Donald Trump Could Ditch The GOP

Donald Trump is rekindling talk that he will run as an independent candidate for president, citing a poll showing a majority of his supporters will follow him wherever he goes.

“A new poll indicates that 68% of my supporters would vote for me if I departed the GOP & ran as an independent,” Trump posted on Facebook and Twitter last night.

He linked to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll that showed his popularity runs deep — with only 18 percent of his supporters saying they would not follow him if he drops his Republican label and goes it alone as an independent. The rest were undecided, the poll states.

The strong poll numbers come as the New York real estate mogul faced a second day of withering criticism for his call for a “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country.

Trump didn’t back down and even won support for the ban from New York media titan Rupert Murdoch.

So far, it appears Trump’s bombast has not hurt him.

“Even if he misspeaks, his supporters feel that he exudes strength,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “I think a lot of people will agree that he is on the right subjects in all the wrong ways. (But) there is a very palpable fear out there about radical Islamic terrorism, and lot of people see him as strong.”

Read more from Kimberly Atkins, Matt Stout and Chris Villani at the Boston Herald

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Obama Admits Attack Was ‘Act Of Terrorism’

President Obama’s pledge to largely stay the course in his strategy to defeat Islamic State militants last night was at times encouraging and underwhelming, politicians and security experts told the Herald, as Obama sought to use a rare Oval Office address to quell national unease after the apparently ISIS-inspired mass shooting in California.

Speaking to the nation for only his third time from the Oval Office, Obama said the “threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it” and that the San Bernardino shooters had “gone down the dark path of radicalization.”

“This was an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people,” he said in the 13-minute address.

Obama did propose some minor steps, calling for a review of the visa waiver program the female shooter used to enter the country. He also called on Congress to pass new authorization for military actions underway in Iraq and Syria, and to approve legislation to keep people on the “no-fly list” from buying guns.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told the Herald Obama “gets kudos for finally acknowledging that this was an act of terrorism,” but said the address was “largely a defensive speech that didn’t inspire confidence that Obama’s taking the fight to ISIS and terrorists at large.” 

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at the Boston Herald

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Ben Carson Sinks On Doubts About His Foreign Policy

Ben Carson was riding high in the race for the Republican presidential nomination a month ago, a soft-spoken candidate with an uplifting biography and the outsider credibility that is in fashion this year. His calm demeanor seemed to be a soothing alternative for conservative voters who were not enamored with the idea of Donald J. Trump in the White House.

But after weeks of carnage inflicted by terrorists in France, Mali and Lebanon, doubts about Mr. Carson’s knowledge of the world have reversed his momentum. Now the retired neurosurgeon, whose sudden rise in polls surprised many, is being forced to regroup in the face of mounting evidence that voters are not sold on him.

new national poll from Quinnipiac University on Wednesday confirmed that Republican voters are keeping their options open. Tied with Mr. Trump in early November, Mr. Carson’s support was down seven percentage points, leaving him essentially tied for second place with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Support for Mr. Trump, who continues to lead, grew to 27 percent from 24 percent last month.

“Trump, even when he misspeaks, voters see him as someone who projects strength and confidence,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who served on Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008. “Carson’s style is good for his likability, but it does not invest confidence that he can get the job done.”

Read more from Alan Rappeport at The New York Times

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‘Teflon’ Trump Tops 2016 Race In New Poll

There seems to be no stopping billionaire businessman Donald Trump as he continues dominating the Republican field just two months out from the Iowa primary. A new national poll by Quinnipiac University released Wednesday shows Trump in first place with 27% support from Republican voters.

Senator Marco Rubio is now in second place with 17% and neurosurgeon Ben Carson drops to a third place tie with Senator Ted Cruz at 16%.

“Trump is no mere mortal, he is a unique political animal,” said Ford O'Connell, Republican strategist and former adviser on the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign.

“Where Trump is really killing in the field is on the issue of who is a strong leader and terrorism. It’s what is keeping his numbers right where they are, on top.”

When it comes to electability, O'Connell says Rubio is the strongest matchup against Clinton.

“Marco Rubio gives Republicans the best chance to win  because of his favorability and he is seen as most trusted across the board in terms of the issues that matter most. We are potentially seeing what could be our final three GOP candidates: Trump, Rubio and Cruz.”

Read more from Elizabeth Chmurak at Fox Business

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Who Could Be VP? Names The Leading Republican Presidential Candidates Could Pick

Even the most outrageous candidate will need a wingman, or woman, if he wins the Republican presidential nomination.

Donald Trump's declaration last week that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is in the running to be his vice presidential pick shows his view of the presidential race: Find someone who usually agrees with you and pick them as your sidekick.

"He's backed everything I've said ... Ted Cruz is now agreeing with me 100%," the bombastic businessman said.

But even unusual presidential candidates usually find someone to add something to the ticket, emphasize a skill set - or offset a weakness of theirs or of their opponent's, as President Obama did by adding experience-laden Joe Biden and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tried to do by picking a woman, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

"A lot of the outsiders will be looking for political experience, and chief among them will be folks like Cruz and (Marco) Rubio," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell. "Likability is always key, geographical diversity is big, either executive or foreign policy experience is important if you're lacking that too."

Here are some spitball ideas for the top GOP contenders in the polls right now as they dream of getting their party's nomination.

Read more from Cameron Joseph at the New York Daily News

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Ben Carson Struggles Under Heightened Scrutiny

Ben Carson is struggling to deal with the increased scrutiny that has come with his run atop the polls.

After spending weeks beating back questions over the veracity of his inspirational back-story, Carson has floundered on the issue of national defense, as the complicated fight against global terror has taken center stage after last week’s attacks in Paris.

