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First Thoughts: Not as bad as you think?

Going “nuclear” might not be as bad as you think… The rules were changed because the rules had already changed (it was no longer good enough for a politician to vote against a nominee’s final passage; the politician also had to deny the nominee 60 votes for consideration)… For GOP to reciprocate, what matters is winning in 2016, not in 2014… Poll: Landrieu is in trouble in Louisiana… Our weekly 2016 wrap… A reminder about Scott Walker: He still has to win re-election in 2014 before he starts running for president… And remembering what happened 50 years ago today.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., arrives for a press conference with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., after the U.S. Senate passed the "nuclear option", a controversial rules change relating to filibusters, at the U.S. Capitol November 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate voted 52-48 to change Senate rules on the filibusters for most presidential nominations with a simple majority vote.

*** Not as bad as you think? By now, you’ve probably heard all the commentary about the Senate Democrats’ “nuclear option” filibuster rules change for presidential nominees. It’s going to make a divided and acrimonious Congress even more divided and acrimonious. Senate Republicans will return the favor -- and maybe even more -- the next time they control both the Senate and White House. And if there was a CHANCE to find common ground on the budget and tax reform, that’s now out the window. Indeed, non-partisan budget analyst Stan Collender says the chances of another government shutdown have increased to 40%. But here’s a counter-intuitive thought: What if the rules change isn’t as bad as everyone thinks? For starters, it’s hard to imagine that Congress can get any more polarized. Next, eliminating the filibuster for presidential appointments might be a relief for the members of GOP’s so-called “Compromise Caucus.” If you’re a Lindsey Graham or Lamar Alexander, aren’t you glad you’re no longer always feeling responsible for having to cast votes for Obama’s nominees, especially with re-election coming up? And then here’s the reaction from Senate Republicans yesterday: Their chief argument against the Democrats’ rules move was that Democrats were creating a distraction from Obamacare. To us, that doesn’t scream, “This is the worst thing ever!!!” What if everyone -- Democrats and Republicans included -- was simply tired about fighting over nominees and they are secretly glad they did something to essentially hit the reset button in how the Senate works?

*** Changing the rules because the rules had already changed: But there was something else that triggered yesterday’s rules change. It used to be that the up-or-down vote was what ultimately mattered. But over the last few years, interest groups and partisan media began holding senators accountable for their cloture votes. It was no longer good enough to simply vote against a nominee on final passage; you also had to vote to deny that nominee the 60 votes needed to even consider the nomination. Just look at the number of cloture votes on presidential nominees (both executive and judicial) by president, according to data from the Congressional Research Service:

Lyndon Johnson: 1
Richard Nixon
: 1
Jimmy Carter: 3
Ronald Reagan: 6
George Bush 41: 1
Bill Clinton: 18
George Bush 43: 38
Barack Obama (through five years): 80-plus

Bottom line: This trend wasn’t going to end. As the numbers show, Republicans dabbled in this obstruction with Clinton; Democrats escalated this during the Bush 43 years; and then Republicans took it to ANOTHER level during the Obama presidency. As special interest groups, left and right, have become more sophisticated with their scorecards and their expectations, 60-vote thresholds were going to become impossible. By the way, another reason Reid may have decided now was the time to pull this trigger: If Republicans do take control of the Senate in 2014, it would mean judicial nominations would probably come to a screeching halt in 2015 and 2016, so this is essentially the Democrats’ last year to impact the makeup of the federal courts.

*** For GOP to reciprocate, what matters is 2016, not 2014: Of course, with this rules change, Republicans can now certainly return the favor the next time they’re in charge of the U.S. Senate. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) even said Republicans would be eyeing the Supreme Court. "So if the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead," Grassley said earlier this month. "There are a lot more Scalias and [Clarence] Thomases that we'd love to put on the bench." But for Republicans to accomplish that feat, they will need to do two things come 2016: 1) win the White House and 2) control the U.S. Senate. As it turns out, Republicans are poised to make Senate gains in the 2014 midterms -- and maybe even win control of the chamber -- due to the favorable battleground. The key Senate contests are in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. But 2016 is a different story. In that '16 cycle -- a presidential year -- Republicans will have to defend more Senate seats (24) than Democrats will (10). What's more, the turf is on more Democratic ground. Republicans up for re-election in 2016 include Illinois' Mark Kirk, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Florida's Marco Rubio, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, and Ohio’s Rob Portman.

*** Poll: Landrieu is in trouble: A well-regarded Louisiana poll released yesterday, from Southern Media & Opinion Research, shows Sen. Mary Landrieu in pretty rough shape after the botched rollout of the health-care law’s exchanges. According to the poll, her fav/unfav is now at 46%-51% when it was 56%-41% in the spring. What’s more, she draws just 41% of the vote in a three-way trial heat with two GOP challengers (remember, Louisiana holds a jungle primary, top two advance if no one gets 50%). By the way, Landrieu’s GOP challengers collectively outpoll her 44%-41%. And the Affordable Care Act is a negative in Louisiana, with just 34% of voters “for” it. But these might be the most interesting numbers in the poll: White Democrats account for just 22% of Louisiana’s electorate right now, down from 40% in 1996, the first time Landrieu won election to the Senate. That said, GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal also is unpopular in the state -- his approval rating is just 42%, but that was actually an improvement for him.

*** Our weekly 2016 wrap: On Thursday, Hillary Clinton spoke at the Greenbuild International Conference in Philadelphia, telling the audience that “there will be a ‘course correction’ to fix the ongoing gridlock in Washington but it is up to voters to reject politicians who are unwilling to compromise,” NBC’s Andrew Rafferty writes… New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took over the reins of the Republican Governors Association at its annual meeting this week in Scottsdale, AZ… Per NBC’s Kasie Hunt, Ted Cruz is meeting today with Donald Trump (!!!)… And Scott Walker has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with this provocative headline: “Scott Walker: How to Win the Obama-Walker Voters.” He writes, “In the wake of the 2012 elections, Republicans are being warned once again that they need to compromise their principles to win at the ballot box. That the only way to win the center is to move to the center. If this were true, Barack Obama would not be president today—and I would not be governor of Wisconsin.”

*** A reminder about Scott Walker and 2016: He still has to run one more time: Here’s an additional point on Walker: He could very well have the best resume for ANY Republican running for president in 2016 if he wins re-election next year. He will have won a presidential battleground state three times in five years; he’ll be from the Midwest and has that Midwestern temperament; and he might have the best opportunity of all the Republicans to unite the Tea Party with the GOP establishment. But he still has to face Wisconsin voters ONE MORE time. That’s not an easy task, especially when begin to flex your presidential muscles. We remember ex-Sen. George Allen (R-VA) flexing his presidential muscles in 2005. How did that turn out? He lost his bid for re-election the next year. Voters don’t always look too kindly on politicians that may have their eye on another election rather than the one in front of them.

*** Remembering what happened 50 years ago today: Finally, today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, TX. Be sure to tune into NBC and MSNBC, or click on to NBCNews.com, for our coverage. Some of the best specials you’ll see anywhere… From Brokaw on NBC to Matthews on MSNBC… good stuff for junkies