How Far Will GOP Candidates Go to Get Into Next Week's Debate?

Trailing in the polls, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee grabbed the media's attention this weekend by claiming that President Barack Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran is "marching the Israelis to the door of the oven." On Friday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made headlines by calling fellow Republican Mitch McConnell—the Senate Majority Leader—a liar on the Senate floor. A few days before that, Rand Paul literally took a chainsaw to the tax code over an electric-guitar rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner."

The first Republican presidential debate is next Thursday on Fox News. And under rules set by Fox (with the blessing of the Republican National Committee), just 10 of the 16 declared major candidates—those with the highest average in the five most recent national polls leading up to the debate—will get a spot on the stage. Participants in the second debate, hosted by CNN in September, will also be selected based largely on polling averages. The result is a last-minute scramble by the candidates to crack the top 10 any way they can.

"So what's the best way to make news?" asks Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "Say something that's a little bit off-color."

The battle for media coverage is made that much tougher because Trump is "sucking up all the oxygen in the room," says O'Connell, who worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. But O'Connell doesn't blame Fox or the RNC for the frenzied rush to make it into the top 10 and the "off-color" comments it's producing. With 16 declared candidates, they have to winnow the field somehow to make the debates work, he says.

Read more from Pema Levy at Mother Jones

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U.S. Congress May Have Little Say On Iran Nuke Deal

U.S. lawmakers are furious that President Barack Obama circumvented Congress to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, but even if Congress votes down the deal, it will be extremely difficult to repeal it, experts said.

Earlier this month, Obama made an unprecedented nuclear deal with Iran, circumventing Congress and going to the United Nations Security Council, which backed the deal last Monday, infuriating U. S. lawmakers on both sides of the isle.

U.S. lawmakers even a few in Obama's own Democratic party - were livid that the U.S. president gave the UN the first say on the deal, before handing it over to Congress to perform its 60 day review of the agreement. Top House Foreign Affairs Committee's Democrat Representative Eliot Engel said he was "disappointed", in a joint statement with the committee's Republican Chairman Ed Royce, that the UN Security Council voted before U.S. Congress was able to "fully review and act on this agreement."

While U.S. Congress can reject the nuclear deal, and keep sanctions on Iran, Obama still can veto such an action as he promised. It would take two-thirds of Congress to overturn that veto, which experts said is unlikely to achieve.

"It's going to be very hard for the next president to undo it, let alone put those sanctions back in place, which took them ten years to put in place in the first place," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at GlobalPost 

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Republican 2016 Presidential Race: Why So Many Long Shots Are Running

When John Kasich announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination this week, the respected Ohio governor was entering an already crowded field with 15 other candidates, most of whom have little or no chance of winning. 

Kasich joined, among others, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki — all of whom, despite facing embarrassingly low polling numbers and daunting odds, have decided to forge ahead with their campaigns.

So why do long-shot presidential candidates go to all the trouble — not to mention time, energy and millions of dollars — on a venture unlikely to produce a successful result?

"I think Graham is one of those guys who's reached a point in his life where you give it a try, and when you don't embarrass yourself you can parlay that into other things," O'Connell said.

O'Connell whittled it down to three reasons as to why anyone runs, including those with a good chance of winning and those who almost certainly will lose.

"The first is they're looking for a media deal —  radio, bump up their name identification. Second is that they're potentially looking to run for a cabinet position of another office down the line. 

"And the final one is they're actually in it to win it."

Read more from Mark Gollom at CBC News

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Donald Trump Turns Guns On Hillary Clinton

Surging GOP 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump turned his headline-grabbing vitriol away from fellow Republicans and immigrants to blast Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton as “criminal” for her private email scandal, in what political operatives say looks like a bid to build general election viability.

“You can only tar and feather your Republican opponents for so long until the song and dance gets old,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who advised John McCain’s presidential campaign. “And now that Trump’s at or near the top of the presidential polls, he recognizes that if he wants to have staying power, he has to show he has some general election electability.”

Trump suggested Democratic federal prosecutors were protecting her, but questioned whether Clinton would make it to the general election because of the scandal, and declared he “will beat Hillary easily.”

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at The Boston Herald

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Chris Christie Touting His Conservative Bona Fides

Governor Christie spent the past week on the campaign trail hitting key issues that are popular with the conservative voters who likely hold the key to his success as a Republican candidate for president.

His tour through the early voting states, which includes return trips to New Hampshire and Iowa this week, comes as his campaign and a super PAC supporting his candidacy are spending a combined $1 million to run political ads nationally on Fox News that show Christie criticizing President Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, just as the next round of horse-race polls are being conducted.

The next two weeks are likely to be critical for the New Jersey governor.

Once a front-runner and the man many pushed to run for president four years ago, Christie is now so far down in the polls that analysts say he needs to build support among these conservatives to keep his chances alive for a spot in Fox News’ televised debate next month. Fox plans to use national polls to select which 10 of the 16 declared GOP candidates will appear in the first debate.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who worked on U.S. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said Christie is doing what he needs to in order to boost his support ahead of the debates and most voters won’t notice if he’s taking some liberties with his record. “I don’t think people are following it all that closely outside of New Jersey,” he said. “All they would generally know at this point is what you say. Therefore, sort of bending the record, if you will, it may catch up to him later, but right now he’s got to throw the kitchen sink out there to try to make sure he not only gets on that debate stage but stays on the debate stage.”

Read more from Melissa Hayes at 

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Ted Cruz Girds For Mitch McConnell Showdown

Sen. Ted Cruz has found a way to seize the spotlight at a time his campaign for president is losing the battle for buzz.

The Texas Republican on Sunday will attempt an unusual procedural move to overturn Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) blocking of his amendment on the Iran nuclear deal.

