GOP Bigwigs Take Aim At The Donald

The GOP establishment’s mounting attacks on bombastic front-runner Donald Trump’s ability to lead the free world might be letting a little air out of his run, political operatives said — but they could backfire on the moderates.

GOP leaders and top donors have been huddling in recent weeks, strategizing on how to cut Trump out. Ad campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire by PACs for Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are hinting at disaster if Trump ends up in the Oval Office.

But the more moderate candidates show little sign of benefitting. Instead, it was ultraconservative Ted Cruz who pulled ahead of Trump in Iowa last week with 28 percent to Trump’s 26 percent in a Fox News poll. In New Hampshire, Cruz has jumped from sixth place in October to second place last week.

And operatives said the GOP has to be careful about fielding someone like Mitt Romney to counter Trump — a party standard-bearer who’s involvement could be seen by Trump supporters as a badge of honor.

Trump has to emerge unscathed from tomorrow night’s CNN debate and the holiday break to secure a good showing in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus, Griffin said. But GOP insider Ford O’Connell said Trump remains a force to be reckoned with.

“This guy’s defied political gravity at least 17 times thus far,” O’Connell said. “If anyone is going to stop Donald Trump, it’s going to be Donald Trump.”

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at the Boston Herald

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Why Gaffes Hurt Ben Carson, But Not Donald Trump

Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, D.C., this month, Donald Trump declined to commit to an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Ben Carson, among other things, mispronounced the name of the terrorist group Hamas as "hummus" at the same gathering.

Neither Republican presidential hopeful's address to the group went over particularly well. But for Carson it was part of a growing narrative that verbal miscues were suddenly derailing the retired neurosurgeon's campaign, while Trump remains impervious to them.

Republicans told the Washington Examiner that there is a big difference between Trump's gaffes and Carson's. So far, they said, Trump's missteps aren't undermining his supporters' confidence in the way Carson's are.

"No matter what you think of what he has to say, Trump exudes confidence," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "Carson gets that deer in the headlights look when he makes a mistake or doesn't know what he's talking about. The voters might not know that you're wrong about an issue, but they will recognize a deer in the headlights."

O'Connell also noted that Trump can be adept at walking back untenable positions without acknowledging he has done so. When he proposed his Muslim ban, it was unclear whether American citizens and military personnel would be affected. He has gradually limited its scope in subsequent interviews and emphasized more that it would be a temporary measure, all while insisting that this was always the case.

Read more from W. James Antle III at The Washington Examiner

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Donald Trump's Independent Bid Is Republicans' Worst Fear In The 2016 Presidential Campaign

Donald Trump has the Republican Party establishment right where he wants them.

The divisive billionaire’s renewed threats to bolt from the GOP and run as an independent in the general election has party elders on edge that he’ll guarantee four more years of a Democrat in the White House.

“If he runs, Hillary’s the President. The numbers just don’t add up any other way,” said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell.

“I think he’s bluffing 100%. He’s doing it so that everyone else will back off of him and let him win this nomination in the way that he sees fit. He’s using it as leverage, and it’s a smart play for him,” said O’Connell.

Read more from Cameron Joseph at the New York Daily News

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How Ted Cruz Plans To Win

Ted Cruz’s strategy for winning the Republican presidential nomination is becoming clearer by the day. 

The Texas senator continues to march toward primary season methodically cobbling together the segments of GOP voters, winning endorsements and rising at the polls particularly in Iowa.   

But his increased appetite for taking on Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), as well as his repeated resistance to taking the gloves off with Donald Trump, sheds light on the senator’s fourth-quarter strategy. 

“This week was probably his best week,” Ford O’Connell, an unaffiliated Republican strategist, said, noting the endorsement of major Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, who has backed the last two Iowa caucus winners.  

And for the first time since June, Cruz overtook front-runner Donald Trump in three Iowa polls over the past seven days, adding to his momentum in the early voting state. 

But as his numbers and profile continue to rise, Cruz has deepened his feud with Rubio, who has also seen a rise in polls and profile, through barbs in the media, in dueling statements, and through surrogates.  

O’Connell said that their “inner squabble” is a big deal as far as who can emerge as Trump’s biggest foil even though the “differences between them are so minute.”

“Rubio wisely figured out that national security would be his ticket to the nomination, and with events lining up the way they are lining up, it was a very smart play. Cruz sees that and wants to find a way to tamp down Rubio,” he said. 

