'Disappointed’ Jeb Bush’s Donors, Backers 'Take A Breath’ Before Turning To Rubio, Kasich In 2016 Race

If Jeb Bush’s most loyal supporters were told last year the former Florida governor would be out of the 2016 U.S. presidential race by February, they most likely would have laughed out loud. Now, the prospect of not only seeing the Republican nomination go to billionaire businessman Donald Trump but also losing the candidate they believed would help the GOP retake the White House has set many of them back on their heels.

Within hours of Bush dropping out of the presidential race Saturday night, many outlets reported that some of his big donors were switching their support to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. As the presidential-nomination season heads toward Super Tuesday (March 1) with Trump looking stronger than ever, the establishment wing of the Republican Party is facing an increasingly fraught choice: either resign themselves to the New York real estate mogul or line up behind an alternative.

Although Rubio may appear to be a natural fit for big campaign contributors hoping to stop Trump in his tracks, Bush backers and GOP strategists say a sense of loyalty and the rivalry between the two Sunshine State politicians could make supporters think twice when choosing another 2016 presidential campaign to help finance.

“Their focus was, ‘How do you clear out the mainstream lane for Jeb Bush?’,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who advised U.S. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “The person who was hit most by Right to Rise was Rubio.”

Read more from Abigail Abrams at Independent Business Times

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Trump Victory In South Carolina Primary: Can He Be stopped?

Three contests into primary season, a simple truth is self-evident: Donald Trump is on track to become the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nominee.

True, the brash billionaire won the South Carolina primary on Saturday with just 32.5 percent of the vote. And it’s still early. The vast majority of convention delegates remain up for grabs. But even with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s decision to drop out Saturday night after finishing a distant fourth, Mr. Trump can still succeed – and vacuum up delegates – by dividing and conquering.

The South Carolina exit poll tells the story. In a strongly religious state, Trump won both the evangelical and nonevangelical vote. He won among both modest-income and well-off voters. He won among the non-college-educated, and barely lost to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – the surprise second-place finisher overall – among those with college degrees.

But the biggest shock to the Republican system comes in another poll number: the evident yearning for an outsider. When asked what is the best preparation for the presidency, 48 percent of South Carolina voters said being “from outside the political establishment” – and of those, 63 percent went for Trump, a first-time candidate for public office.

“What I don’t know is whether he can crack 50 percent in a two-person race” for the nomination, says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Will Clinton Claim A Bigger Win In S.C., And Will Trump Move Farther From The Pack In Nevada?

Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s victories Saturday in Nevada and South Carolina raise two big questions for the next stops in the primary season.

Can Clinton build on her narrow Nevada victory and chalk up a bigger win next Saturday in South Carolina, which features a substantial African American population, and can Trump move even further away from the pack—including establishment favorite Marco Rubio – Tuesday in the Silver State.

The Republican candidates are now shifting their attention to Nevada, and the most recent polling shows that the race is not nearly as tight as the Clinton-Sanders battle.

Ford O’Connell, former adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said the thing to watch in Nevada will be who wins second place after a near tie for the spot in South Carolina between Cruz and Rubio. While Rubio has lived in Nevada, Republicans in the state have so far not rallied around him. 

Nevertheless, what Nevada ultimately reveals about who the Republican Party’s nominee is likely to be is uncertain. One key question is whether the Silver State will whittle down the cast of candidates to three.

“If it doesn’t consolidate before March 15, when all of a sudden the Republican primaries become winner take all, it’s going to be a disaster for the party moderates,” O’Connell said. “As long as the field stays wide, as in more than three candidates, Trump is in good shape.”

Read more from Miranda Green at Scripps Media

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Jeb Bush Bows Out Of Presidential Race

An emotional Jeb Bush bowed out of the presidential race after a poor showing in South Carolina, admitting that he failed to ignite the passions of Republican voters after struggling for months to make inroads against front-runner Donald Trump.

His decision to drop out is likely an attempt to stop the seemingly unstoppable Trump, said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

“He recognizes that if there’s not a consolidation behind the mainstream candidacy, Trump is going to skate to the nomination with a plurality of votes,” O’Connell said. “He basically put party and country ahead of personal ambitions.”

