Trump To Islamic Nations: Drive Out Extremists

President Trump yesterday painted a stark new portrait of U.S. goals in the Middle East in a speech that exhorted Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries to vanquish extremists and signaled the U.S. is abandoning long-standing ambitions to spread freedom and transform the region, analysts said.

Trump, speaking yesterday to the Arab Islamic American Summit, the centerpiece address of his two-day visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh, said America was “not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

The speech was notably bereft of entreaties about human rights, democracy and being on the right side of history — staples of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s speeches on fighting terror in the Islamic world, GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said.

“He’s saying, ‘Forget all of that, I’m telling you right now, our No. 1 concern is putting these guys down, and however we can work together to make that happen, that’s great,’ ” O’Connell said.

A key part of that strategy, O’Connell said, will be arms deals such as the one Trump announced with the Saudis this weekend, to provide the country with $110 billion in tanks, fighter jets, combat ships and the THAAD missile defense system.

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at the Boston Herald

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Lightning-Rod Legacy Lives On For ‘Media Genius’ Roger Ailes

Roger Ailes was mired in controversy and a sexual harassment scandal at the end of his life, but few would deny he forever changed the news business and the national political climate when he launched Fox News Channel in 1996, guiding it from its infancy into an iconic brand and ratings juggernaut.

Ailes’ background in both television and politics fueled his reputation as a “media genius,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who appears frequently on Fox News and the Fox Business Network.

“Fox News is the gold standard by which everyone is measured in cable news and that is a big part of his legacy,” O’Connell said. “But what’s more amazing is how he was a pioneer, trailblazer and media genius who shaped America’s media landscape for the past 30 years.”

“Dislike the guy or like the guy, know him or not know him, what you can’t dispute is that he was the undisputed king,” O’Connell said.

Ailes, 77, died yesterday morning from complications of a subdural hematoma after falling and injuring his head at his Palm Beach mansion. His legacy may be forever tainted by scandal, but his undeniable impact on the industry will survive him.

Read more from Jessica Heslam at the Boston Herald

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Experts: ‘No baggage’ For Next FBI Head

President Trump faces a critical week deciding on a new FBI director who experts urged should be free of “political baggage” following Trump’s ouster of James B. Comey.

“He should treat the process with the same reverence as selecting a Supreme Court justice. At the end of the day, he should strive for someone who doesn’t have political baggage and who can make the career folks at the FBI and DOJ comfortable, given that they are currently on pins and needles,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

Trump faced a political firestorm last week after firing Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election and possible collusion with Trump aides.

Trump abruptly fired Comey on Tuesday, saying Comey had lost the confidence of the public and his own intelligence agency.

So far, 14 people have emerged as candidates, including Michael J. Garcia, a former prosecutor and associate judge on New York’s highest court; Alice Fisher, a high-ranking official with the Justice Department under George W. Bush’s administration; and Adam Lee, a special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Richmond, Va.

Trump has said a decision could come before he leaves for his first overseas trip as president on Friday.

Read more from Antonio Planas at the Boston Herald

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Tables Turned On Health Care: Now Democrats Have No Clear Plan

For six years, Democrats taunted Republicans for holding dozens of votes to repeal Obamacare without rallying around a legislative alternative, while Republicans saw little need to craft and vote on a plan that President Obama would kill with his veto pen.

Yet now it’s Democrats who enter the debate without a clear plan, left to defend a law that has fallen far short of its goals and was shedding insurers and failing to win over customers even before President Trump took office.

Though they say they will help solve the problems plaguing the law, Democrats have yet to settle on an alternative to the Republicans’ repeal. Some say there is no need to bother right now, while others said it would be nice to try.

Still, some Republicans say Democrats aren’t serious about reforming the private insurance market, but rather expanding the federal role in health care.

“Their plan is socialized medicine for all,” Republican Party strategist Ford O’Connell said. “They have no incentive whatsoever to do anything. When the individual market tanks, they’ll say the Republicans were in control.”

Read more from Tom Howell Jr. at the Washington Times

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Reports: Trump Ax Ready To Fall On Key Staffers

President Trump is considering replacing embattled press secretary Sean Spicer with a Fox News host and may be preparing to move on from Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, according to new reports detailing an intensifying push toward a massive White House shake-up.

As Tuesday’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James B. Comey set off a tidal wave of negative media coverage, Trump blamed his communications staffers for offering a series of conflicting reasons for the dismissal and is now considering replacing Spicer with Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, according to reports in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that indicate he’s also mulling a new chief of staff.

And though the reports say the president is focused on reorganizing his communications team and strategy, both indicate he’s become increasingly upset with the way his surrogates have been relaying his moves, a problem that Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said was on full display during the Comey fallout.

“President Trump definitely views the Comey firing as a communication failure. This all revolves around what happened over the past week,” O’Connell said, stressing that the president is also to blame for the mixed messaging.

“The president himself also decided to improvise, which compounded some of the problems,” O’Connell said. “But as we’ve seen in the past, Trump is definitely more than willing to shake things up. He had three campaign managers in 16 months.”

Despite reports of a search for Spicer’s replacement, O’Connell said it’s not the communications staffers but the overall strategy that is to blame.

