Trump And Moore Wins might Push Chris McDaniel Toward Another Run For Senate In Mississippi

Chris McDaniel is keeping a close eye on the U.S. Senate race in neighboring Alabama as he mulls whether to mount his own Trump-style bid to challenge Sen. Roger F. Wicker in the Republican primary in Mississippi next year.

Sitting in his law office in Laurel, Mr. McDaniel, a state senator, said the political environment is “10 times better” for a candidate in his mold than it was three years ago, when he nearly toppled Sen. Thad Cochran, a six-term senator, in an ugly primary battle.

Since then, Donald Trump’s stunning presidential victory and Alabama Republican Roy Moore’s bid for a Senate seat have told Mr. McDaniel that the Washington establishment is still missing what the voters are saying.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican Party strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, doubted whether the Alabama election will have implications for other insurgents. He said Mr. Moore had 30 years of name ID and a loyal band of followers.

“And, frankly, when you are an insurgent candidate, you just can’t buy that support,” Mr. O’Connell said. “In Mississippi, if Wicker decides he wants to run for re-election, and I have no reason to believe he doesn’t, the establishment old guard in that state knows how to circle the wagons and protect their guy. See Thad Cochran.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times

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Bias Allegations In Robert Mueller's Probe Offer Trump Allies A New Counterargument

A series of bias allegations and media errors related to the Russia probe this week offered President Trump’s allies the opportunity to push back on a controversy that has begun to ensnare members of the president’s inner circle.

White House officials received a gift from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team this week in the form of revelations about questionable behavior exhibited by an investigator and an attorney attached to the Russia probe.

A former member of Mueller’s outfit, investigator Peter Strzok, received a demotion this summer after he allegedly sent anti-Trump, pro-Hillary Clinton text messages to his mistress, who was also an FBI employee. Strzok played a prominent role in the bureau’s Clinton email investigation before he joined Mueller’s team, multiple outlets reported this week.

A prosecutor presently on Mueller’s legal team sent an email to former acting Attorney General Sally Yates in late January praising her decision to defy Trump’s travel ban executive order, according to documents released to conservative group Judicial Watch this week.

But, the White House remained largely silent on the string of developments, leaving its allies and supporters to begin prosecuting the case against Mueller’s investigation.

“Outside of tweets and a comment here and there, in most cases, the push back won't come with the White House's fingerprints directly on it,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

“It’s one of these things where it’s tough, because you don’t know what the scope of the entire probe is and tomorrow could be something totally new, but you do have to keep a narrative going, to be distrustful of what you hear in terms of a lot of news coverage of it.”

O’Connell said allies of the president appear to have borrowed a page from “Bill Clinton’s handbook,” referring to the former president’s efforts to delegitimize the special counsel who investigated his own activities in the 1990s. Clinton and his wife worked to paint the special counsel, Kenneth Starr, as an element of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” they believed Republicans created to destroy the Clinton presidency.

Read more from Sarah Westwood at The Washington Examiner

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Franken’s Resignation, And Dems' New 'Purity,' Is A Political Stunt

Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) speech Wednesday on the Senate floor, in which he vowed to resign “in the coming weeks,” created more questions than it answered. 

Why didn’t Franken resign on the spot? Why didn’t he apologize or express even a little remorse for his actions? Why walk away from the seat if, as he said, he still thought the Senate ethics committee was the right venue to adjudicate his case? 

And what are we to make of this situation? Not to be cynical, but Democrats forcing Franken out is hardly a profile in political courage. In fact, it was an easy call. They lose nothing politically. They are not in power in Washington, D.C., and Mark Dayton, the Democratic governor of Minnesota, will appoint one of his own party — most likely Lt. Gov. Tina Smith — to the seat until a special election is held. 

In reality, this is nothing more than a political stunt designed to make the GOP look bad and to make Roy Moore, the Republican running for Senate from Alabama, the “hood ornament” of the GOP heading into the 2018 midterms, should Moore prevail in the Dec. 12 special election. 

This, and the forced resignation of octogenarian Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., represent Democrats’ attempt to clear out alleged bad actors so it can resurrect its “war on women” theme in coming campaigns — this time around the issue of sexual harassment. It won’t be easy — the dizzying pace of sexual harassment scandals has rocked both parties with no end in sight.

It also is an attempt to create a precedent that all politicians accused of sexual misconduct of any kind must resign, that, of course, Democrats want to apply to President Trump in the 2020 campaign or before.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at The Hill

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Not Your Parents' GOP

The Republican revolution of 1994 led onetime Democratic Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama to switch parties and become a proud member of the GOP. Next week's election in Alabama may define the beginning of the end of the senior senator's party as he's known it.

