GOP Front-Runners Defy ‘Autopsy’ Of Party Defeats

The front-runners for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, are casting aside the lessons of the GOP “autopsy” that was intended to prevent Republicans from losing the White House in 2016.

The autopsy report, issued by the Republican National Committee (RNC) in March 2013 after Mitt Romney’s losing campaign and titled “the Growth and Opportunity Project,” was intended to help the GOP set itself up for victory after losing two presidential elections in a row.

 both cycles, GOP candidates lost badly to Barack Obama among minority voters. The former Illinois senator also defeated Romney in 2012 and Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008 among women and voters under the age of 30.

Now some Republicans fear their party is making the same mistakes.

“To win the White House, a political party has to make folks feel welcome and show that it cares about their daily life,” said Henry Barbour, who was one of five authors of the 2013 report.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who has long insisted that the party must expand its demographic appeal, noted that the more conservative elements of the party are ascendant at the moment.

The nightmare scenario for modernizers like himself, he suggested, was a conservative candidate becoming the nominee and winning the general election because of a “perfect storm” of pro-GOP factors. Such an outcome, he suggested, would postpone the hard conversations that party needs to have internally.

“If they are successful,” O’Connell said of candidates such as Trump and Cruz, “then those who are arguing to broaden our appeal will be pushed to the edges of the party.”

Read more from Niall Stanage at The Hill

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Struggling Jeb Bush Enjoys Larger Crowds

Jeb Bush is low in the polls but is experiencing something new: growing crowds.

The former Florida governor drew his largest crowd in recent memory when he hosted a town hall in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Saturday night, with 530 people in attendance, according to the fire marshal. 

Bush typically draws between 100 and 200 people at his town halls so staffers had to search for extra seats. It was the fourth night in a row that Bush aides had to find more seats for a larger-than-expected crowd during a packed swing through New Hampshire and South Carolina -- two states that Bush is counting on to propel his beleaguered campaign forward. 

The question is whether last week marked the beginning of 'Jebmentum' or if it's simply an illustration of a more engaged electorate as the primary season gets underway.

Bush's campaign is still mulling whether it can gin up more enthusiasm by bringing out former President George W. Bush on the campaign trail in support of his brother. The 43rd president now has a 77% approval rating among Republicans, according to a Bloomberg Politics poll in November.

Talking to reporters, Bush was asked Saturday night whether he was using his family to its full potential, given the reverence that his supporters express about them at events.

And in a state like South Carolina, which was good for his brother and his dad in their presidential runs, an appearance by George W. Bush might be a wise Hail Mary for Jeb Bush's campaign, said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. 

"Right now he's running out of things to deploy so I think he's willing to throw the kitchen sink at the wall to make it happen," O'Connell said.

"For as maligned as 'W' is in the mainstream media, a lot of conservatives have a soft spot for him," he continued. "It would be about generating buzz but also about generating trust. If anyone has been mauled on this campaign cycle, it's been Jeb. You can't go 15 minutes without Trump mentioning his name, without talk radio mentioning him as a side joke."

Read more from Ashley Killough at CNN

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Republicans' Dark Style: Is The Reagan Era Over?

When Marco Rubio notably began 2016 with darker, more aggressive rhetoric, he dampened his image as the sunny, Reagan-like optimist of the Republican presidential field.

“If we get this election wrong, there may be no turning around for America,” Senator Rubio of Florida warned at a recent campaign stop in Mason City, Iowa.

The youthful Rubio still begins his stump speech with talk of “a new American century” and “our exceptional country,” but uses the bulk of his time attacking President Obama, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, and his GOP rivals, according to reports from the trail.

Clearly, GOP front-runner Donald Trump isn’t even trying to be the next President Reagan. Mr. Trump  scowls menacingly from the cover of his latest book, “Crippled America” – a title that screams pessimism. His rhetoric is intense and profane, his first television ad a 30-second litany of fear-inducing images. At the end of the ad, when he promises to “make America great again,” he’s shouting, not smiling.

