Hillary Clinton Sees Opening In Republican Gaffe On Benghazi

Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California still appears to be on track to become the next speaker of the House. He did himself no favors this week, however, with some comments on the Benghazi investigation and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

McCarthy has been in apology mode the past few days after he told a Fox News program that since House Republicans had created the special committee to look into the 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, Clinton’s poll numbers have dropped.

McCarthy added, “Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made it happen.”

The Clinton campaign, congressional Democrats and even disenchanted Republicans quickly jumped all over McCarthy’s comments.

Clinton is scheduled to testify before the panel on October 22 and it is seen by many as a key test of her presidential campaign. 

But Republican strategists still expect the House committee to grill Clinton about her handling of the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks.

“I think the optics of it could really be damaging to Hillary Clinton regardless of what comes out of that hearing,” said strategist Ford O’Connell.

But is there a danger Republicans could go too far?

“Oh, absolutely. They can overplay their hand.” He quickly added, “The Clinton camp likes to say that so far they [Republicans] are overplaying their hand on the email [controversy]. But so far, it’s working.”

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America

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Jeb Bush-Marco Rubio Rivalry Breaks Out

The long-simmering rivalry between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio has finally spilled out into the open.

For months now, the Florida Republicans have battled behind the scenes. The two presidential campaigns have pushed opposition research, battled for activists and donors, and taken frequent implied swipes at one another.

But with Rubio besting Bush in the last three national polls, Bush this week pulled back the curtain. Twice in two days, the former governor publicly sought to draw a distinction between him and the first-term senator, whose political star rose under Bush’s governorship.

Rubio has so far held his fire.

Supporters for Bush and Rubio seemed relieved that the tension has finally boiled over. Members of each camp believe they’re well-positioned to meet the other head-on.

Rubio appears to have the momentum, however. He has surpassed Bush in the polls in the weeks since the last Republican debate and looks more like the formidable challenger many believed he’d be all along.

“It looks like Bush has recognized that Rubio is the biggest threat to his campaign in terms of solidifying the establishment vote, so he’s trying to big-foot Marco,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who is unaffiliated. “It’s not vicious, it’s just a little jab.”

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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Political Divide A Threat To Republican Hopes

The deep divisions within the Republican Party are on full display in the wake of House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement last week that he will resign at the end of October.  Couple Boehner’s impending departure with the rise of political outsiders in the Republican presidential race and it’s clear that the divide between establishment Republicans and grassroots conservatives is very much alive and could become a distraction for the party as it approaches the 2016 presidential election.

The split between grassroots conservatives and establishment Republicans is also evident in the presidential race with the rise of non-politician outsiders like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump.  Trump addressed the issue when he announced details of his tax reform proposal this week in New York.  “And you know, people ask, how come Trump is doing so well, and [Ben] Carson and others?  How come they are doing [so well]?  You know why they are doing well?  Because people are tired of political speak.  They are tired of that.”

There is little doubt that conservative impatience and anger with the status quo are driving the presidential race, said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.  “Basically, it says that a lot of Republicans feel that Republican leadership in Washington has basically not done enough to push back President Obama’s agenda.  And we are not only seeing this in Washington, but we are also seeing the same effect on the presidential campaign trail and that is why we are seeing the outsiders rise.”

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America

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Will Ted Cruz, The Anti-Washington Crusader, Shut Down The Government?

With his poll numbers falling far short of those garnered by Republican presidential candidates who’ve never held elected office, Ted Cruz has a chance this week to prove he’s just as anti-Washington as his rivals atop the leaderboard — despite the “Texas senator” title that suggests he’s part of the political establishment. 

On Tuesday, Cruz could reprise his starring role in a congressional fight to fund the government, this time over taxpayer dollars going to Planned Parenthood.

But the White House hopeful’s stand against the spending bill is likely as political as it is principled. 

“For Cruz’s presidential campaign, the stakes couldn’t be higher in terms of the upcoming congressional showdown,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “He wants to be seen as a political outsider and, right now, he’s not gaining traction in the polls because he’s seen as an insider.”