He added that the increasing emphasis on national security could be “extremely dangerous for Cruz—that’s why he’s busy…mitigating these attacks.” Cruz repeatedly brings up Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship and casts him as a member of the party’s establishment that have failed to win the White House over the last eight years. 

“Cruz has completely changed his M.O,” O’Connell said. 

“In Washington, he’s always standing up and making spectacles on the Senate floor. Now that he’s running for president, he’s trying to paint the exact opposite of how he’s acted in Washington.”

Read more from Ben Kamisar at The Hill

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Cracks Appear In Trump-Cruz Truce

Cracks are showing in the long-held truce between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as the simmering rivalry between the two candidates running atop GOP primary polls appears ready to spill into the open.

Trump has been openly warring with the entirety of the GOP presidential field — with the exception of Cruz — making the point that he’ll only go on the attack if he’s hit first.

Cruz, meanwhile, has been drafting behind Trump, openly acknowledging that it would be poor strategy for him to bash a candidate whose supporters he seeks and accusing the media of trying to arrange a “cage fight” between the two.

But there was movement on Cruz’s end Thursday, when The New York Times reported that Cruz questioned Trump’s judgment in front of donors at a closed-door fundraiser in Manhattan. 

It was a soft jab that Cruz sought to soften further by calling the Times report “misleading.”

Still, Cruz did not challenge the central facts of the story, making it the furthest he’s gone toward criticizing Trump to date. 

Republicans say Cruz has likely opened the door to a furious response from the Trump, the unpredictable showman who has been itching for a fight. 

“Trump’s strategy has been to generate controversy, tout his standing in the polls, and go on the attack,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “With Cruz gaining on him, you can bet Trump will go after him as soon as he moves past this latest firestorm over not allowing Muslims into the country.”

The Trump campaign is not yet tipping its hand.

But Republicans say Cruz’s “judgment” jab could also be effective by framing the showman as unpredictable and erratic.

“A lot of Republicans view Trump as strong on national security issues and believe he’s a strong leader,” said O’Connell. “So by questioning his judgment, Cruz is subtly pointing out that Trump is erratic and liable to fly off the handle, which isn’t a quality people like in a leader.”

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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Marco Rubio: A Traitor To His Generation?

At 44 years old, with a baby face and self-professed “love” of Tupac, Marco Rubio is often touted as the GOP’s best hope of appealing to younger voters. But on social issues, like LGBT rights and abortion, the Florida senator and Republican presidential candidate sounds less like a Gen Xer and more like a grandpa.

Considering the current presidential field, the remarks weren’t altogether shocking. Not one Republican candidate supports same-sex marriage and about half oppose allowing abortions even in cases of rape or incest.

Still, they were a little surprising for Rubio, who often plays up his youth on the campaign trail – or at least, tries to – stressing education reform, his own student loans, and the game Candy Crush.

Beyond raising red flags for the future of the GOP, Rubio’s CBN remarks also served as a striking reminder of the unique dynamics of this Republican primary battle, one where the traditional “moderate vs. conservative” theme has pretty much gone out the window.

“The old model is out,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told MSNBC. “What we have now are three people [Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and front-runner Donald Trump] trying to carve out the broadest portion of the electorate as possible.”

Aside from Trump’s ability to consistently defy the laws of political gravity, one of the principle narratives of this election so far has been the ongoing battle between Cruz and Rubio, the two candidates currently duking it out for second place – potentially first! – should Trump’s bubble ultimately burst.

Read more from Emma Margolin at MSNBC

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Trump Poll Surge Continues Despite Backlash Over Muslim Ban

New polls suggest that no matter what he says, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump remains the top pick of conservative Republican voters less than eight weeks before the first votes are cast in Iowa on February 1.

Late Monday, Trump set off a political firestorm both at home and abroad when he proposed banning Muslims from coming into the United States. Yet by Thursday, public opinion polls both nationally and in key early-voting states showed Trump's popularity continuing to surge.

The latest New York Times-CBS News national poll shows Trump leading the Republican presidential field with 35 percent support, far ahead of Texas Senator Ted Cruz at 16 percent and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 13 percent. The latest state polls show Trump well ahead in New Hampshire, competing with Cruz for the lead in Iowa, and building a solid lead in South Carolina. 

The latest Fox News poll of Republican primary voters also put Trump at 35 percent, with Carson at 15 percent, and Cruz and Marco Rubio tied at 14 percent each.

