Democrats Wrestle With 'Tough On Crime' Histories

Democratic presidential hopefuls, including former Vice President Joe Bidenand Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are wrestling with their past “tough on crime” positions as the primary battle heats up.

Biden, the frontrunner for his party’s nomination, has seen his role in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act come under deep scrutiny.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Biden have engaged in a heated battle all week over issues of criminal justice, with the former Newark mayor offering pointed criticism of Biden’s past support for the crime bill. Booker said Biden’s crime bill had put “mass incarceration on steroids” and that the party needed a leader more in tune with its future.

The Biden campaign has responded by attacking Booker’s record as mayor of Newark, including the way Newark police stopped and frisked black men, and the city’s objection when the Justice Department took action against Newark’s police.

Harris, who served as district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California, has also faced questions about the role she played in sentencing guidelines. This included a state truancy law that, in certain cases, allowed parents whose children missed school to be arrested. She has since acknowledged “unintended consequences” related to the law.

Harris’s record as a prosecutor also has come under scrutiny from criminal justice reform advocates.  As California attorney general, her office fought to release fewer prisoners amid overcrowding in the state’s system, with lawyers from her office arguing in 2014 that the releases could deprive the state of a source of labor.

Criminal justice reform could be an issue in the general election.

President Trump, whose administration spearheaded a criminal justice reform bill through Congress last year, has already hit Biden over his support for the crime bill from the 1990s.

The First Step Act, combined with continual good economic news, could help Trump with minority votes, said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist and adjunct professor at The George Washington University.

It “definitely gives Trump some added ammo he didn’t have in 2016,” he said.

Read more from Zack Burdyck at The Hill

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Will The Divide Between Pelosi And Ocasio-Cortez Prove Detrimental Heading Into 2020

Former Obama deputy assistant secretary of state Joel Rubin debates former McCain-Palin campaign adviser Ford O'Connell.

Watch the video at Fox News

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West Wing Celebrates Mueller's 'Very Painful' Performance

West Wing denizens breathed a collective sigh of relief Wednesday as Robert Mueller’s long-waited testimony before Congress was widely panned by commentators on both sides of the aisle.

Politico.com characterized Mueller’s performance as flat, saying he offered “clipped, monosyllabic responses and repeatedly asked lawmakers to repeat their questions.” One source described the reaction in the White House to the hearings as one of “euphoria.”

Former Bush White House presidential adviser Bradley Blakeman confirms White House staffers were “extremely pleased” with Mueller’s appearance.

GOP Strategist Ford O'Connell tweeted Wednesday afternoon: "Who would have thought the #MuellerHearings would be exponentially worse for the Dems than the #MuellerReport?"

Many Democrats had a similar, if more subdued, reaction.

Read more from Bill Hoffmann and David A. Patten at Newsmax

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Trump's Attacks On Congresswomen Could Boost Biden Campaign

As U.S. President Donald Trump intensifies his efforts to brand four progressive congresswomen as the new face of the Democratic Party, its presidential front-runner, Joe Biden, has been quietly reminding voters in Iowa there remains a middle ground.

Trump’s vilification of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, in which he said the minority lawmakers were hostile to America and should “go back” where they came from, has largely left Biden out of this week’s political conversation.

But it may give Biden’s campaign the boost it needs after his widely panned debate performance last month.

Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president and 36 years as a U.S. senator, epitomizes a Democratic establishment the four congresswomen who dub themselves “the squad” have vowed to upend.

Biden, 76, has had to be careful in criticizing them in return, not wanting to alienate the party’s emboldened activist left whose votes he will need if he wins the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the November 2020 election.

At the same time, he is working to make clear to moderate voters that he would be a more palatable alternative than a Democratic nominee more in line with the congresswomen’s values, such as U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

Trump’s campaign advisers have long sought to paint the entire Democratic presidential field as “socialists.”

They believe they were aided in that effort in last month’s Democratic debate when several candidates on stage came out in favor of eliminating private health insurance, and a larger number supported providing healthcare for immigrants in the country illegally, and decriminalizing the unauthorized crossing of the U.S. border.

When Trump decided earlier this week to exploit the rift between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez’s group, his campaign saw a way to use his tweets in its narrative that the four had become the new standard-bearers for the party, said Ford O’Connell, a Republican who works with the campaign on strategy and messaging.

The squad “is the perfect placeholder until you have a nominee,” O’Connell said.

Read more from James Elephant at Reuters

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N.C. Crowd Chants ‘Send Her Back’ As Trump Criticizes Omar And House ‘Squad’

President Donald Trump on Wednesday night criticized the House Democratic women known as “the squad,” zeroing in on Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota as his supporters at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, chanted “Send her back!”

