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
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 NorthJersey.com
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
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
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.
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
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
Republican insiders are reconciling themselves to the idea that Donald Trump won’t be exiting the stage anytime soon — and their main concern now is limiting his damage to their party.
The GOP establishment is almost universally hostile to Trump, who has soared in the 2016 polls on the back of his celebrity, his outspoken statements on immigration and trade deals, and media coverage of his antics.
Many party strategists believe Trump did himself serious damage with his recent remarks denigrating Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) experiences while a prisoner of war in Hanoi, Vietnam — but there is not yet conclusive polling evidence available.
Meanwhile, Trump has made clear that he has no serious intention of reining in his rhetoric — or curbing his propensity to tweak the nose of anyone who displeases him. On Tuesday, shortly after fellow White House contender Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had referred to the businessman as a “jackass,” Trump read out Graham’s cellphone number on live television during a campaign event in the senator’s home state.
Among Washington Republicans, the hope is that voters will tire of such comments and that Trump will have to push his boat out into ever-murkier waters to continue to command attention.
Yet others note that Trump’s fortune, which he says is in excess of $10 billion, gives him leeway that long-shot candidates of the past did not have.
“Herman Cain didn’t have $10 billion,” said another GOP strategist, Ford O’Connell. “Other candidates say things like ‘I’m dropping out because I don’t see a path to win.’ But they dropped out usually because they were out of money ... [Trump] can stay as long as he wants.”
Read more from Niall Stanage at The Hill
John Kasich has his work cut out for him. The Ohio governor officially announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, stressing his considerable experience in government and his history of overcoming long odds in politics with the repeated refrain, “They said it couldn’t be done and we proved them wrong.”
The latter is an idea Kasich will have to hammer home in the next two weeks because while nobody is saying he can’t possibly win the nomination, he’s facing some very long odds. As the 16th Republican to formally enter the race, Kasich is currently near the bottom of the pack in terms of poll numbers.
According to the Huffington Post average of national polls, Kasich’s support is currently at 1.7 percent, placing him 12th in a field of 16 candidates, many of whom have significant national profiles that Kasich, a relative unknown on the national political scene, will struggle to match.
If he expects to be a viable candidate, political analysts say there are some concrete steps he needs to take.
“He has to get on that debate stage, particularly because it’s in his home state,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “The only way he’s going to ‘prove them wrong’ is to get on that debate stage … There’s no way the news is going to be covering Kasich unless he gets into the top 10.”
O’Connell said that Kasich appears to be gambling on the possibility that his announcement, and the spike in coverage that comes with it, will give him enough of a bump in the polls to break into the top 10, and that once he’s seen as a top tier candidate, he’ll be able to attract both supporters and donors.
Read more from Rob Garver at The Fiscal Times
It's still early days in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but one thing stands out: Donald Trump is owning the microphone.
The billionaire businessman has been a veritable gusher of non-PC bombast — most notably on the topic of Mexican immigrants — since announcing his candidacy in mid-June.
On Sunday, however, Trump turned his ire on a fellow Republican, Arizona Senator John McCain, calling the decorated Vietnam veteran a "loser" and questioning whether someone who spent more than five years as a POW can really be considered a war hero.
The statement seemed to shock Americans of all political stripes, and is yet more evidence that Trump could hurt the party's chances in the next election, says Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist.
Many Republicans are concerned that Trump "could be potentially damaging for the Republican race" and is providing ammunition for the presumed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as the contest becomes more focused, says O'Connell.
O'Connell says tweaking McCain is a common tactic for any U.S. right-winger looking to score points with conservatives.
"If you want to stoke emotion with the base of the Republican Party to gain favour, John McCain's an easy target," he says. "But when you pick on his war record, that's where you cross the line."
Read more from Andre Mayer at CBC News