"To be honest with you, I have no idea and anyone who tells you they do is lying to you," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, a sentiment shared by many eagerly watching the runup to the first votes in Iowa.

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America

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Chris Christie In New Hampshire: Amid Attacks From Trump, Election 2016 Candidate Sees Rise In Polling Ahead Of State Primary

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans on doing Friday exactly what he’s been doing for months now: holding a town hall meeting in New Hampshire and speaking to and with his supporters there. His bid for the White House has put an emphasis on such events, where he is skilled from years of practice in his home state.

Christie has been largely discounted in the Republican 2016 presidential race so far, but his all-in, personal approach in the Granite State, coupled with the focus he’s placed on national security and terrorism, seems at last to be paying off. While still recovering from a local transportation scandal that made national headlines, he's been steadily rising in the polls and racking up endorsements. But the fact that his surge has invited attacks from front-runner Donald Trump may be the best indicator of his progress.

But, there’s another way to tell he’s doing well, aside from favorability polls. As Christie has seen his stock rise in New Hampshire, Trump has now turned his sights on New Jersey's governor. Revisiting the “Bridgegate” debate, Trump has recently been telling supporters at rallies that Christie knew about the traffic closure as it happened.

“You know that he is doing well because Donald Trump is starting to say he’s guilty on the bridge,” said Ford O’Connell, a former adviser for Republican Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign who is unaffiliated with a 2016 race.

Christie’s potential return to grace can be compared to McCain in 2008, when the Arizona senator won New Hampshire after months of poor polls, O’Connell opined. In that cycle, McCain was widely viewed as the front-runner going in, but he dropped dramatically in the polls in 2007 because of his support for adding troops to the Iraq War. He eventually won the nomination. “There are some similarities in the sense that the path Christie is taking, he started out as one of the top two then he got slimed with ‘Bridgegate’… and now he’s on his resurgence.”

Christie’s rebound can be attributed to several additional factors, political analysts and observers said. New Hampshire prides itself as being a state that thinks independently and values one-on-one interaction between presidential hopefuls and voters.

Read more from Clark Mindock at International Business Times

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Experts: Despite Criticism, Trump's Muslim Rhetoric May Resonate With GOP Base

Although Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's call for ban on allowing Muslims into the U.S. has drawn swift rebuke from his rivals and party leadership, the enthusiastic applause he received at a campaign rally Monday night proves his ideas are resonating with some in the party.

Trump issued a statement on Monday afternoon proposing a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." In media interviews Tuesday, Trump defended this position, claiming on CNN that "we have people out there that want to do great destruction to our country."

He did not explain how long it would take to "figure out what is going on," but he told ABC News Tuesday night that the ban could be "quick."

Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, said there are many problems with Trump's proposed Muslim ban, but it may make sense for his campaign because "fear is a powerful political motivator."

O'Connell noted that a recent CNN/ORC poll found only 33% of Americans approve of Obama's handling of ISIS and 38% approve of his policies on terrorism. The poll also shows 90% of Republicans feel Obama has not been aggressive enough in fighting ISIS.

"There's not a lot of confidence that the Obama administration is going to do what it takes to protect America," O'Connell said, so it is understandable that Trump's message is resonating.

"When Trump speaks, even when he misspeaks, a lot of his followers think that he exudes confidence and strength," qualities Republicans feel Obama lacks.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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Donald Trump Could Ditch The GOP

Donald Trump is rekindling talk that he will run as an independent candidate for president, citing a poll showing a majority of his supporters will follow him wherever he goes.

“A new poll indicates that 68% of my supporters would vote for me if I departed the GOP & ran as an independent,” Trump posted on Facebook and Twitter last night.

He linked to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll that showed his popularity runs deep — with only 18 percent of his supporters saying they would not follow him if he drops his Republican label and goes it alone as an independent. The rest were undecided, the poll states.

The strong poll numbers come as the New York real estate mogul faced a second day of withering criticism for his call for a “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country.

Trump didn’t back down and even won support for the ban from New York media titan Rupert Murdoch.

So far, it appears Trump’s bombast has not hurt him.

“Even if he misspeaks, his supporters feel that he exudes strength,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “I think a lot of people will agree that he is on the right subjects in all the wrong ways. (But) there is a very palpable fear out there about radical Islamic terrorism, and lot of people see him as strong.”

Read more from Kimberly Atkins, Matt Stout and Chris Villani at the Boston Herald

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