He railed against the members of “the squad” — freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omarof Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — calling them “left-wing ideologues” and alleging they “want to demolish our Constitution” and erode “the values that built this … country.”

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist and adjunct professor at The George Washington University, said the president and his top campaign staffers have been looking for a way to bring the “squad” into the 2020 campaign. When they traded barbs last week with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, O’Connell said Trump saw his chance and pounced.

As he seeks a second term, Trump wants to portray the Democratic Party into one sliding toward socialism and run by progressive lawmakers like the “squad” members. O’Connell and other GOP operatives expect the four Democratic congresswomen will remain a key focus of Trump’s, at least until the party formally picks a presidential nominee next summer.

A long list of House Democrats joined Republicans earlier in the day in stopping a resolution calling for Trump’s impeachment, 332-95 (Democratic Rep. Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon voted “present”). Trump used the vote to fire up the crowd in Greenville.

Trump won North Carolina by 4 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Read more from John T Bennett at Roll Call

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'Squad' Fight Boosts President's Reelection Bid: 'Exactly Where Trump Wants 2020 To Be Fought'

Sen. Bernard Sanders says President Trump may be crazy, but he’s not stupid when it comes to crafting a message and sticking to a strategy that could boost his reelection chances next year.

That theory could help explain why Mr. Trump is going after the four minority congresswomen known as “The Squad,” who have come to embody a liberal brand of politics that hurt their party’s ability to woo voters in swing districts next year.

“He wants to make ‘The Squad’ the face of the Democratic Party as a placeholder until they know who the nominee is,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who communicates regularly with the White House.

“He wants to keep it on celebrity versus celebrity, and ideology versus ideology, rather than solutions because he wants to tell you their ideology is going to creep into the policy solutions that the eventual 2020 Democratic presidential nominee puts forward,” Mr. O’Connell said.

That could prove to be a smart move for Mr. Trump, whose approval rating has been underwater.

Polls suggest the president could be on better footing than the liberal foursome who have become the center of attention in Washington: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows 44% of voters approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing and 52% disapprove.

Mr. O’Connell said Mr. Trump has been itching for the chance to tie Democrats to the group. The opportunity appeared last week when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of singling out minority members of the Democratic caucus.

Amy Walter, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said the fight with “The Squad” “is exactly where Trump wants 2020 to be fought.”

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at the Washington Times

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With Racist Tweets And Comments, Trump Signals Bare-Knuckle Reelection Fight

Trump’s racially charged comments about the women, known colloquially as “the squad,” and his aggressive reaction to the ensuing political firestorm signals a no-holds-barred reelection fight for the bombastic Republican president that will be anything but quiet. 

“He’s hitting on the rawest nerve in American politics and American history,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist who advises Trump’s Republican allies such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Florida  Gov. Ron DeSantis. “It shows he’s willing to go as far as he wants and needs to go to get reelected.”

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist and adjunct professor at The George Washington University, said the White House had been searching for a way to tie members of “the squad” to the 2020 campaign.

“Frankly, they didn’t really know how to do it. But recent events changed that, and President Trump saw an opening,” O’Connell said. “What he’s really trying to do here is make [Ocasio-Cortez] and Omar the face of the 2020 Democratic Party. They don’t know who the nominee will be, so they become a placeholder in the meantime. And the election, barring some unforeseen event, will probably come down to seven states — and ‘the squad’ doesn’t exactly do well in those places.”

Ayres disagreed with speculation that Trump’s hard-line message might further erode his support with suburban female voters.

“They voted overwhelmingly for Democratic congressional candidates in the 2018 midterms,” he said. “They aren’t part of the Trump coalition. … His approval rating doesn’t really change, and it wasn’t hurt by his comments about white nationalists after Charlottesville. … It probably energizes his core supporters, but it doesn’t change the balance of the pro-Trump and anti-Trump groups.”

O’Connell said what matters isn’t whether those women vote for the president. Rather, it is whether they will “actually go vote for the other guy or gal?”

Read more from John T. Bennett at Roll Call

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Tweets Condemned As Racist Are Part Of Trump's Plan, And Strategists Say It May Work

The chorus of condemnation U.S. President Donald Trump faced from pundits, Democrats and even a few Republicans Monday was loud and necessary but, ultimately, helped Trump accomplish what he set out to do, say some Republican strategists. 

By keeping the focus on the four progressive Democratic congresswomen of colour he singled out in a series of racially charged, incendiary tweets, and getting the party to unite behind them, the president painted the Democrats as the party of the radical left.

"What he's trying to do is very smart from an electoral strategy perspective," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. 

"He's trying to make the Squad … the face of the 2020 Democratic Party."

