Can Sarah Palin's Endorsement Give Trump A Bump In Iowa?

After three days of teasing a “big announcement” and rumors swirling, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump confirmed on Tuesday that former 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is endorsing his bid for the GOP nomination.

The endorsement could give Trump a boost less than two weeks before the Iowa Caucus, where the front runner and Texas Senator Ted Cruz are in a tight race, battling for Republican primary votes.

“Trump is pulling out all the stops to win Iowa and Palin’s endorsement is evidence of that,” said Ford O'Connell, Republican strategist and former adviser to the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign.

O’Connell says the former Alaska governor is still considered to be a “rock star among Evangelicals and Tea Party types,” particularly in Iowa, where Palin has done a lot of stumping even after she faded from the national media spotlight. He says Trump’s goal is to eliminate Cruz’s chances in the Hawkeye state.

“This is about using what star power Sarah Palin has left to honestly take Iowa and rip it out from underneath Ted Cruz,” said O’Connell. “Palin really has the Midas touch in places with voters that Trump needs to win like Iowa - she is the best choice.”

Read more from Elizabeth Chmurak at Fox Business

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GOP Debate: Why End Of Donald Trump-Ted Cruz 'Bromance' Matters

For once, Donald Trump was understated: “I guess the bromance is over.”

After Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate, it was also a statement of the obvious. Mr. Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for months acting like best friends even while vying for the same job, finally took off the gloves and went after each other. The end of the buddy act was inevitable – and instructive.

Trump showed that he could take a punch. And more important, he demonstrated a nimbleness and a disarming honesty that reinforce why he’s the Republican frontrunner. When challenged by Senator Cruz over his “New York values,” Trump didn’t deny that he once held socially liberal views. Instead, he came back with a stirring defense of his hometown, invoking New Yorkers’ resilience in the face of 9/11. Even Cruz applauded.

“This was without a doubt Trump's strongest debate performance,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “But Cruz showed he has the backbone and skills to go toe-to-toe with 'the Donald.’

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Ted Cruz And Donald Trump Come Out Swinging

Ted Cruz’s “birther issue” and Donald Trump’s “New York values” took center stage at the Republican debate Thursday night.

Those in attendance were treated to fiery clashes over immigration, foreign policy, and border controls on the Charleston, S.C., stage. 

The neutral observers I spoke to shortly thereafter judged no one a clear winner or loser, but agreed that Cruz and Trump provided the most drama and electricity of the evening.

Ford O’Connell, another seasoned GOP consultant with no horse in the 2016 contest, told me “there were three winners in this debate: Ted Cruz took it to Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio bested Ted Cruz.”

“The Trump/Cruz 'bromance' is over,” O'Connell said. “While Cruz got a much needed win on the birther issue, Trump backhanded him on 'New York values' by invoking 9/11. Clearly Cruz was playing for a much-needed victory in Iowa, while Trump was playing to a national audience. This was without a doubt Trump's strongest debate performance, but Cruz showed he has the backbone and skills to go toe-to-toe with The Donald."

Obradovich, O’Connell and Rotterman all agreed that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also came out of Charleston a winner on Tuesday. In Obradovich’s words, “Rubio showed more fire than in previous debates and left a few scorch marks on ‘Register/Bloomberg Iowa Poll’ leader Cruz over taxes and claims and flip-flopping. Rubio’s in a tight race with Ben Carson for the third-place ticket out of Iowa, so his performance may help him in the caucuses.”

Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax

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Republican Debate Reveals Three-Man Race

Billionaire American real estate mogul Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz have for months acted more like partners than rivals, as they compete to become the Republican Party's nominee for U.S. president. 
But at Thursday's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, the men who occupy the top two positions in most national public opinion polls were anything but friendly towards each other.

During the 2½-hour nationally televised debate, Trump and Cruz repeatedly clashed, at times getting emotional, as they tried to win the support of voters upset at the GOP establishment.

Cruz also engaged in a series of feisty exchanges with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a fellow Cuban-American who is appealing to a broader segment of the party and who is coming in third in most polls.

"There were three winners of this debate: Rubio, Trump and Cruz," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist and former campaign advisor for Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.

