Iraq Crisis Sees Obama Foreign Policy Questioned

With the United States evacuating Baghdad embassy staffers as Islamic extremists continued their bloody march on the Iraqi capital, the latest international crisis is pushing foreign policy to the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign with calls intensifying for an alternative to the global withdrawal strategy that propelled President Obama into office in 2008.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant yesterday claimed to have killed 1,700 Iraqi Air Force recruits, while the United States moved an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf but stopped short of committing to any military actions.

“I’m not sure that anybody wants the U.S. to be the world police, but if we don’t get a foothold in some of these situations, someone else will, as we’re seeing right now in Iraq,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican operative in Washington, D.C., who advised John McCain’s presidential campaign and studied Iraq at The Heritage Foundation. “Foreign policy is definitely creeping into the three or four issues for either nominee. The War on Terror is not over.”

ISIL terrorists posted graphic photos yesterday that appeared to show gunmen massacring captured Iraqi soldiers. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the militants’ claim “horrifying and a true depiction of the bloodlust that these terrorists represent.” The State Department said yesterday some Baghdad staffers will be “temporarily relocated” to the Iraqi cities of Basra and Erbil, and Jordan.

The strife in Iraq — much like crises in Ukraine, Syria and Libya — is putting pressure on President Obama to ramp up U.S. response.

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at The Boston Herald

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More Than Immigration Reform Defeated Cantor

By week’s end, a colorful cornucopia of pundits, strategists and consummate insiders were all still struggling to get their heads around it: how did an invincible commander of the House Republican elite get smacked down by a little-known college economics professor with virtually little money in the bank?

Beyond news of meltdown in Iraq, that pretty much summed up the conversation in Washington, a debate of many twists and turns that’s already bleeding into the new week. Even as tea party insurgent David Brat became the new show stopper hitting the political stage, all the focus was on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and what this meant for the future of the Republican Party.

No one on the Republican side of things saw this coming, although close observers like Republican strategist and CivicForumPAC founder Ford O’Connell describe signs on the ground in the Richmond suburb that alluded to voter issues with Cantor. “It wasn’t just the tea party,” said O’Connell. “And, frankly, I hate that term. It’s a lazy analysis. And, it wasn’t just immigration reform.” O’Connell describes a situation in which Cantor’s team was more than likely asleep at the campaign wheel and voters largely disenchanted with business as usual in Washington. In his book “Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery,” O’Connell puts forth a number of strategies for nervous establishment Republicans seeking to retake their party.

O’Connell, and many other observers, won’t settle for the popular narrative that perceived flip-flopping on immigration reform legislation finally nailed Cantor’s political coffin. Some argue that there’s a larger problem of a jaded American electorate – tea party or not – that’s sour on everything unfolding in Washington.

Read more from Charles D. Ellison at The Philadelphia Tribune

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U.S. Democrats Have Clinton, But Race For Republican Presidential Contender Wide Open For 2016

While it may be a foregone conclusion that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be the Democrats' pick for the 2016 White House race, the Republican ticket remains wide open, experts said.

To prepare for her race, Clinton is kicking off an unofficial public relations campaign with the recent release of her new book, "Hard Choices," which was followed by a nationally televised interview on Sunday. 

But Republicans have no such early starter, although most analysts and pundits at this early stage of the game point to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Still, analysts said the Republican Party's field for the 2016 nomination is far from clear, especially after the recent surprise victory of a relatively unknown Tea Party candidate over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia's Republican primary elections.

Other experts said the Republicans will be seeking a candidate to whom ordinary Americans can relate, as Clinton, a former First Lady, is often regarded to be hard to connect with ordinary Americans.

"What the Republicans are really looking for at the end of the day is a current or former governor who can say 'I'm not a bean counter for Wall Street. I'm a defender of Main Street,'" Republican strategist Ford O' Connell told Xinhua.

"You have to be able to bridge that white and blue collar divide," he said. "It will come down to who can pass what I call the 'beer litmus test' - which candidate would you rather have a beer with."