"The Squad" has become the shorthand for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, four women elected to Congress last November who have been trying to push the Democrats further left and have high media visibility but limited power in the party and the House of Representatives.

By equating the party with them, Trump not only fires up his base but also potentially gets the ear of undecided voters in the swing and battleground states, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, that will decide the 2020 election.

O'Connell pointed to a poll from May shared with the Axios news site that took the political temperature of around 1,000 likely voters who are white and have two years or less of college education. It's a demographic that embraced Trump in 2016 — and one Democrats are trying to win in swing districts.

The poll suggested that while Ocasio-Cortez was recognized by 74 per cent of voters surveyed, only 22 per cent had a favourable view of the congresswoman. Omar stood at 53 and nine per cent, respectively.

Respondents were also asked about socialism, which 69 per cent of them viewed unfavourably.

O'Connell said the aim of calling out the four freshmen members of Congress is to inflate their reach and suggest that whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be aligned with their views.

"For incumbent presidents, their best time to make their case is between now and when the Democrats have their nominee."

Read more from Kazi Stastna at CBC

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Divided Dems Unite After Trump Tells Congresswomen To 'Go Back' To Other Countries

President Donald Trump defended his volatile tweets suggesting progressive Democratic congresswomen “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” Monday, as some observers questioned why he drew attention away from Democrats’ escalating internal conflicts and others saw a shrewd political strategy emerging.

“They hate our country,” Trump said of the lawmakers during a Made in America event at the White House. “They hate it, I think, with a passion. Now, it's possible I'm wrong. The voter will decide. But when I hear the way they talk about our country, when I hear the anti-Semitic language they use, when I hear the hatred they have for Israel, and the love they have for enemies like al-Qaida-- then you know what? I will tell you that I do not believe this is good for the Democrat Party.”

Trump declined to identify which members he was talking about in his Sunday morning tweets, other than Rep. Ilhan Omar, but he appeared to be referring to the freshman Democrats known as “the Squad”: Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. Amid Democratic anger, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the House would vote on a resolution denouncing Trump’s tweets.

The speaker’s aggressive support for the lawmakers illustrated how far the Democratic Party has come in 48 hours. As of Saturday night, infighting between the party establishment and progressive upstarts was nearing a breaking point.

According to Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, Trump could have benefited from letting the Democratic drama play out in the press a bit longer before inserting himself into the fight.

“They called the speaker of the House a racist,” O’Connell said. “I don’t know how much further they can go before they start knifing one another.”

Strategists say Trump’s tweets may have temporarily mended the rift in the Democratic Party, but the division on policy and politics remains and will surely surface again before the 2020 election.

“I don’t think they’re going to band together for 19 months because of some tweets Trump posted last night,” O’Connell said.

Internal polling leaked to Axios provides insight into why defending “the Squad” makes some Democrats nervous. A survey of white, non-college-educated voters in swing districts found 74% know who Ocasio-Cortez is and only 22% view her favorably. Omar’s numbers are even worse, with 53% recognizing her and 9% having a positive opinion of her.

“I do see the genius of the long-term strategy for Trump,” O’Connell said. “He’s trying to make AOC, Omar and the rest of ‘the Squad’ the face of Democrats in 2020.”

Even some Republicans who have spoken out against Trump’s tweets have also noted their objection to the views of “the Squad” in their statements. As Democrats fight among themselves to decide who will run against Trump in 2020, O’Connell expects Trump to continue pressing the narrative that these women who are deeply unpopular with swing voters represent the direction of the opposing party.

“Trump doesn’t know who the nominee’s going to be. This way, he’s got a placeholder to make sure everyone is focused on exactly what it is the Democrats are pushing,” he said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at ABC 6

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U.S. Socialist-Democrat Candidate Sanders Down But Not Out

Despite much fanfare around him in the last U.S. presidential elections, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is slipping in the polls, but experts have said he's still in the race to grab the 2020 Democratic nomination.

"Sanders isn't finished. He's on life support. He has a core set of supporters," Republican strategist and TV news personality Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

Sanders saw his popularity surge in the lead-up to the 2016 elections, when he ran for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton. Supporters were wildly enthusiastic about the openly socialist candidate who said he would turn Washington upside down.

Sanders was in some ways a mirror reflection of U.S. President Donald Trump -- an anti-establishment figure who clearly understood that Washington had failed a sizable chunk of Americans for decades. Sanders railed against Wall Street and called for a radical shift toward a more socialist style of governance.

Just a few months ago, many supporters, media outlets and experts expressed the belief that he would be the front runner in the race to grab the Democratic nomination and face off against Trump.

However, while Sanders had a fresh message in 2016, times have changed fast. His far-left vision for America is now shared by many of the other 23 candidates vying for the Democratic ticket, making it hard for him to stand out.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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