It’s still unclear what Cruz plans to do when the Senate puts the continuing resolution to a final vote on Tuesday. Cruz’s Senate office did not reply to a request for comment, and he has not made any promises to embark on another 21-hour floor speech. But even if he decides not to put up a fight this time around, Cruz will have another chance to do so in December, when the stopgap spending bill runs out, conveniently just before the 2016 nominating contest kicks into high gear. Congress will also have to vote to raise the debt ceiling around the same time.

“December could be a make or break moment for Cruz,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Emma Margolin at MSNBC

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2016 Donald Trump Tax Plan: Cuts Across The Board Proposed As Billionaire Gets More Serious

With glistening golden marble as a backdrop in a building that in many ways defines opulence, Republican front-runner Donald Trump, flanked by a pair of American flags, offered up his tax plan Monday at Trump Tower, proposing to cut all individual American tax brackets, impose a discounted tax on money held offshore by U.S. companies and cut capital gains.

To pay for the tax cuts, Trump proposed an incentive that could bring back as much as $2.1 trillion currently sitting offshore. The plan would impose a 10 percent flat tax on all of that money, even if it stays overseas. The idea behind this portion of the plan is that it would increase the amount of money in the U.S. and encourage investment and job growth stateside.

The plan also would limit the amount of personal deductions allowed, a proposal that would affect the nation's wealthiest individuals the most.

Trump has been looking to bolster his campaign and show his candidacy is about more than just his ability to hold a room and be a popular celebrity. His lack of policy papers became particularly noticeable during the second Republican debate, during which former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina put up a disciplined and policy-strong front. She and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson have been surging in polls.

His strategy of simple popular appeal seemed to be waning.

“The idea of stalling out the field is not going to work. It’s worked well for him thus far, but eventually we’re going to move from the personality phase to the substance phase and basically Trump’s going to have to be aware of that,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who is unaffiliated with a 2016 campaign. “He’s looking for that second act. He had the first one: ‘I’m Trump and everyone else is a Bozo,’ and now it’s like, ‘Hold on. I’m going to need a little bit more meat behind this,’ ” added O’Connell, who worked on John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008.

Read more from Clark Mindock at International Business Times

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Two Charts That Show How John Boehner Had An Impossible Job

There's a great irony to John Boehner's resignation — once upon a time, he was involved in an attempt to oust a speaker himself. The official bio on the speaker's website puts it this way: he was, back in the day, "a reformer who took on the establishment."

But when one becomes speaker, one becomes, by definition, part of the establishment. And these days, the conservative base just doesn't like the establishment.

Here's another irony: Boehner has become more conservative over the last 25 years — and the Ohio Republican remains more conservative than the average GOP congressman. But he hasn't kept pace with the hard-liners, and that's important in this era of record polarization.

Those are two big reasons Boehner's job as speaker was such a struggle. Let's examine:

1. Voters (Republicans especially) really don't trust Washington 

Americans have grown increasingly distrustful of government in the last few decades, and the feeling is particularly strong among Republicans, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Long story short, public distrust of government translated into elected officials distrusting establishment figures, said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. Outsiders distrusted the long-time leaders, and those leaders suffered for it.

"They're elected to represent your views. ... And a lot of Republicans just did not feel [lawmakers] were making the progress that they should," O'Connell said. "Boehner was the symbol of that inaction."

Read more from Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR

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GOP Prez Hopefuls Cheer Boehner Exit

Gloating conservative GOP presidential contenders celebrated House Speaker John Boehner’s impending resignation with victory laps yesterday, hoping the establishment Republican’s downfall will be the “blood in the water” moment that will energize their campaigns.

Pundits hailed Boehner’s ouster under pressure as victories for anti-establishment conservatives, such as Cruz and real estate mogul Donald Trump, who have tapped the anger and disgust with both parties in Washington.

Citing a new Fox News Channel poll showing 66 percent of Republicans don’t believe their party’s leadership has done its best to block or reverse President Obama’s agenda, GOP operative Ford O’Connell said the news is a victory for Cruz, Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson.

“They’re all trying to spin it,” O’Connell said of the entire Republican field. “The outsiders are more likely to spin it to their benefit.”