The debate did not do much to change the perception that the Republican field is narrowing, O'Connell told VOA.

"At the rate things are going, it seems like we're heading for a three-man race," he said.

"Ted Cruz certainly did a far better job and got a much-needed win on the birther issue," according to O'Connell. "Though I've got to say that Trump back-handed pretty hard with the New York values [accusation]."

Read more from William Gallo at Voice of America

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GOP Debate Preview: Tensions High As Clock Ticks Down To Iowa

The sixth Republican presidential debate is taking place less than three weeks before the Iowa caucus with Donald Trump still holding a firm national lead. The race in Iowa remains tight, though, and there is still plenty of time for candidates to change voters' minds.

Some things to watch for during the Fox Business debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in South Carolina Thursday night:

The lineup of candidates in the main debate topped out at 11 in September and has slowly crept down ever since, as some dropped out of the race and others were banished to the undercard debates.

With Carly Fiorina and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) slipping below the polling threshold Fox Business set for Thursday's debate, there will be seven candidates on stage at 9 p.m. ET: Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dr. Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said the increased time in the spotlight Thursday could be particularly problematic for Trump.

"If you're Donald Trump, the field can't get large enough," he said. Trump's goal will likely just be not to damage his standing in the polls, so the less time he has to talk, the better.

"I'd be lying if I said all eyes won't be on Donald Trump and Ted Cruz," O'Connell said.

O'Connell cautioned against the non-confrontational approach for Cruz. "You cannot look timid and complacent, particularly on the citizenship issue."

Cruz may have hoped to solidify his support before pivoting to take on Trump, but if that has not happened yet, he cannot wait any longer.

"He's delayed it long enough," O'Connell said, "and now the inevitable is coming."

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at WJLA

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GOP Strategist: All eyes On Cruz And Trump In Thursday's Debate

Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell says he will be watching for contentious moments between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the first Republican debate of 2016 Thursday night, as the two top contenders in Iowa look to edge each other out.

"At the end of the day, it's whether or not ted cruz and Donald trump are going to finally take the gloves off on the debate stage and go after each other because they are neck and neck in a lot of polls, and one of them wants to become the nominee."

Trump recently stepped up attacks against Cruz through tv ads and raised questions about Cruz's eligibility to run, and while O'Connell predicts Cruz will deflect most of Trump's attacks, he will push back on the citizenship issue.

Watch the video and read more at The Hill

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GOP Front-Runners Defy ‘Autopsy’ Of Party Defeats

The front-runners for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, are casting aside the lessons of the GOP “autopsy” that was intended to prevent Republicans from losing the White House in 2016.

The autopsy report, issued by the Republican National Committee (RNC) in March 2013 after Mitt Romney’s losing campaign and titled “the Growth and Opportunity Project,” was intended to help the GOP set itself up for victory after losing two presidential elections in a row.

 both cycles, GOP candidates lost badly to Barack Obama among minority voters. The former Illinois senator also defeated Romney in 2012 and Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008 among women and voters under the age of 30.

Now some Republicans fear their party is making the same mistakes.

“To win the White House, a political party has to make folks feel welcome and show that it cares about their daily life,” said Henry Barbour, who was one of five authors of the 2013 report.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who has long insisted that the party must expand its demographic appeal, noted that the more conservative elements of the party are ascendant at the moment.

The nightmare scenario for modernizers like himself, he suggested, was a conservative candidate becoming the nominee and winning the general election because of a “perfect storm” of pro-GOP factors. Such an outcome, he suggested, would postpone the hard conversations that party needs to have internally.

“If they are successful,” O’Connell said of candidates such as Trump and Cruz, “then those who are arguing to broaden our appeal will be pushed to the edges of the party.”

Read more from Niall Stanage at The Hill

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Struggling Jeb Bush Enjoys Larger Crowds

Jeb Bush is low in the polls but is experiencing something new: growing crowds.

The former Florida governor drew his largest crowd in recent memory when he hosted a town hall in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Saturday night, with 530 people in attendance, according to the fire marshal. 

