2016 Presidential Campaign On Track To Become Most Expensive, Surpassing $1 Billion

The 2016 presidential aspirants and outside groups have already crossed the $1 billion fundraising mark collectively this campaign, blowing by previous election cycles.

At this point in 2012, candidates had collectively raised about $314 million, according to data compiled by the Campaign Finance Institute. In 2008, the last time an incumbent president was approaching the end of his second term, candidates had collectively raised about $812 million.

For Donald Trump, who suggested last August that he might be willing to spend up to $1 billion on his campaign, the new data suggests he could end up needing to do so.

Even with the glut of super PAC spending, however, the actual effect of these outside groups on the primary campaign is still an open question at this point, analysts said.

“I think the jury’s still out on that,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “A super PAC doesn’t work unless you have a candidate and a message too.”

“It almost doesn’t matter if I give you a nuclear weapon and you’ve got the French army behind it,” said Mr. O’Connell.

Mr. O’Connell also pointed out that Mr. Trump, the Republican front-runner, has managed to command unprecedented free media this cycle.

“I think it’s hard to tell what the future is with super PACs because we had this snowplow known as Donald Trump, who had a hundred percent name ID and a really great message,” Mr. O’Connell said. “Now, what if I gave that guy a super PAC? My God, I can see scorched earth from here to Alaska.”

Read more from David Sherfinski at The Washington Times

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Donald Trump Tries To Focus On Serious Talk

Donald Trump’s dire warning that the United States is on the brink of a “massive recession” and his vow to completely eliminate the $19 trillion national debt in just eight years, is being seen as an attempt to establish himself as a serious candidate after a rough week, political analysts say.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post, the billionaire casino and real estate mogul warned of an impending economic collapse, saying “it’s a terrible time” to invest in the stock market and insisting that he will get rid of the national debt “over a period of eight years.”

Republican political analyst Ford O’Connell said Trump’s bold remarks suggest he’s looking to score political points on an issue that is “near and dear” to mainstream Republican voters as he heads into what is shaping up to be a difficult stretch of primaries, starting with Wisconsin tomorrow, where U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is leading in polls. Trump also is seen as having taken a self-administered beating last week with his remarks suggesting women who get abortions should face punishment if the procedure is outlawed.

“I’m not saying he’s not serious about cutting the national debt, but obviously this is an eye-grabbing plan as he’s trying to get conservatives back in line to vote for him,” O’Connell told the Herald.

“He needed to use an ‘US Weekly’ headline to make sure that he’s going to be able to stave off the bleeding from his projected loss in Wisconsin. He’s got to find a way to reassure the base of the Republican Party that he’s going to fight for the little man — and that’s why you’re hearing this debt plan from him.”

Read more from Owen Boss at the Boston Herald

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Trump Gets Rougher Treatment From Media

Donald Trump is having a rough go of it in the media of late.

The GOP front-runner has for months thrived on the around-the-clock coverage of his nontraditional campaign. But several tough exchanges this week have proved that there’s also a downside to his reliance on earned media.

Reporters and anchors have provoked unforced errors from Trump, fact-checked and challenged his oft-repeated assertions in real-time and rebuked the surrogates who have at times struggled to defend their candidate.

It’s a significant turn of events in a primary that has otherwise been defined by Trump’s mastery of the news cycle. 

Some conservatives believe that the media is all too eager to twist the knife on a candidate that is despised by many political elites.

“Part of this is malice on the media’s part,” said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. “He’s been able to outfox them at every turn, and now that he’s backed into a corner you see some of the latent aggression coming out here as they try and make up for past instances where he’s gotten the better of them.”

“The media gives and the media takes away,” O’Connell said. “It got away from him this week. If Trump loses the nomination, I think this is the week we’ll look back on as when the bottom fell out.” 

Read more form Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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The GOP’s Shadow Delegate Campaign

The GOP presidential contenders are waging a shadow campaign for delegates ahead of their party’s nominating convention this summer. 

Political strategist Ford O'Connell said the campaigns "have separate operations that no one actually hears about" focused on picking off delegates in case no candidate reaches the 1,237 needed to clinch the nomination.

John Feehery, a contributor to The Hill, and O'Connell explain the dynamics in an interview with the Hill's Molly K. Hooper.

Watch the video and read more at The Hill

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GOP Nears The Breaking Point

The presidential primary has been a wrenching experience for the GOP so far — and it’s about to get even worse. 

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich have all backed away from their pledge to support the party's eventual nominee, foreshadowing a fight at the convention and beyond that could cleave the GOP into warring factions.

Instead of helping to unify the GOP behind a candidate, as the primary process typically does, the race has instead created deep wounds between the candidates that are unlikely to heal.