Read more from Chris Cassidy at The Boston Herald

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Boehner Departure Could Put 2nd Californian In Top House Spot

Kevin McCarthy, the prematurely gray, 50-year-old former “young gun” Republican from Bakersfield, is heir apparent to become speaker of the House of Representatives with the surprise resignation of embattled Speaker John Boehner of Ohio on Friday.

With Democratic leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco showing no sign that she intends to retire anytime soon, the powerful but deeply divided California congressional delegation would have the top two jobs in the “people’s chamber” of Congress should McCarthy win election by his colleagues.

The leadership election is yet to be announced, but presumably will take place before Boehner leaves office in a month. Vicious internal power struggles are expected to roil the leadership even if McCarthy wins the top slot. 

A small-business moderate early in his career, McCarthy has moved right with the national GOP since he entered the House in 2007 on issues such as immigration, but never has been closely allied with the party’s fire-breathing conservative wing.

His rise is due in part to his success in recruiting House candidates and raising money. That could potentially earn him loyalty from members who thought nothing of bucking Boehner.

Even so, McCarthy will face the same “antiestablishment feeling that is going throughout the country, particularly among Republican primary voters, that’s being pushed by Donald Trump’s message,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “It’s this message going on in Republican circles that everyone in politics is lying to you and is bad at their jobs and Republican leaders are the worst of all because they’re elected to represent your views.”

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at The San Francisco Chronicle

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GOP 2016: What Carly Fiorina's Failed Senate Race Says About Her Presidential Campaign

As Carly Fiorina gains increased media attention and ramps up her presidential campaign after her strong performance in the second Republican debate last week, she may still be struggling to overcome the obstacles that led to her defeat the only previous time she sought elected office.

While Fiorina has billed herself as an "outsider" candidate, she does have political experience -- she just wasn’t successful. Her 2010 campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in California saw fierce campaigning (she’s often remembered for the “demon sheep” ad) and pressure on Fiorina to defend her business record before the former Hewlett-Packard CEO eventually lost.

That one campaign does not make her a political insider like establishment candidates who have built careers in elected office, according to Republican strategists, but they say it could give Fiorina knowledge about her weak spots and where she’ll need to improve this time around.

During her 2010 campaign, Fiorina was hit hard by ads from Boxer that criticized her laying off of 30,000 employees at Hewlett-Packard, as well as Fiorina’s own firing when the company's stock price dropped.

Some strategists point to her strong communication skills in the debate and in interviews, saying she is doing a better job of explaining her record now than she did in 2010.

“She’s been doing much better,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign. “But herein lies the problem that Carly has. She is trying to explain this to a mass audience, and that is very difficult. ... What she’s talking about takes a little bit of business acumen. Everyone wants business experience, but it’s tough to explain that in soundbites.”

“If she can continue to demonstrate authenticity in other aspects of her life, which she’s been doing with her cancer story and her daughter [her stepdaughter died after a struggle with drug addiction], then people might empathize and will believe her more” about her business record, O’Connell said.

Read more from Abigail Abrams at International Business Times 

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Pope Francis Under Fire From Conservatives

As Pope Francis prepares this week to deliver a historic address to Congress, he is drawing fire from an unlikely group: conservative hardliners. 
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) announced last week that he will boycott Thursday’s speech over expected remarks on climate change, saying the pontiff is acting like a “leftist politician.”
Rush Limbaugh called Francis’s views on capitalism “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.” And conservative columnist George Will wrote in a recent column that the Holy Father "embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony.” 
This pope is no liberal on many of the social issues — such as abortion and gay marriage — that matter most to the far right. But his positions on immigration, relations with Cuba and Iran, and income inequality are at odds with the those held by the GOP.

Recent polling shows Francis is widely popular among Americans. A CNN-ORC poll released this week found that 63 percent of Americans view Pope Francis favorably, compared to 74 percent among Catholics specifically 

Republicans who choose to publicly disagree with the views of a major religious leader whose every word matters to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics do so at their own peril.

Republicans have to be particularly careful given that their base includes conservative religious evangelicals, strategists say. 
“That's the Pandora's box that Republicans have to navigate particularly given the religious fervor of their supporters. But at the same time, they need to find a way to stand up on the key critical political issues,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

Read more from Christina Marcos at The Hill

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