Meanwhile, Carson’s campaign has had trouble corralling the myriad advisers and consultants who surround the candidate in his first-ever run for political office.

The sum total has the GOP co-front-runner slipping in the polls, while knocking some of the shine off of a candidate who has otherwise long been the most popular Republican running for president. 

Carson has struggled mightily to elucidate his views on foreign policy, an issue that moved to the forefront at the last GOP debate on Nov. 10 and has taken on heightened importance after last week’s attacks.

“He’s been meandering and confusing on the issue and at times looked like a deer in the headlights,” said Republicans strategist Ford O’Connell. “Foreign policy is one area that you can’t just pick up from a crib sheet and learn. It takes years of study and conversation to be fluent on and he’s not there yet.”

Read more from Jonathan Easley at The Hill

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Will Candidates Rise Or Fall As 2016 Race Pivots To Terrorism, Foreign Policy?

Democratic presidential candidates detailed their plans for combating ISIS Thursday as the focus of the 2016 campaign shifts to national security and foreign policy in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.

If voters remain interested in terrorism and national security as a top campaign issue, it could reshape a race that has largely focused on domestic and economic issues so far. How big of a change it will be depends on whether additional attacks occur and which candidates adjust their message most effectively.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, some pundits and party insiders suggested that Republican voters would reconsider their support for Donald Trump and Ben Carson, politically inexperienced outsiders who have not displayed a strong grasp of foreign policy issues in debates and interviews.

Political strategists and experts expect it will take a bit more time for the true effects of the Paris attacks on the American electorate to become clear.

"Trump is a unique animal. In his case, it's not yet hurting him," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

Carson's numbers have slipped slightly from the point where he was beating Trump in some polls last month. Although it is hard to pin that on a specific reason, doubts have been raised about Carson's foreign policy knowledge this week by pundits, rivals, and one of his own advisers.

"This is something that you honestly have to be thinking about and talking about for several years...It's very hard to close that learning curve," O'Connell said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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Many Open Doors Await Bobby Jindal

Hours after the news Tuesday night that Bobby Jindal was suspending his bid for the Republican nomination for president, there was fresh speculation that the two-term governor of Louisiana would become a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2016.

A Senate bid by Jindal would, of course, depend upon whether incumbent GOP Sen. David Vitter is elected as governor himself on Nov. 21, or, if defeated, he decides not to seek re-election to his present office in 2016.

The latest Market Research Insight poll showed that among likely voters statewide, Democrat John Bel Edwards leads Vitter by 52 percent to 38 percent The UNO Survey Research Center showed Edwards trouncing Vitter by 56 percent to 34 percent.

Although none wanted to say anything that would be considered harmful to Vitter’s chances of being elected, several state and national GOP leaders privately believe that, if he loses the governorship, the senator would most likely not run again for his present office in 2016. 

“It's a possibility,” veteran GOP consultant Ford O’Connell said of a Senate bid by Jindal, “He's 44 and while his approval numbers aren't great back home, the Republican bench is weak in Louisiana and he is the only one with a state-wide infrastructure and name recognition.”

Read more from John Gizzi at Newsmax

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Rand Paul Treads Carefully On Foreign Policy After Paris Attacks

While many of his Republican rivals are publicly calling for stronger military action against the Islamic State following last Friday's terror attacks in Paris, GOP presidential hopeful Rand Paul has been distinctly careful to react.

The Kentucky senator was one of six GOP candidates to address voters in Orlando, Fla., Saturday at the 2015 Sunshine Summit, but the only White House hopeful to steer clear of addressing the tragedy in Paris at length.

Veteran campaign strategist Ford O'Connell says Paul is stuck "walking a tightrope because if he starts advocating a more muscular foreign policy, his libertarian supporters will abandon him."

"He really cannot go out and say anything really unless the dust has settled," O'Connell told the Washington Examiner.

"He's going to try to stonewall for as long as possible," the former McCain-Palin adviser said, adding that Paul is likely to "find himself left out of the conversation whether by choice or not."

O'Connell continued, "This is literally just not his cycle. If there is another attack or the entire conversation shifts to foreign policy, he's going to find himself in a lot of trouble."

Read more from Gabby Morrongiello at The Washington Examiner

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Trump Is Going Nuclear On White House Rival Carson. Here's Why

Donald Trump has dramatically escalated his attacks on his nearest rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Ben Carson. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll may explain why: the billionaire real estate magnate is bleeding support among avid church-goers and women to the retired neurosurgeon. 

While the unconstrained Trump has a comfortable double-digit lead over the soft-spoken Carson, the data points to a possible emerging threat to Trump's hopes of capturing the party's nomination for the November 2016 election. 

The poll of likely Republican primary voters also shows that Carson is drawing strong support from the rural Midwest, including Iowa, which holds the first Republican nominating contest on Feb. 1. Trump, in contrast, is drawing strong support in the northeast and southeast.

"If Carson keeps his nose clean he could win those states and could catch lightning in a bottle," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist not affiliated with either campaign.

Carson's growing support with women and blue collar voters may explain Trump's recent attacks on his rival, said O'Connell. Trump has highlighted media reports questioning elements of Carson's personal story, and on Thursday he called Carson "pathological" and likened him to a child molester.

"Trump is desperate to consolidate the 'outsider' vote. The blue collar vote is very, very key to Trump's success in that. He has tried everything to shake Carson off and it hasn't worked, so he has decided to go nuclear," said O'Connell, an advisor to Republican Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.

Read more from Tim Reid and Chris Kahn at Reuters

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