On one side are the firebrands, the ones who tacitly (or not so tacitly) affirm the views of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who have held rallies around the nation. They are the ones who have defended Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore, saying the accused child molester is the more moral contender in the race because he opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.

On the other side is the so-called "establishment," the ones who wish Moore would just go away and who are aching to pass tax cuts and other conservative agenda items that were stymied for the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency.

But instead of being an embarrassing subject of the party, the fringe elements are capturing control of the GOP's image, if not its entire agenda. The distinguished Shelby says he wrote in another Republican for the open Senate seat but acknowledges there's nothing he can do to keep his home state from sending Moore to Washington.

"I think they're driving the dialogue," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell says of the far-right wing of the party – and it's because establishment Republicans need them, or think they need them, to govern. "One of the reasons you're seeing these folks drive the agenda, and other people are passively on board, is that there's a unique sense among Republican voters that like it or not, this is their best chance to get something done.

"They may not agree. They may not be happy with the president. I think what they're hoping is that winning is going to cure all, because losing hasn't cured anything for the Republican Party," adds O'Connell, who worked on the John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign in 2008.

Read more from Susan Milligan at U.S. News & World Report

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The Right Thing To Do Or 'Political Stunt'? Experts Disagree On Franken Resignation

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., became the second prominent Democrat this week to resign in disgrace under pressure from his own party after being accused of sexual misconduct Wednesday, a development the outgoing senator eagerly contrasted with the Republican National Committee boosting support for a Senate candidate facing allegations of predatory behavior.

In a defensive speech on the Senate floor, Franken maintained that many allegations against him are untrue and he believes he would have prevailed in an Ethics Committee investigation, but he acknowledged he cannot effectively serve his constituents while fighting that battle. He will therefore resign “in the coming weeks.”

Earlier in the week, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., announced he was retiring immediately amid growing sexual harassment claims against him. Some Democrats are also pressing Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., to step down over alleged improper behavior toward a campaign fundraiser.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell took a more cynical view of what he deemed a “political stunt.” 

“I would say the Democrats forcing out Sen. Franken is hardly a profile in political courage. It was an easy call. They lose nothing politically,” he said, noting that both Franken and Conyers will be replaced by Democrats.

None of this changes the political calculations for Republicans who are backing Moore, according to O’Connell, because they see through Democrats’ strategy.

“They want to make Roy Moore the hood ornament that they can tie around Republicans’ necks as they head into the 2018 elections,” he said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at WJLA

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Michael Flynn Plea Overtakes Trump's Big Win On Tax Reform

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea on Friday to one charge of lying to FBI agents eclipsed a week of relative successes for President Trump and raised questions about how the White House would respond to the first criminal charges against someone who once worked in the West Wing.

During a week that saw President Trump win a legal battle over control of a federal agency, successfully advance one of his top legislative priorities, and score an optics win by hosting a Christmas party that some reporters boycotted, Flynn’s indictment on one count of making false statements to investigators still emerged as the most explosive story of the past five days.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said the speculation surrounding Flynn’s cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller would create uncomfortable headlines for the president but wouldn’t derail the tax reform agenda currently making its way through Congress.

“No one on Capitol Hill is going to go, ‘Oh, gee, Flynn copped a plea, now I’m not going to vote for tax reform,’” O’Connell said.

But O’Connell noted the Flynn news would “overshadow all the good things that happened this week.”

White House officials have been operating under a “Russian cloud” since even before Mueller’s appointment over the summer, O’Connell noted, and congressional Republicans have already factored the allegations into their calculations about whether to support the president’s agenda.

Read more from Sarah Westwood at the Washington Examiner

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Is Fiscal Conservatism Dead?

"The priority is spending," the energetic and newly minted congressman, sporting an American flag pin on his dark suit jacket, told the C-SPAN host, soon adding, "the size of the government is really what it comes down to."

The year was 2010, and the congressman-elect was Mick Mulvaney, then a 43-year-old restaurateur and developer who rode the tea party wave during President Obama's first term to defeat 14-term incumbent Democrat John Spratt and be the first Republican to represent South Carolina's 5th Congressional District since 1883.

Fast forward to 2017. The national debt has surpassed $20 trillion. The country's budget has seen nothing but deficits for the last two decades. Spending has only gone up, even under a GOP-run Congress. And arguably, Republicans — who control the White House, Senate, and House — don't seem terribly concerned.

GOP strategist Ford O'Connell agreed with much of Corker's assessment, adding that the "realities of governing don't always comport with principle."

"Especially in Bush's case, and in Trump's case and even in Obama's case, to a great extent, when you have slim majorities in one or both chambers of Congress," O'Connell said. "And you realize that there is principle but you have to show that you can govern, and if you can't govern, well you're going to go back to screaming to the wall and talking about principle. It's a vicious cycle of what happens when you're in and out of power."