Read more from Matthew Rusling at ShanghaiDaily.com

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Eric Cantor Lost Touch With His Constituents Before Primary Loss

On the night Eric Cantor lost to David Brat in the Republican primary in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, Twitter was “atwitter” with the fact that Cantor had spent more in steakhouses during the campaign than Brat had spent total.

This served to reinforce the narrative that Cantor was in all those steakhouses fat-catting with his campaign staff while Brat’s hungry advisers were pounding the pavement. But what Cantor really was doing in those steakhouses more accurately explains his loss. He was raising funds – and helping others to raise funds – for fellow Republicans throughout the House of Representatives.

He made time for big-dollar private fundraisers to curry favor with other members of Congress, but hedid not make time for constituent service. He walked the halls of power instead of the streets of his suburban Richmond district. His approach to Brat was to caricature him as an extremist one-issue candidate with scurrilous friends and little idea of what he would do if elected when his constituents wanted to hear what he planned to do to better serve their interests.

And after all, he was the House majority leader. He not only could direct legislation to help his district and state, he could lean on appropriators – many of whose campaigns he had helped fund – to get things done. But it turns out having your congressman in a leadership position doesn’t have the appeal it used to.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at U.S. News & World Report

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Clinton Positions Herself For 2016 White House Bid Despite Weaknesses

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is positioning herself early for a 2016 White House bid, but she will be dogged by issues including the Benghazi attack and how to connect with ordinary Americans, experts said.

Clinton, widely viewed as the next Democratic candidate in the 2016 White House race, is kicking off an unofficial public relations campaign with the recent release of her new book, "Hard Choices," which was followed by a nationally televised interview on Sunday.

But her support ratings have dropped significantly in the last few years, falling from a high of 59 percent in February to 54 percent this week, signaling an end to the era in which she consistently ranked above 60 percent as secretary of state, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this week also found 50 percent of Americans disapprove of Clinton's actions on Benghazi, compared to 37 percent who approve of her actions.

Clinton, then secretary of state, has been criticized for her handling of the Sept. 11, 2012 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which led to the deaths of four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Hillary Clinton was accused of showing that side in an interview earlier this week when she said she and the former president were "flat broke" after leaving the White House.

"That interview we saw with Dianne Sawyer shows exactly how rusty Clinton is right now," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

"It's that sort of elitism that causes Americans to step back," O'Connell told Xinhua.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at ShanghaiDaily.com

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Tea Party Struggles To Repeat Cantor-style Shock In Tennessee

The shock defeat of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary in Virginia this week has fueled hopes among Tea Party activists in Tennessee that they can stage a similar upset against Senator Lamar Alexander in August.

But the Cantor loss, while enough to shake Washington and the Republican establishment, may not be a sign of things to come as the Tea Party movement has yet to show this year it can find a consistent winning formula against Republican incumbents.

In Tennessee, Alexander’s challenger - Tea Party state representative Joe Carr – is regarded by many political experts as unqualified for a Senate race and he is trailing by up to 40 points in the polls. He is also up against a lawmaker who is well prepared and a statewide Republican Party that is pushing to thwart the Tea Party.

By contrast, Cantor’s loss has been widely seen as a result of  his over-confidence, neglect of his district and voter anger at someone who had a pivotal leadership role in a gridlocked Congress.

“Lamar Alexander has taken the threat of a primary challenger seriously right from the start," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "He knew he had a target on his back."

Carr's local Tea Party backers argue that Cantor's opponent David Brat did not have national backing or serious funding either.

But Republican strategist O'Connell says a Senate race is far more challenging to win than a House race because of the large distances you need to travel and the many more media markets you need compete in.

Carr is also further hampered by the limited resources of the national conservative groups who can only compete in a few races and need to deliver results to help raise more money, O'Connell said. 

Read more from Nick Carey at Reuters

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Rick Perry Faces A Tough Road To 2016. His Comparison Of Homosexuality To Alcoholism Shows Why.

By all accounts, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is seriously weighing another run for president in 2016. But his remarks at a San Francisco forum Wednesday underscored one of his main challenges: sticking to the script.