And Trump’s closest competitor in the polls, Ted Cruz, is hardly Reagan stylistically, though he has tried to cloak himself in the Reagan mantle more than anybody else in the race. “He just doesn’t have Reagan’s personality,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Reagan left office 27 years ago, when the world was a very different place. To people much under age 40, he is a figure in the history books.

In his 2013 book, “Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell scolds his party for having what he calls a “Reagan fixation.”

“It undermines the candidates, because it becomes a crutch for their inability to articulate an actual agenda or a forward-looking vision,” Mr. O’Connell writes.

O’Connell understands why some candidates wrap themselves in the Reagan mantle, at least during the primary. These are voters who remember Reagan, “people over age 50 who are mostly white men or married women,” O’Connell says in an interview. “That’s the Republican base, right or wrong.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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RNC Launches Ad Campaign To Highlight Diversity In GOP Field Organizers

Hoping to soften the party’s rough edges, the Republican National Committee announced a new ad campaign Thursday featuring a former prostitute and other unlikely GOP voters explaining why they embrace conservative principles.

The party said the campaign is meant to attract new recruits to its Republican Leadership Initiative organizing program, as it continues its multiyear effort to try to make inroads with minority and female voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The RNC said the $300,000 campaign would include television ads played during next week’s GOP debate in South Carolina and digital ads targeting potential recruits for the party’s RLI program.

Since the 2012 presidential election, when President Obama won a second term with the help of huge margins among Hispanic and black voters, the GOP has worked hard to reverse those trend lines.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said the RNC deserves plaudits for actively working to dispel the public narrative that the GOP is the party of old white men, but the results this year are going to depend on who Republicans choose as their presidential nominee.

“They’re trying the best they can, but at the same time there’s only so much they can do,” he said. “The problem is political parties don’t have the power they used to … a lot of this work is up to the GOP presidential nominee.”

Read more from Dave Sherfinski at The Washington Times

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Veepstakes Cloud Senate GOP Hopes Of Preserving Majority

The Republican imperative to put together a strong White House ticket is butting up against the party’s dream of preserving the Senate GOP majority.

Republican strategists say Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are two of the party’s most promising vice presidential candidates.

Unfortunately for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), both are running for reelection in swing states that could determine which party controls the upper chamber in 2017.

Republicans believe Portman, who was also seen as a possible VP in 2012, would add gravitas to the White House ticket and help deliver to the GOP column Ohio, which decided the 2004 presidential election.

Ayotte would help the ticket compete for female voters — Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s core constituency. She also has solid foreign policy credentials and could up the party’s chances of winning New Hampshire, though it has only four electoral votes compared to Ohio’s 18.

Republicans may, of course, look outside the Senate for a vice presidential candidate.

“Portman could be important,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign. “Portman makes geographical sense.”

Much depends on who wins the nomination; front-runner Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush all have different strengths and weaknesses.

“If someone like Rubio’s going to win the nomination, he’s going to look for someone in Ohio or someone who does well with white working class voters,” O’Connell added. “Trump on the other hand would like to have someone like Rubio,” who could attract Hispanic voters and has national security bona fides as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations panel.

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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Rubio's All In For Nevada—And The Cards Aren't Falling His Way

Marco Rubio is the betting markets' top-pick to win the Republican presidential nomination, and he's polling the best among the candidates most closely aligned with the party's establishment. But with the first votes less than a month away in the primary contest, his campaign is in search of an early victory with which to stake his claim to that front-runner status.

"Rubio's biggest concern is: Where do I get an early win?" says GOP strategist Ford O'Connell. "That is what is keeping them up at night."

The answer is looking increasingly like Nevada. The problem is that Rubio's currently trailing badly in the polls there, and his best shot at early momentum is an uphill climb.

Of course, other campaigns are getting the same idea. Trump and Cruz, whose campaign is ramping up its efforts in Nevada, both lead Rubio in the latest poll in the state. Polling in Nevada has been sparse, and it's notoriously difficult to predict the outcome of caucuses with statewide polls. But the numbers in the latest survey show Rubio 22 points behind Trump and 9 points behind Cruz—hardly a front-runner position.