McConnell, seeking to move a federal highway funding bill through the Senate fast, has cut off most amendments to the measure — though he is allowing a vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.

That decision has infuriated Cruz, who took to the floor on Friday to accuse his leader of lying to him.

On Sunday, Cruz needs a majority of the Senate to back his objection to McConnell — a tall order that is unlikely to be achieved.

Either way, it could be good news for Cruz, who wants to cast himself as a fighter struggling against the Washington establishment.

Republican strategists say the floor battle gives Cruz a vital shot of publicity at a time his campaign is being overshadowed by celebrity business mogul Donald Trump, who has soared to the top of GOP polls as Cruz has lost support.

A recent Washington Post/ABC news poll showed Trump leading the GOP presidential field nationwide with 24 percent support. It showed Cruz in eighth place with 4 percent.

“For someone trying to run for a president as a populist outsider and Trump sucking all the oxygen out of the room, this couldn’t come at a better time,” Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign.

“It’s something where Cruz can get air time and reassert himself in the 2016 debate,” he added. “Donald Trump is taking away his supporters. They are both running in the same lane right now. If Trump blows up, Cruz is the most likely to be the biggest beneficiary.”

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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Why Donald Trump’s Third Party Threat Has Hollywood Conservatives On Edge

Donald Trump has been exasperating Republicans from the moment he announced his run for the White House last month, with his racially charged remarks about Mexican immigrants, his criticism of Arizona Sen. John McCain and that cellphone-number stunt directed at South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

But Trumps threat on Thursday to ditch the GOP and run as an independent has been met with both anger and skepticism from Hollywood conservatives, who fear that a high-profile third party candidate would lead to a sure win for Hillary Clinton.

In 1992, Perot, a right-leaning billionaire businessman, mounted an independent, mostly self-financed campaign for the presidency under the banner of the Reform Party. He won 18.9 percent of the vote, and was widely credited with tipping the election to Clinton from incumbent George H.W. Bush.

Now many Hollywood conservatives are worried about a ’92 repeat.

Considering that the cost of a viable candidacy could run north of $1.5 billion, Trump may end up needing Hollywood’s support and donations, whether he admits it or not.

“He’s absolutely going to need the Hollywood crowd and other big donors,” Ford O’Connell, Republican strategist and adviser to John McCain in 2008, told TheWrap. “He’d go broke if he financed the entire campaign by himself.”

But many in Hollywood and Washington, D.C., don’t believe Trump is serious about his threats.

“He’s sending a message to the establishment basically saying, ‘Back off or else.’ But I don’t think he’s going to actually do it,” O’Connell said. “He knows it would mean Hillary would win.”

Read more Itay Hod at The Wrap

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Donald Trump: 'I Think I'll Get The Nomination'

Businessman Donald Trump predicted Thursday that he would secure the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, playing down the suggestion he might run as a third-party candidate.

During an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, Trump threatened to run as a third-party candidate if national Republicans do not treat him fairly. 

In the interview with The Hill, pressed on whether he would run as a third-party candidate, Trump said that “so many people want me to, if I don’t win.”

Trump’s third-party threat sent shockwaves across the political world on Thursday, with pundits wondering whether he could doom the eventual Republican nominee by splitting the vote.
"If Trump decides to run as a third-party independent, the Republicans' chances of winning the White House in 2016 are pretty much dead in the water, and Hillary Clinton automatically becomes the next president of the United States," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.
O'Connell compared Trump to Ross Perot, who ran as an independent candidate in 1992 and took nearly 19 percent of the popular vote.
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Quest For Debate Spot Likely Reason For Rick Perry's Donald Trump Tirade

Following Rick Perry's strong denunciation of Donald Trump, Republican political pros have been speculating on whether his anti-Trump declarations will boost his poll numbers enough to put him in the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 6.

More than a few GOP political consultants believe that getting the 10 percent support in the polls that debate host Fox News requires for participation in its televised forum is a major reason behind Perry’s attacks on fellow presidential hopeful Trump.

Speaking in Washington on Tuesday, former Texas Gov. Perry charged that Trump’s strong words about Mexican immigrants mean the billionaire’s candidacy "is a cancer that must be diagnosed, excised, and discarded," and he likened what he called "Trumpism" to the anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic "Know-Nothing" movement of the mid-1800s.

So is Perry taking the right path in attacking Trump?

"Absolutely," Republican consultant and commentator Ford O’Connell told Newsmax. "What better way to secure a place on the debate stage than to get on Trump’s rocket ship?"

Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax

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Rick Perry: Donald Trump Is A "Toxic Mix"

Rick Perry warned Wednesday that Donald Trump’s “toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense” could relegate the GOP to minor-party status.

In his address, organized by the Opportunity and Freedom PAC supporting his candidacy, Perry attacked liberal policies and the failings of the Obama administration at home and abroad but directed the bulk of his fire against Trump, who is leading Republican polls nationally.

By contrast, Perry is just barely hanging on to the final spot on Fox News’s debate stage. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, he is in 10th place, with 2 percent support. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are hot on his heels.

Fox News is capping the Aug. 6 debate at 10 contestants based on national polling numbers.

While most of the Republicans running for president have merely detoured into attacks or stray denouncements of remarks made by Trump, Perry has established himself as Trump’s most frequent and vocal critic in the GOP.

Republicans say engaging with Trump is an effective strategy for Perry with the potential to raise his standing in the high-stakes scramble to qualify for the Fox News debate.

“Presidential campaigns are a marathon, but there are times when you’ll have to sprint, and everyone is sprinting right now to get on that debate stage,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Being civil and playing by the normal rules of etiquette hasn’t worked for him so far, so why not hit Trump square in the nose for the media attention, if for nothing else.”

“Trump is a meteor that Perry can just hook on to and take for a ride,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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