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First Thoughts: Know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em

More GOPers coming to the conclusion that they should fold their fiscal cliff hand to live another day… What a Tuesday in the battle for the heart and soul of GOP (rejection of UN treaty, Bush speech on immigration, speeches by 2016ers)… 2016 and going in the opposite direction: Rubio focuses on middle class, Ryan implicitly criticizes “47%”… DSCC gets their guy (Michael Bennet) and keeps the other Guy (Cecil, that is)… And meet Krysten Sinema.

With a little over three weeks to go, NBC's Chuck Todd weighs in on the state of negotiations and the difference between the two plans proposed by Republicans and Democrats as the fiscal cliff deadline looms.

*** Know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em: More Republicans and conservatives are coming to the conclusion that they have a bad hand to play in the fiscal battle with Democrats and the Obama White House (see John Podhoretz in today’s New York Post and the Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll). And what does a smart poker player usually do when holding a bad hand? You fold to live another day. It’s what Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) pushed for last week, which got universally poo-poo’d by the GOP leadership. Now?  The New York Times reports that GOP members and leaders are considering extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class -- but resuming the larger fight over the budget and spending when it’s time to raise the debt ceiling. “There’s always better ground, but you have to get there,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) told the Times. The good news here: If you don’t want to go off the cliff, then it’s clear Republicans won’t dig in; they are talking about a way out. The bad news: Such a move only postpones the real fight. If Republicans do pursue this path, they’ll have a stronger hand to play politically than they currently do now (because the middle-class tax cuts would be off the table). But the White House would also still have some cards to play (over the eventual tax rates in any kind of tax reform, the estate tax, and a willingness to budge on entitlements). Remember, the debt ceiling standoff in July 2011 was bad of the president, but it was worse for the GOP’s brand.

*** Playing to the base, Part 2: We wrote yesterday that the initial fiscal-cliff offers from the White House (last week) and House Republicans (on Monday) seemed more like efforts geared at the bases than at real negotiating. But there was one big difference between the two offers: Democrats and liberals mostly cheered the White House’s proposal, while some Republicans and conservatives criticized the House GOP one. Example: "Speaker Boehner's $800 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more, while not reducing our $16 trillion debt by a single penny," Republican Sen. Jim DeMint said in a statement, per NBC’s Mike O’Brien. In Reason, Peter Suderman had a good take on the two offers. “Both opening bids are best understood as positioning statements rather than actual stabs at putting together a viable deal. They tell you as much about how the parties want to be perceived than they do about what might actually make up the substance of an eventual agreement: Obama wants to be seen as strong. Republicans want to be seen as reasonable.”

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks during the lighting ceremony of the 2012 Capitol Christmas Tree Dec. 4, 2012 at the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

*** What a Tuesday in the battle for the heart and soul of the GOP: Yesterday was a pretty amazing day in the fight for control of shaping the Republican Party going forward. So you had the pragmatists (as mentioned above) urging GOP lawmakers to fold on extending the Bush tax cuts on income above $250,000. You had Senate Republicans rejecting a U.N. treaty banning discrimination against those with disabilities because of concerns that it would impact America’s sovereignty. (Essentially, a bunch of Senate Republicans were running scared of the Tea Party/Ron Paul crowd. Just one GOP senator up in 2014, Susan Collins from Maine, voted for the treaty, but every other 2014 GOP senator voted no. And one of them, Thad Cochran, voted yes at first and then when he saw it was going down, switched.) But you also had George W. Bush urging Washington to soften its rhetoric on immigration. And then you had addresses by potential 2016ers Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, who tried to distance themselves from the image and message of Romney’s failed presidential campaign (more on that below).

*** 2016 and going in the opposite direction: After losing a presidential election, it’s only natural for a political party to begin looking in the opposite direction. So in the wake of longtime Sen. Bob Dole’s defeat in 1996, Republicans eventually turned to a relatively young governor with new ideas for the GOP (George W. Bush). After John Kerry lost in 2004, Democrats later nominated an exciting and history-making figure (Barack Obama). And on the heels of Sen. John McCain’s defeat after the economic collapse of 2008, Republicans this year turned to a former governor with management experience and a business background (Mitt Romney). This is the context to understand last night’s speeches at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner by potential 2016ers Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, both of whom tried to distance themselves from the image of Romney’s campaign -- even though Ryan served as Romney’s running mate.

*** Rubio and the middle class: For his part, Rubio focused much of speech on re-building the middle class. “The existence of a large and vibrant American middle class goes to the very essence of America’s exceptional identity. Every country has rich people. But only a few places have achieved a vibrant and stable middle class. And in the history of the world, none has been more vibrant and more stable than the American middle class,” he said last night. “Government has a role to play. And we must make sure it does its part. But it’s a supporting role… It is not the ever expanding reach of government, but rather having access to the benefits of thriving economy that allows the poor to rise into the middle class. Not by making rich people poorer, but by making poor people richer.” Why is this messaging significant? According to the exit polls from last month’s election, Obama beat Romney by 10 points (53%-43%) on which candidate was more in touch with people like you. In addition, 53% said Romney’s policies would favor the rich (versus just 10% who said the same about Obama).

*** Ryan and his implicit critique of 47 percent: Meanwhile, in his first public speech since losing the presidential contest, Paul Ryan praised Romney, per NBC’s Alex Moe. “And though I wish this election had turned out differently, I’m proud of the campaign Mitt Romney and I ran. He would have been a great president, and it would have been an honor to serve this country at his side.” But Ryan also appeared to distance himself from Romney’s infamous “47%” comment, as well as the GOP presidential nominee’s analysis that he lost the election because Obama showered “gifts” on African Americans and Latinos. “Both parties tend to divide Americans into ‘our voters’ and ‘their voters,’” he said. “But Republicans must steer far clear of that trap. We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American.” And Ryan also said this in his speech: “Losing is part of politics, and can often prepare the way for the greatest victories.”

*** DSCC gets their guy (Bennet) and also keeps their other Guy (Cecil, that is): Also yesterday, Democrats announced that Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) will chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee next cycle – as the party tries to hold onto its majority. And current DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil, who headed Bennet’s successful 2010 campaign, will stay in his post.

*** Meet Krysten Sinema: NBC’s Carrie Dann has profiled 10 fresh faces to watch in the new Congress, and we’ll be previewing one of these each day. Today’s profile: Incoming Arizona congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema. Dann writes: “Fresh off a nasty campaign in which opponents painted her as a hippie who enjoys the occasional ‘pagan ritual,’ Arizona freshman Kyrsten Sinema is no stranger to tough campaigns. The first openly bisexual member of Congress, Sinema -- who served as an Arizona state house member and senator -- can also boast leading a 2006 effort to defeat a same-sex marriage ban ballot initiative in Arizona. The 36-year-old social worker, who once quipped that she's a ‘Prada socialist’ in a magazine interview, jousted with Gov. Jan Brewer on education issues during her tenure in the legislature, warranting a hefty contribution from the governor's political action committee to Sinema's opponents. Education policy, jobs, and addressing foreclosures will be her top priorities as a federal lawmaker. Sinema's spokesman recently told The New York Times that the new congresswoman, who was raised a Mormon, supports a ‘secular approach’ to government.”

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