The antagonism has been heightened by a particularly vicious stretch of campaigning involving allegations of adultery and pictures of the candidates’ wives.

Many Republicans strategists say they don't think Trump will attempt a third-party bid if he fails to win the nomination, given that it’s too late to get on the ballot in most states. 

But should Trump opt for a write-in campaign, it could effectively dash any Republican hopes of beating the Democratic candidate.

"Republicans — the core Republicans — are going to rally around” the nominee no matter who it is, O'Connell insisted.

Still, "the enthusiasm is with Trump. How other candidates might pick that up if they're the nominee is an open question," O'Connell added.

Read more from Jesse Byrnes at The Hill

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Democrats Keep Pressure on Garland Supreme Court Nomination

Democratic senators continue to press their Republican counterparts to hold confirmation hearings and vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, to fill the seat left vacant by the death of arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Even so, Democrats, who are in the minority and must rely on Republicans to advance a nominee, are continuing the fight, arguing against protracted delay in filling a Supreme Court vacancy. 

Washington insiders say the standoff is unlikely to end anytime soon.
“Most people don’t know a lot about the Supreme Court,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “But the base of both parties do know how valuable this [fight] is and how important this is."

Read more from Michael Bowman at Voice of America

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Hillary Clinton's High Negatives Underscore Angry Democratic Electorate

While U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is still leading the race to her party's nomination, the difficulty she's been having with rival Senator Bernie Sanders underscores a disenfranchised and angry electorate.

Sanders racked up surprise wins Saturday in the states of Washington, Hawaii and Alaska, riding the wave of anti-establishment feeling that is prevalent not only in the Republican Party but among Democrats as well.

Indeed, while much has been made in the media of Republican Party front-runner Donald Trump's high negative ratings, Clinton's negative ratings are nearly as high. 

Just last week, a CBS poll showed that the two candidates have the highest unfavorable ratings since 1984, when CBS began asking the question.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said there is a sense of disenfranchisement on both sides of the isle. While brash real estate billionaire Donald Trump leads the Republican Party on his anti-establishment message, Sanders' popularity also stems from a sense of disillusionment with Washington elites.

"A lot of what is going on on the right is also going on on the left," O'Connell told Xinhua. "A good number of Democrats are not thrilled with establishment politics either. It's why a protest candidate like Sanders keeps hanging around."

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua 

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Why The Death Of GOP 'Loyalty Pledge' Matters

When Donald Trump signed a “loyalty pledge” with great fanfare last September promising to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee, few took him seriously. 

Because no one tells Mr. Trump what to do. He even said so at the time. 

Now Trump has formally rescinded his pledge, and the remaining GOP competitors – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich – have come close, refusing to say whether they would honor their own loyalty pledges at a CNN town hall Tuesday night.

In a way, the death of the pledge is merely symbolic. It’s already been clear for some time that the Grand Old Party is coming apart at the seams, with a presidential front-runner who barely adheres to Republican philosophy and yet commands a big, loyal following.

But that symbolism is important. After all, what is the point of having a political party, if its members don’t intend to support one another?

The unraveling of the pledge is “clarifying,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “It tells us how much these men can’t stand each other.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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RNC Pledge Backtrack Doesn't Matter, Expert Says

The GOP presidential contenders' recent backtracking on a pledge to support the party's eventual nominee doesn't matter, political operative Ford O'Connell says.

The Republican National Committee's original pledge was designed to prevent Donald Trump from running as a third-party candidate, O'Connell says in an interview with The Hill's Molly K. Hooper.

But at this point in the cycle, O'Connell said that’s "pretty much impossible because of the time, money, manpower needed to mount a successful independent campaign in the general election."

Watch the video and read more at The Hill

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Obama Supreme Court Nominee Meets With First Republican Senator

The battle over U.S. President Barack Obama's latest Supreme Court nominee came into sharper focus Tuesday when Senator Mark Kirk became the first Republican to meet with Judge Merrick Garland, and the high court itself deadlocked on a major labor union case.

In calling for hearings and a vote on the Garland nomination, Kirk is bucking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans who insist the next president pick the high court nominee.

"McConnell's biggest concern is making sure that he holds onto power in the Senate," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, who argues that Garland's fate could be determined by Republican perceptions of the presidential campaign.

"At this point, there is no chance of these guys [Senate Republicans] giving in," O'Connell said. "If [Donald] Trump or [Ted] Cruz or whoever has no chance [of winning in November], then you are much more likely to see McConnell try to make a deal."

"Republican control of the Senate pretty much lives and dies with the Republican presidential nominee's ability to win the White House," he added. "Many of these key Senate races are actually in presidential battleground states."

Read more from Michael Bowman at Voice of America

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