If the Democrat-led U.S. Senate manages to strike a deal to reopen the American government and avert a catastrophic default on its debt by Thursday's deadline, the agreement - and the U.S.economy - is likely to hinge on one man: John Boehner.
Boehner, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, could be about to confront the most critical decision of his three decades in politics.
He could allow the House to pass a Senate deal that likely would get more support from Democrats than Republicans - a move that almost certainly would lead some conservatives to push for Boehner's removal as speaker - or he could side with rebellious Tea Party Republicans by preventing a vote and allowing America to default.
"John Boehner is caught between a rock and a hard place," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist.
Read more from Tim Reid at Reuters
Racing against the debt-ceiling clock with a deadline and possible national default looming Thursday, Senate leaders met yesterday in what was billed as a possible breakthrough — but yet no deal was struck to end the stalemate and two-week government shutdown.
Observers say they expect the divided Congress to find some middle ground this week because defaulting could be catastrophic.
“Nobody really understands what it’s going to do to world markets,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said. “If the world markets spiral, we’re all in trouble.”
Read more from Antonio Planas at the Boston Herald
Establishment Republicans in Congress such as John McCain are openly scornful of him. Some Republican strategists say his crusade to destroy President Barack Obama's healthcare law has been a political disaster.
But at a gathering of conservatives and Tea Party faithful in Washington on Friday, Republican Senator Ted Cruz was unapologetic, defiant and received like a conquering hero.
As Republican leaders in Congress have abandoned a strategy to use a government shutdown and threat of default to dismantle Obama's healthcare overhaul - with polls showing it unpopular with voters - one thing was clear at the gathering of conservative activists: they believe the battle to kill Obamacare has only just begun.
Ford O'Connell, a Republican political adviser, said opposition to the healthcare law was justified, but Cruz's tactics were "completely wrong."
"Cruz has done a good job of bringing this to the attention of the American people - but the government shutdown has completely obstructed his message," O'Connell said.
"The key to successful political negotiating is to pull the right lever at the right time. Unfortunately for the Republican party, the Tea Party caucus is pulling the right lever at the wrong time."
Read more from Tim Reid at Reuters
Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham, an influential conservative thought leader, said Wednesday the GOP must sheds its reputation as the party of big business and embrace a more “libertarian, populist” identity.
Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Needham argued the GOP needs to “take on cronyism and the way K Street runs this town” if it hopes to broaden its appeal with voters.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said Needham was right on ideology but wrong on strategy.
“What the GOP needs to do is not be seen as the bean-counters of Wall Street. They need to be the defenders of Main Street. With respect to the shutdown and ObamaCare, principally Needham is right — but tactically he couldn't be more wrong,” O’Connell said.
“This [ObamaCare] needs to be re-litigated in 2014 and 2016 and we have to do a better job of messaging to get public opinion on our side before we take that hill.”
Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill
Democrats have the advantage in the government shutdown debate, but it’s not the rout that many anticipated.
While polls show that more people blame Republicans than Democrats, the margin is not so lopsided that GOP leaders feel compelled to back down.
Republicans haven’t been flawless by any means, but the GOP has aggressively seized on Democratic mistakes. They also forced Democrats to shift strategy following GOP attacks that the White House was refusing to come to the negotiating table.
Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, said, “Right now it’s a net negative for the GOP, but the sky isn’t exactly falling either.”
O’Connell said the shutdown will make it more difficult to win Senate races in Democratic-leaning states such as Iowa, Michigan, Colorado and Minnesota. He said the primary GOP targets, however — Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — would be unaffected.
The political calculus becomes much worse for Republicans if the shutdown fight morphs into a stalemate over the debt ceiling that forces the country into default.
“If the default winds up tanking or seriously hurting the economy then the Republicans will get the lion’s share of the blame,” he said. “I think that’s why you’re seeing some of the scare tactics from the White House, why they’re ginning up the notion of default.”
Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill
After the GOP got crushed at the polls in 2012, Republican Party leaders realized they needed to broaden their base, especially among younger voters.
The Republican National Committee even released an autopsy report declaring that the GOP had become an entity at which “young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes,” and admitting “we have lost our way with younger ones. We sound increasingly out of touch.”