Read more from Lindsay Kalter at the Boston Herald

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Who Wins Today In South Carolina And Nevada? Pundits Predict

The Hill asked pundits from both parties to predict the winners in today's South Carolina primary and Nevada caucus. Here's what they had to say.

South Carolina Republican primary:

Ford O'Connell

Winner: Trump

Unless something earth-shattering occurs between now and when the polls close in South Carolina, Trump will be the victor. Trump has led nearly every reliable public poll of Republican primary voters in the Palmetto State for the past 200-plus days and I just don't see that changing. As for who will finish second, the edge goes to Cruz over Rubio, given that South Carolina is 62 percent evangelical Christian on the Republican side and Cruz has invested more than any other candidate in the ground game. But should Rubio eclipse Cruz and capture the silver medal, that would be an ominous sign for the senator from Texas with the "SEC primary" looming on the horizon; also, the calls for Bush to exit the race will be deafening.

O'Connell is the chairman of CivicForumPAC, worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and is author of the book "Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery."

Read more at The Hill

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South Carolina Could Be Make Or Break For Bush

Jeb Bush could be making his last stand today in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, as party insiders say the former Florida governor needs to finish third or better to press on in the race for the nomination.

Bush has embraced his family this week in South Carolina, where the name is popular, a drastic shift from the start of the campaign that reflects his attempt to gain traction. Another back-of-the-pack finish for Bush after his sixth-place showing in Iowa and a fourth in New Hampshire could spell disaster.

Bush — polling at 12 percent, behind Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — led in early polls and held the party’s establishment lane that he’s now fighting over.

“Jeb’s future starts and ends with Marco Rubio,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “If Rubio ends up pulling off a Houdini act and finishes second, the calls for (Bush) to drop out will be louder than a heavy metal concert.”

The GOP wants to narrow the field of candidates to pull support from Trump, O’Connell said, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Rubio this week signals Bush might not make the cut.

“That was a sign within the party’s mainstream that (Bush) doesn’t give it the best shot to win the nomination,” he said.

Read more from Brian Dowling at the Boston Herald

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Ted Cruz Has Four Weeks to Prove He Can Win

It’s usually a mistake to infer large messages about presidential primaries from the results in any one state, but sometimes a single primary can be very revealing about the future of individual candidates. That’s almost certainly the case with South Carolina and Ted Cruz.

The Texas senator, currently running second to Donald Trump in both national polls and in the most recent polls of the Palmetto State, is at his strongest among “very conservative” voters and Evangelical Christians. That means that Cruz should be turning in his best performances in the Deep South — the heart of the Bible Belt. If he can’t perform there, election analysts say, there’s good reason to assume that he will struggle in the rest of the country.

That’s why South Carolina looms particularly large for those watching the Cruz campaign. Like other states in the Deep South, it has a majority white, Protestant electorate with a large Evangelical element. His performance there is likely to be at least somewhat predictive of how Cruz does in the “Super Tuesday” primaries on March 1 — possibly the most important day on the calendar for his campaign. With 12 states voting, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, it’s the largest block of Cruz-friendly states on the calendar.

“I think if Cruz underperforms in South Carolina, his campaign will be drinking Maalox before Super Tuesday,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “The next four weeks are paramount for the Cruz campaign. If they can’t pick up some W’s by then, it’s very hard to see how he can win the nomination.”

At minimum, what Cruz needs on Saturday, O’Connell said, is “a really strong showing coming out of South Carolina, so that even if Trump wins, the media is still talking about him.”

Read more from Rob Garver at The Fiscal Times

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In Nevada, Polling Uncertainty Overtakes Campaign Narratives

The unpredictability of polling in Nevada has left it unclear whether each party’s presumed presidential front-runner will pull off a victory.

And while Republican Donald Trump has been ahead in polls, strategists say Ted Cruz has shown success at mobilizing caucus supporters.

The timing of the contests could throw a wrench into Nevada’s results, as well, with the GOP caucuses scheduled for Tuesday, three days after the party’s South Carolina primary.

