BY CHUCK TODD, MARK MURRAY and LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, NBC News
(NBC News) - Another Bush-vs.-Rubio fight sets the stage for tonight's GOP debate: Tonight's fourth Republican presidential debate picks up where the last one left off -- with Jeb Bush in desperate need of a strong showing, and with his team (this time his Super PAC) picking a fight with Marco Rubio. The Right to Rise Super PAC "has filmed a provocative video casting his rival Marco Rubio as ultimately unelectable because of his hard-line stand against abortion," the New York Times reported last night. "That group, which has raised more than $100 million, has asked voters in New Hampshire how they feel about Mr. Rubio's skipping important votes in the Senate. And the group's chief strategist has boasted of his willingness to spend as much as $20 million to damage Mr. Rubio's reputation and halt his sudden ascent in the polls, according to three people told of the claim." In response, the Rubio campaign has released a brand-new online ad in response to the New York Times article, and it's full of instances where Bush has praised Rubio. "I'm a huge Marco fan," Bush says at the ad's end.
Is the Bush Super PAC telegraphing its attack on Rubio? Or is it internal sabotage? Why would the Right to Rise folks leak this story out, especially before tonight's debate? It was our understanding that -- after the last debate -- Jeb World acknowledged that they couldn't take Rubio on again until Bush had improved his poll position. Given that this New York Times story feels more damaging to Jeb than to Rubio, we wonder if there's some internal sabotage going on. Did someone with knowledge of Right to Rise's abortion video on Rubio give the story to the Times? Or did it come from pro-Rubio folks who knew about the video? Regardless of the source, that Times article only puts more pressure on Bush tonight.
Will Trump go after Carson? So Bush-vs.-Rubio (again!) is one of tonight's storylines. Another is that Donald Trump is likely to come after Ben Carson. In fact, Trump previewed his line of attack on "Meet the Press" last Sunday. "Well, I feel badly for Ben. I've gotten to like Ben. And it's a tough thing. I mean, he writes a book where he went after his mother, hit her on the head, or wanted to hit her on the head with a hammer. Hitting a friend in the face with a lock, with a padlock, hard in the face, stabbing somebody, only to be broken up by a belt buckle," Trump said. "And when he writes that he has pathological disease in a book, now he obviously wrote this book prior to thinking about running for office, I assume. But he said he has pathological disease." Our prediction: Trump senses weakness, and he's going for it.
Plan? Who needs a stinkin' plan? The Super PAC for another participant in tonight's Fox Business/Wall Street Journal debate, Carly Fiorina, is out with a video defending her statement on "Meet the Press" that she doesn't need a tax plan -- or any other plan. "Anybody can write a plan," replaying what Fiorina said on "Meet" on Sunday. "How often do politicians put out detailed plans? How often do they get enacted? Never. That's the problem." The other three participants in tonight's main debate, which begins on Fox Business at 9:00 pm ET, are Ted Cruz (who has been climbing in the polls), John Kasich (who started off strong in the last debate but faded after that), and Rand Paul (who has to avoid being the next Republican cut from the main debate stage).
On the eve of Veterans Day, the only veteran in the GOP race isn't participating in either the main debate or the undercard: Meanwhile, per MSNBC's Anthony Terrell, the Super PAC supporting Lindsey Graham is out with a TV ad shaming debate organizers from excluding the senator from even the undercard debate. "On the eve of Veterans Day, Republicans gather to debate the important issues facing our great nation," the ad goes. "Yet the only veteran in the field has been silenced: Sen. Lindsey Graham -- retired Air Force colonel, national security expert, the only candidate with a realistic plan to destroy ISIS, ready to serve as commander-in-chief on day one. America needs Lindsey Graham's voice." The four participants at tonight's undercard debate: Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal.
A reminder: The FBI isn't finished investigating Clinton's emails: Turning to the Democratic contest, we received a reminder today that the Clinton email story isn't over -- at least when it comes to the FBI's investigation of the matter. Politico: "Even as Hillary Clinton tries to put questions about her private email server behind her, the FBI has stepped up inquiries into the security of the former Secretary of State's home-made email system, and how aides communicated over email, POLITICO has learned. The FBI's recent moves suggest that its inquiry could have evolved from the preliminary fact-finding stage that the agency launches when it receives a credible referral, according to former FBI and DOJ officials inteviewed by POLITICO." Of course, this article comes just days after another Politico piece noted that the intelligence community's inspector general -- who seemed to spur the FBI's involvement here -- retreated from its original claim that Clinton's emails contained top-secret information.
It looks like Obama's executive actions on immigration are headed to the Supreme Court: "President Barack Obama's plan to protect from deportation an estimated 5 million people living in the United States illegally, suffered another setback in court on Monday," the AP writes. "In a 2-1 decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a Texas-based judge's injunction blocking the Obama administration's immigration initiative." As NBC's Pete Williams said on "Today" this morning, it's likely the Obama administration will appeal to the Supreme Court. And guess what: That means we could be headed for a late June 2016 ruling -- just days before the Republican convention in Cleveland. Who knows where the GOP race is. But we will know that how this ruling goes will impact the fight for Latino support.
On the trail: Clinton continues to campaign in New Hampshire… Rand Paul, before the debate, holds a school-choice roundtable in Milwaukee… And Rick Santorum, in Chicago, delivers a speech on manufacturing.