow, he hits Winter Park, FL (the Orlando area) and Leesburg, VA. With the president’s stop in Mansfield, the Romney campaign and Republicans are seizing on reports that the airfield where Air Force One will land is potentially subject to being closed down by Pentagon budget cuts.

*** Is it time to acknowledge that Pennsylvania isn’t a toss-up state right now? And given those poll numbers for Pennsylvania, we want to make an additional point: Why does the political press continue to treat the Keystone State as a toss-up state even as the campaigns don’t? In fact, neither the Obama campaign nor the Romney camp is currently advertising in Pennsylvania. And the Obama campaign has placed all of their TV ads for the next month, dropping PA from their buy list. So while the campaigns are treating the state like it’s Lean Obama, the political world seems to suggest it’s a toss-up. Maybe the campaigns know something we don’t know…  

*** Back in the USA: As for Romney, he returned to the United States early last night. And Politico’s Jonathan Martin had a good take on the candidate’s overseas trip. “It was, like much of Romney’s campaign to date, an up-and-down affair, with moments in which he projected real gravitas and looked every bit a president-in-waiting and other times when he appeared to be utterly tone deaf and unprepared for the rigors and scrutiny that comes with seeking the White House.” Meanwhile, Romney wrote a National Review op-ed -- entitled “Culture Does Matter” -- in which he doubled down on those controversial comments at that fundraiser in Israel. “During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it,” he said in the op-ed. But those words contradict what he told FOX right before he left Poland yesterday. "I'm not speaking about it, did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy that's an interesting topic that deserves scholarly analysis, but I actually didn't address that. Certainly don't intend to address that in my campaign. Instead, I will point out are that the choices that a society makes has a profound impact on the economy and the vitality of that society." One more foreign policy note: Romney made it clear that he will be the first American president in a generation that does not view the U.S. as being THE most important meditator in the Mideast Peace Process. Question: So if the U.S. doesn’t facilitate the Middle East peace, who will?

*** Today’s back-and-forth: The Romney campaign and RNC are up with a new TV ad hitting Obama on the closure of GM auto dealerships associated with the auto bailout… They also are hitting the White House and Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina for this Politico story highlighting the administration’s lack of transparency…. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign had a new TV ad essentially tying Romney to Bush… And the DNC has a new video containing negative news coverage -- from TV affiliates in battleground states -- of Romney’s overseas trip.

*** Harry Reid on Romney’s taxes: In an interview with the Huffington Post, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that an anonymous Bain investor told him that Romney didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years. "He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," Reid said. "But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?” But we want to take two points here. One, Reid’s charge is a low blow -- akin to asking “When did you stop beating your wife?” It’s dirty pool, folks. Two, what Reid said is precisely why the story about Romney’s tax returns won’t go away anytime soon… 

*** Cruz Control: And as we alluded to above, Ted Cruz defeated David Dewhurst in the GOP Senate run-off in Texas last night, 57%-43%. One thing that shouldn’t be ignored is how last night was a perfect storm for Cruz’s victory, especially a low turnout run-off in late July.

Countdown to GOP convention: 26 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 33 days
Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 63 days
Countdown to VP debate: 71 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 76 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 82 days
Countdown to Election Day: 97 days

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