Bush typically draws between 100 and 200 people at his town halls so staffers had to search for extra seats. It was the fourth night in a row that Bush aides had to find more seats for a larger-than-expected crowd during a packed swing through New Hampshire and South Carolina -- two states that Bush is counting on to propel his beleaguered campaign forward. 

The question is whether last week marked the beginning of 'Jebmentum' or if it's simply an illustration of a more engaged electorate as the primary season gets underway.

Bush's campaign is still mulling whether it can gin up more enthusiasm by bringing out former President George W. Bush on the campaign trail in support of his brother. The 43rd president now has a 77% approval rating among Republicans, according to a Bloomberg Politics poll in November.

Talking to reporters, Bush was asked Saturday night whether he was using his family to its full potential, given the reverence that his supporters express about them at events.

And in a state like South Carolina, which was good for his brother and his dad in their presidential runs, an appearance by George W. Bush might be a wise Hail Mary for Jeb Bush's campaign, said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. 

"Right now he's running out of things to deploy so I think he's willing to throw the kitchen sink at the wall to make it happen," O'Connell said.

"For as maligned as 'W' is in the mainstream media, a lot of conservatives have a soft spot for him," he continued. "It would be about generating buzz but also about generating trust. If anyone has been mauled on this campaign cycle, it's been Jeb. You can't go 15 minutes without Trump mentioning his name, without talk radio mentioning him as a side joke."

Read more from Ashley Killough at CNN

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Republicans' Dark Style: Is The Reagan Era Over?

When Marco Rubio notably began 2016 with darker, more aggressive rhetoric, he dampened his image as the sunny, Reagan-like optimist of the Republican presidential field.

“If we get this election wrong, there may be no turning around for America,” Senator Rubio of Florida warned at a recent campaign stop in Mason City, Iowa.

The youthful Rubio still begins his stump speech with talk of “a new American century” and “our exceptional country,” but uses the bulk of his time attacking President Obama, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, and his GOP rivals, according to reports from the trail.

Clearly, GOP front-runner Donald Trump isn’t even trying to be the next President Reagan. Mr. Trump  scowls menacingly from the cover of his latest book, “Crippled America” – a title that screams pessimism. His rhetoric is intense and profane, his first television ad a 30-second litany of fear-inducing images. At the end of the ad, when he promises to “make America great again,” he’s shouting, not smiling.

And Trump’s closest competitor in the polls, Ted Cruz, is hardly Reagan stylistically, though he has tried to cloak himself in the Reagan mantle more than anybody else in the race. “He just doesn’t have Reagan’s personality,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Reagan left office 27 years ago, when the world was a very different place. To people much under age 40, he is a figure in the history books.

In his 2013 book, “Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell scolds his party for having what he calls a “Reagan fixation.”

“It undermines the candidates, because it becomes a crutch for their inability to articulate an actual agenda or a forward-looking vision,” Mr. O’Connell writes.

O’Connell understands why some candidates wrap themselves in the Reagan mantle, at least during the primary. These are voters who remember Reagan, “people over age 50 who are mostly white men or married women,” O’Connell says in an interview. “That’s the Republican base, right or wrong.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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RNC Launches Ad Campaign To Highlight Diversity In GOP Field Organizers

Hoping to soften the party’s rough edges, the Republican National Committee announced a new ad campaign Thursday featuring a former prostitute and other unlikely GOP voters explaining why they embrace conservative principles.

The party said the campaign is meant to attract new recruits to its Republican Leadership Initiative organizing program, as it continues its multiyear effort to try to make inroads with minority and female voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The RNC said the $300,000 campaign would include television ads played during next week’s GOP debate in South Carolina and digital ads targeting potential recruits for the party’s RLI program.

Since the 2012 presidential election, when President Obama won a second term with the help of huge margins among Hispanic and black voters, the GOP has worked hard to reverse those trend lines.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said the RNC deserves plaudits for actively working to dispel the public narrative that the GOP is the party of old white men, but the results this year are going to depend on who Republicans choose as their presidential nominee.

“They’re trying the best they can, but at the same time there’s only so much they can do,” he said. “The problem is political parties don’t have the power they used to … a lot of this work is up to the GOP presidential nominee.”

Read more from Dave Sherfinski at The Washington Times

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