Cruz, who is currently the favorite to win Iowa, is banking on the heavily Southern Super Tuesday states to win the nomination—a strategy all the more likely if he wins Nevada. "Cruz wants to have two wins underneath his belt" ahead of Super Tuesday, says O'Connell. "If he can sway evangelicals away from the Trump phenomenon going into the South, he's in much better shape."

For months, Cruz has been talking about the federal government's massive land holdings in the West, an issue that, as O'Connell points out, is a big deal in Nevada. And, like Rubio, he has enlisted prominent Mormons to help him win over that demographic.

Read more from Pema Levy at Mother Jones

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Donald Trump Taking Aim At Bernie Sander’s 'Low-Hanging Fruit’

Donald Trump is venturing tonight where few GOP presidential candidates have gone before: to the heart of Bernie Sanders country — and strategists are calling it a smart move for the Republican front-runner.

“It’s low-hanging fruit,” GOP pundit Ford O’Connell said. “He doesn’t need a lot of support … if he gets his people out there, he wins Vermont. That’s delegates.”

But the Trump campaign may also be following a pragmatic plan to sweep up Republican delegates, even those from a small state — gambling they could be crucial in a drawn-out primary season. Vermont will send 16 delegates to the Republican convention.

“I have a feeling there are a lot of white, working-class voters who are hacked off that Democrats run everything in Vermont,” said O’Connell, noting Trump’s visit could be remembered on Super Tuesday. “You come here and see them, and they feel better.”

Read more from Chris Villani at the Boston Herald

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What You Need To Know As The 2016 Primary Sprint Begins

The battle for the White House that has entertained, outraged and baffled Americans for the past year is about to get real.

With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary quickly approaching, a presidential race that has largely unfolded on television screens, debate stages, packed rallies and a slew of polls is now shifting into a serious test of political endurance.

"There is a very good possibility that the Republican primary will be decided by the end of March," Sen. Ted Cruz said during a New Year's Eve conference call, putting supporters of his fast-rising campaign on notice for a "90-day sprint to get the job done."

Once a long shot, Cruz has prospered from tight self-discipline on the stump, an authentic conservative message and a reputation for throwing wrenches in the works in Washington that antagonize party elites but delight the restive grass roots.

"He had a very narrow window -- now he has got one of the best shots to win it," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

Read more from Stephen Collinson and Nia-Malika Henderson at CNN

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Mogul Stands Behind Ban Despite Jihadi Clip Featuring His Quotes

Republican front-runner Donald Trump is standing by his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States after his rhetoric was used in a newly released recruitment video for an al-Qaeda affiliate.

The video from Somalia-based al-Shabaab shows Trump calling for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” using the business magnate to illustrate anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.

Strategists say the group’s use of his words could actually strengthen Trump’s lead in the crowded GOP field by keeping him squarely in the spotlight as the ultimate foe of international extremist groups.

“Trump just got a Christmas gift,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “It boosts him to the forefront of the national conversation.”

While this can be an “I-told-you so” moment for Clinton, O’Connell said, Trump supporters will likely see this as proof that al-Qaeda would prefer a Clinton victory because she is less of a threat to terrorist groups.

“Each of them gets their spin,” O’Connell said. “But Trump will find every which way possible to show that it’s clear al-Qaeda and ISIS will do anything to make Hillary win.”

Read more from Lindsay Kalter at the Boston Herald



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Strategist: Exits Signal Ben Carson ‘Nosedive’

News that two top aides to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson are resigning less than five weeks before the Iowa caucuses — which could make or break the retired neurosurgeon’s bid — is a clear sign his struggling campaign is in a “nosedive,” an analyst says.

“Campaign shake-ups are nothing new, but when your candidate is depending on winning Iowa and you’re one month out from the caucuses, this is not a good sign for him,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told the Herald. “Right now, they’re willing to do anything to stop the bleeding that is going on in the polls. This may make some difference, but I have a feeling that Carson is on a nosedive that there’s no recovery from.”

In a statement, Carson’s campaign described the staff changes as “enhancements” that “will shift the campaign into higher gear” — though O’Connell said he doubts that will be the case.

Read more from Owen Boss at the Boston Herald

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