“The folks he has right now are good,” O’Connell said. “What he needs are more folks with more defined roles ... you’re going to have issues that keep coming up like Russia, like health care, like North Korea and he needs some specialty communicators who can tackle the issues of the day alongside his press secretary.”

Read more from Owen Boss at the Boston Herald

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Red-State Dems May Reach Across Aisle Ahead Of 2018

For a handful of Senate Democrats facing tough races in 2018, conservative pressures from voters back home could encourage more centrist stances ahead of next year’s midterm elections. 

Aggressive bipartisanship, in other words, may be the best hope for red-state Sens. Claire McCaskill, Joe Donnelly, and Heidi Heitkamp to woo on-the-fence voters in their respective states of Missouri, Indiana, and North Dakota.

All three of the Democratic lawmakers scored  in the top third of the Lugar Center - McCourt School Bipartisan Index of the 114th Congress, a quantitative ranking of how frequently a member voted across party lines.  Donnelly finished at No. 2. The bipartisan bills the three have sponsored have pertained mainly to veterans and the VA, health care, and state-based economic development, specifically in promoting agriculture and job creation.

“Democrats have to be very, very careful that they’re not primaried by their own people over [health care],” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “After that, anything that comes up -- if anything does come up -- is going to be specifically endemic to their state.” 

Read more from Ford Carson at RealClearPolitics

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A Populist Test In Trump Country

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, Democrats have been seeking evidence that vociferous opposition to his actions can yield seats in Congress. Much attention thus far has been paid to the special election in Georgia, which was labeled as an early referendum on the Trump presidency. But the real test of Trump’s popularity may be taking place in Montana, where Bernie Sanders supporter and bluegrass musician Rob Quist is attempting to fill the state’s congressional seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, who was sworn in as interior secretary in March.

An easy win by Republican Greg Gianforte, Quist’s primary opponent, would indicate rural America’s support for Trump, who won Montana by 20 points, remains steadfast. But if Quist is able to come close—or even win—in a race Democrats haven’t topped since 1994, it would be evidence that supporting populist candidates in the mold of Sanders might be Democrats’ best chance at regaining congressional seats in middle America.

“The GOP knows from Georgia they shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, referencing Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff’s near-win in Georgia’s reliably Republican sixth congressional district, which is headed to a runoff in June. “What they don’t want to do is give the Democrats a narrative that says, ‘We’ve broken the Trump metric.’”

Read more from Jake Bullinger at The Atlantic

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Comey’s Shadow Looms Over High-Stakes Search For Next FBI Director

The Justice Department began interviews Wednesday for an interim director of the FBI, with the stakes of the selection heightened by the political mess being inherited by the successor to former Director James B. Comey.

Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is filling the role for now, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions is leading a search to fill the role on a more-lasting basis, even as the Trump administration also looks for a permanent director.

Some high-profile names have already emerged for the permanent nomination, with the list being topped by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who previously served as a U.S. attorney, and former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, a fellow New Yorker who shares Mr. Trump’s tough-on-crime stance.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a law-and-order crusader who was a campaign surrogate for Mr. Trump, and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a former federal prosecutor who headed up the House special committee probe of Benghazi, were also mentioned.

Whoever is installed now to head the FBI will inherit the ongoing investigation into potential ties between Trump associates and Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“He certainly should consider someone without political baggage in an effort to try to bring credibility back to the FBI,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “But, in the end, he has got to get someone he feels comfortable with and someone who can also get 51 votes in the United States Senate.”

Read more from Andrea Noble and S.A. Miller at the Washington Times

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Macron Wins Presidency In Decisive Fashion

Pro-European Union centrist Emmanuel Macron beat anti-EU right-winger Marine Le Pen to become president of France, but political observers say the charismatic outspoken nationalist isn’t going away.

Macron, who had never run for office before, celebrated with thousands of jubilant, flag-waving supporters outside the Louvre Museum in Paris last night. The European anthem “Ode to Joy” played as he strode out to address the swelling crowd.

Le Pen quickly called Macron to concede after voters rejected her “French-first” nationalism by a large margin. Le Pen’s performance dashed her hopes that the populist wave behind President Trump and the Brexit vote to leave the EU also would carry her to France’s presidency.

GOP consultant Ford O’Connell told the Herald, “I think the nationalism is only gaining steam in France, and part of this is going to be the solutions that Macron puts forth for radical Islamic terror and border security is only going to prime the pump for another nationalist candidate.”

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at the Boston Herald

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House Republicans' Health Bill Faces Hurdles In Senate

The Rose Garden celebration that President Trump held with House Republicans following their passage of a bill to repeal of the Affordable Care Act looked like a bill signing, except for one missing detail: the pens.

The health care bill still must get through the Senate, and as one Republican strategist predicted Friday, it won’t be easy.

Some form of legislation that follows the broad contours of the House bill “is going to get through the Senate,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. To achieve that, he said, will require maintaining extreme party discipline to unite the same conservative and mainstream GOP factions in the Senate that caused the Republicans’ effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act to implode in March in the House.

Republicans “know they’re going to own this, one way or the other,” O’Connell said. “They want to make it as good as possible, but they know that if nothing else they can ... run out there and say it is less bad than what you guys were facing,” under the current health law.

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at the San Francisco Chronicle

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