Nevada, which became an early-voting state in 2008, has dubbed itself the “first-in-the-West” caucuses.

Here’s a breakdown of how the Silver State’s contest works and what to watch for.

“The only person who can potentially top Trump in Nevada is Ted Cruz, just because he’s been demonstrating himself to be very effective with mobilizing in caucuses,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Jeb Bush are all competing for GOP establishment voters, and whoever among them emerges from South Carolina as the strongest might have some momentum going into Nevada.

“I think that the real race here between South Carolina and Nevada is who consistently finishes first among the mainstream candidates and whether or not Cruz is actually able to overcome Donald Trump in one of these two places,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Lisa Hagen at The Hill

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Trump Has Solid Lead In South Carolina

For all the intensity and sharp exchanges viewers saw last Saturday night, the ninth debate between the Republican presidential hopeful changed very little among likely voters in South Carolina, which holds its primary next Saturday (Feb. 20).

According to the latest CBS tracking poll, Donald Trump leads among likely GOP primary voters with 42 percent, followed by Ted Cruz with 20 percent, and John Kasich and Marco Rubio tied for third with 15 percent each. 

In what could possibly spell disaster for Jeb Bush in the state where his father and brother won critical primary wins in 1988 and 2000 respectively, CBS found the Florida governor tied for fourth place with Ben Carson.

Neutral observers to whom I spoke after the debate, in fact, commented more on the rancorous nature of the televised encounter in Greenville, S.C., than on points scored by the six candidates.

“The debate was held at a peace center and there was nothing peaceful about it,” said veteran GOP consultant Ford O’Connell, who has no favorite in the presidential race, “In fact it got down right ornery at times.”

But, O’Connell quickly added, “When a debate descends into complete chaos like this one did at times, Trump wins simply because his supporters will stick with him through thick and thin. That doesn’t mean Trump gained any new supporters tonight, particularly with his 9/11 commentary.”

He added that “Rubio’s performance in Greenville will make voters quickly forget about his previous debate debacle and for him that is all that matters — Rubio just simply has to run faster than Bush and Kasich in the Palmetto State and I think he accomplished that tonight.” 

Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax

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Trump Faces New Questions On Conservatism After Scalia Death

Hours after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the first question of Saturday's Republican presidential debate turned to the question of appointing his successor and front-runner Donald Trump's views on it.

Republican leaders in the Senate hastily made it known that they do not intend to approve President Barack Obama's nominee for the position, apparently regardless of who that person is. Obama plans to nominate someone anyway.

Responding to John Dickerson's question about that dispute,Trump said if he were in Obama's position, he would nominate someone too. However, he hopes "Mitch and the group" can delay the president's choice, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Later in the debate, Sen. Ted Cruz revisited the issue and questioned Trump's credibility as a candidate who would nominate strong conservative justices, since he has supported liberal positions in the past. He also made the stakes clear for primary voters, as he sees them.

Trump has changed a number of his political views in recent years, most notably on abortion. In 1999, Trump described himself as "very pro-choice in every respect," but he now claims to be pro-life.

"The death of Scalia in a microcosm, at least for Republicans, is what the 2016 election is all about," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

To Trump's credit, O'Connell noted that he was the only candidate on the debate stage who named specific judges in his debate answers Saturday, but the strategist is skeptical Trump will gain or lose much support over the matter.

"Ted Cruz and all the other candidates are doing everything possible to dislodge Donald Trump from the pole position," he said. It may influence some undecided voters in more religious states that hold primaries over the next month, but those voters were likely already aware of Trump's inconsistent positions on social issues.

"Those issues were issues for Trump anyway for the next four weeks," O'Connell said.

Although Justice Scalia is seen as "the father of modern conservative legal scripture" among many Republicans, O'Connell observed that he has never seen a major election driven by judicial appointment issues and he doubts 2016 will be any different. He pointed to a 2006 poll that found more Americans were able to name two of the seven dwarves than two Supreme Court justices.

"Most people don't even know who sits on the court," he said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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