During the most recent Bush administration, Republicans often gave less of a priority to reducing the budget than Democrats, O'Connell pointed out. For instance, in 2007, Pew found Republicans were less likely than Democrats (42 percent to 57 percent) to say reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority for Congress. But shortly after Obama took office and into 2016, Republicans in Pew polls were more likely to say reducing the deficit is a top priority than Democrats or independents.

The GOP faced the same obstacle when it tried — repeatedly and unsuccessfully — to repeal Obamacare, which expanded Medicaid eligibility to millions more Americans. 

"The problem is once you give someone or a group of people a benefit, it is very very hard if not impossible to take away said benefit," O'Connell said. "That's the reason why we have this issue."

Read more from Kathryn Watson at CBS News

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Tax Reform Puts Blue-State Republicans In Difficult Spot

The most vulnerable blue-state House Republicans are stuck between a rock and a hard place on the tax reform.

Democrats are pounding them for legislation that potentially would make some voters pay more in high-tax blue states. And, if history is a guide, voting against the bill won’t necessarily protect GOPers in next year’s midterm elections.

“With a lot of those blue-state Republicans, they are in trouble no matter what,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “There is a blue wave coming. We are going to lose seats in the House. The only question is: How many?”

Indeed, the party in power has lost an average of 25 House seats in midterm elections since World War II. In the nine elections before which the president’s party controlled both chambers of Congress, as is now the case, it has lost an average 33 House seats.

In 2018, Republican would only have to net a loss of 24 seats to lose the majority.

Rep. Barbara Comstock is one of the House Republican in a no-win situation on tax reform. President Trump lost in her district in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., by 10 percentage points.

“Whether she passes it or doesn’t pass it, Barbara Comstock is in the path of that wave,” said Mr. O’Connell.

Read more from S.A. Miller at The Washington Times

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Alabama Election Has GOP Racing Against The Clock

Republicans are feeling the pressure to move quickly on tax legislation ahead of next month’s Senate election in Alabama. 

Senate Republicans already have little margin for error, as they can afford only two defections and still pass their tax-cut bill if Democrats are united against it.

But that margin would fall to one vote if the Democrat in the Alabama race, Doug Jones, defeats GOP candidate Roy Moore on Dec. 12. Polls have suggested a Jones victory is a real possibility in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Moore.

An Alabama election official on Friday said the winner of the race could be seated as early as Dec. 26, giving Republicans a short window for action.

Republicans had already talked of getting a bill to President Trump’s desk by Christmas — and that deadline appears even more critical now, likely forcing a furious push in December. 

“They’ve got to find a way to get to 50 votes [on a tax bill] as fast as possible,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

The House has already passed its version of the tax bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is planning to start floor consideration of the upper chamber bill’s next week, when senators return from the Thanksgiving recess.

Read more from Naomi Jagoda at The Hill

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Health Care Voters Turn Republican Election Strength Into Liability

Seven years after Obamacare crushed Democrats at the ballot box, the party is using health care to launch a revival, saying President Trump and congressional Republicans are paying a price for their fumbled repeal effort and will sink further next year.

Voters in Maine last week opted into Medicaid expansion, a key plank of the 2010 law, and Virginia voters pointed to health care as they swatted aside Mr. Trump’s endorsement of the Republican candidate for governor and chose Democrats up and down the ballot.

Meanwhile, Obamacare is polling better than ever, enrollments are outpacing last year’s and progressive groups are plotting to turn the fight over Obamacare into electoral wins, blanketing social media and selling $25 T-shirts and $15 coffee mugs to anyone who pledges to be a “Health Care Voter.”

It’s a major turnabout from 2010, when President Obama’s heavy mandates and D.C.-centric reforms sparked talk of “death panels” and a “government takeover” of health care.

Some Republicans say Democrats are boasting much too early.

Virginia has become a reliably blue state over the past decade, and it’s not as susceptible to economic swings because of federal jobs in the northern part of the state, so Mr. Trump’s populist message didn’t resonate as much as in other states, said Republican Party strategist Ford O’Connell.

“Democrats would be wise to not overinterpret what happened last week in the commonwealth,” he said. “Heading into 2018 midterms, overall health care is not the political liability it once was for Democrats. That said, the 2018 Senate map is decidedly pro-Trump and anti-Obamacare.”

Despite a positive Senate map, Mr. O’Connell said, health care might be a liability for some House Republicans next year, particularly in the Northeast, so the party will need a near-perfect replacement to get something through the Senate and fully change the narrative.

Read more from Tom Howell Jr. at The Washington Times

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