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell acknowledged the GOP’s biggest problem is “we’ve done nothing to enlarge the tent,” especially among single women, minorities, and young voters. “The clock’s ticking with respect to 2016,” O’Connell said. The GOP needs to realize that “continuing to pound sand on Obamacare is not really going to work. The only way to get rid of it is to win elections. They need to be focused on that.”
Read more from Aliyah Frumin and Suzy Khimm at MSNBC.com
Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) 21-hour-plus Senate floor stand against ObamaCare has galvanized the Republican Party’s conservative base, potentially boosting his presidential ambitions among party activists with influence in early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina.
But Cruz may also have badly damaged a potential 2016 presidential bid by infuriating party elders and many in the GOP’s donor class, with his charge that those who didn’t agree with his tactics were abandoning conservative ideology.
“He definitely endeared himself to the grass roots, but presidential candidates need some of the big-money donors, and a lot of them are rolling their eyes,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said.
“He’s certainly created some enemies among the donor class and establishment folks by doing this. If he wants to win the Republican presidential primary, he’s going to have to mend some fences.”
“He strengthened his position in the early states, particularly Iowa and South Carolina, but you need more than just grassroots support to win the presidential primary in 2016,” O’Connell said.
Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill
Next week could be a defining moment for Sen. Ted Cruz.
The presidential contender’s quest to defund ObamaCare has made him more popular with the base than ever, but that acclaim could fade if he is perceived as retreating from battle — or if the strategy he’s advocated backfires on the GOP.
Strategists said the senator's crusade against ObamaCare will almost certainly be an asset in Republican primaries should he run for president in 2016, though it could also come back to haunt him if he alienates the party establishment.
“The stances he's taking are going to play well in the early primary states,” said Ford O'Connell, a GOP strategist who worked for the McCain-Palin presidential ticket.
O'Connell also predicted the congressional defunding gambit will fail, and repeatedly compared it to Pickett's Charge, one of the bloodiest failed assaults of the Civil War.
"The lesson here is, don't listen to someone whose sole interest is winning the 2016 GOP presidential primary," O'Connell said.
Read more from Erik Wasson and Elise Viebeck at The Hill
Republicans have mounted another high profile political battle, this time by opposing Tom Perez, President Barack Obama's pick for the Department of Labor Secretary. A committee vote planned for Wednesday afternoon was postponed at the last minute, forcing the vote to be rescheduled for May 16.
Conservatives who oppose Perez cite concerns about his fitness for the office, due in part to accusations levied against him during his time leading the civil rights division in the Justice Department.
But while Republicans may have legitimate reasons to question Perez's nomination, they risk furthering the stereotype that they are anti-Hispanic.
"In a lot of ways we could argue that Perez stands as the antithesis of the views of the GOP, but this has the potential for bad optics – at a time when Republicans need to garner a greater share of the Hispanic vote," says Ford O'Connell, a Republican political strategist who worked on the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008.
O'Connell says Republicans should scrutinize Perez, but not go overboard with their review.
"They should certainly scrutinize his credentials and qualifications and if they don't find a red herring, they should let him proceed to confirmation," he says, adding that the GOP is clearly aware of the potential for bad optics since Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., an African-American, has taken the lead in criticizing Perez.
Read more from Rebekah Metzler at U.S. News & World Report
Fresh off a redemptive win in South Carolina's special election, former Governor Mark Sanford's return to Congress will make him a prominent wild card in an already fractious Republican caucus.
Sanford, whose political career was short-circuited in 2009 by an extramarital affair that marred his last 18 months as governor, earned a political rebirth along with a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday by defeating Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
Sanford will arrive in Washington owing little to the Republican Party's leadership, which withheld its support as he battled Colbert Busch in their heavily Republican district. Once he returns to the House seat he held from 1995 to 2001, his independence and staunch fiscal conservatism could give him clout as Congress enters another round of divisive battles over the federal budget.
"There is obviously the potential for Sanford to be a real thorn in (the House Republican) leadership's side," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said. "He's a free agent; he can do whatever he wants."
Read more from John Whitesides at Reuters