In an appearance at the Commonwealth Club of California, Perry likened homosexuality to alcoholism. His remarks received national attention Thursday and were panned by gay rights activists. The events raised questions about  whether Perry's apparent attempts to soften his image and convince donors and power brokers he can run a viable campaign against stiff competition after falling flat in 2012 can work.

"Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that," Perry said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. "I may have the genetic coding that I'm inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way."

Added Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, "When you go out and make comments like that, mega-donors and key activists and voters are shaking their heads."

Perry is set to step down at the end of this term as the longest-serving governor in Texas history. Over the past year, he has been traveling the country to promote Texas's economic climate and try to poach businesses from other states.

Read more from Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post

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What Cantor's Defeat Means For California Republicans

The upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by a Tea Party insurgent has planted terror in the GOP over immigration reform, left California Republicans who favor an overhaul in an isolated position, and put a Central Valley Republican directly in line for the second-highest job in the House.

Cantor's loss will reverberate in California: The contest for his leadership job pits Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, against at least two conservative Texans. Silicon Valley loses an ally in Cantor, who cultivated close ties to the valley's political money. And the party's likely rightward shift on immigration poses dangers to California Republicans in heavily Latino districts.

Immigration reform advocates point to GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham's easy primary victory in South Carolina on Tuesday as evidence that immigration was not necessarily Cantor's undoing. Graham is a longtime backer of immigration reform.

But even Republicans who think the media are overstating immigration's role in Cantor's loss concede that the party will be even more timid on the matter now.

"It's certainly a come-to-Jesus moment for House Republicans in terms of what's going to happen with the prospects for immigration reform between now and the 2014 elections," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

While Cantor had eyes on becoming House speaker, he was disliked not only, as it turns out, by his own constituents, but also by a healthy contingent of his fellow Republicans.

Such is not the case for McCarthy, who stands directly behind Cantor in the leadership hierarchy and will try for the majority leader's job.

"McCarthy is the logical choice" to move into the majority leader post, O'Connell, the Republican strategist, said. "The one thing he has going for him that he's well liked by his House colleagues, and that goes a long way in these fierce leadership battles."

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead and Carla Marinucci at The San Francisco Chronicle 

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Cantor To Officially Step Down As House Majority Leader On July 31, Backs McCarthy As Replacement

Rep. Eric Cantor said Wednesday that he will step down as House majority leader at the end of July, after losing a primary election Tuesday, igniting a short, spirited race to fill his post in a vote of the full House GOP next week.

Mr. Cantor lost to tea party-backed challenger David Brat in one of the biggest upsets in recent political history, quashing what had been a steady rise for the 51-year-old and dealing a blow to Virginia Republicans.

Republicans said they expect the House to tilt even more conservative in the wake of Mr. Cantor’s defeat because of the candidates hoping to replace him as majority leader and because of the lessons lawmakers will draw from the Virginia primary.

The contest to replace Mr. Cantor started just hours after the election results were called, with potential candidates reaching out to colleagues to gauge support.

Although Mr. Cantor held an outsized financial advantage, much of his campaign money went to radio and television attack ads, which Mr. Brat accepted as free publicity.

“He ran an air war,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “It wasn’t about the money he spent, but how.”

“Would anybody argue he spent the money wisely based on the expenditures? No,” Mr. O’Connell said.

Mr. Cantor, in his remarks Tuesday evening and Wednesday, sounded simultaneously conciliatory, optimistic and grateful.

“He realized that he might not be done yet,” Mr. O’Connell said. “He can still run for governor. He could still run for a lot of things.”

Read more from By David Sherfinski and S.A. Miller at The Washington Times

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2016 Rivals Say They Can Ride The Wave

Tea Party-backed senators eyeing White House bids in 2016 are encouraged by the victory of an underfunded challenger to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), a grandee of the GOP establishment.

Their glee comes as mainstream Republicans are wringing their hands about what the historic upset means for the future of their party, fretting that it could signal a larger Tea Party uprising.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argued David Brat’s 11-point win showed that conservative principles can triumph over fundraising might and special-interest backing.

“Do I think that’s going to cause some fear among those vying for the Republican nomination in 2016? Absolutely,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign.

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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