The prospect of a Mark Sanford primary victory in South Carolina has some Republicans complaining his candidacy will leave their party open to Democratic attack as it tries to rebrand itself among women.
On Tuesday, he took the first step in what would be an extraordinary comeback by finishing far ahead of the Republican pack in the first round of voting in the GOP primary to fill the House seat vacated by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
A victory will match Sanford against businesswoman Elizabeth Colbert Busch (D), the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, in a race certain to draw national attention.
Still, GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said a Sanford candidacy “could be a real nightmare” for national Republicans.
A survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling last December — before the South Carolina House seat became open — showed 56 percent of women in the state held an unfavorable view of Sanford. Only 29 percent held a favorable view.
“Stephen Colbert will have a field day with this, with his sister in the race especially. Democratic strategists have to be salivating about using this as a wedge issue. A little seat in South Carolina can be a way to drive a national narrative on this wedge issue with the GOP and single women,” O’Connell said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Monday released a comprehensive report that pledged big changes to broaden the party by attracting minorities, gays and women, but he faces skepticism from those who fear the party is shifting away from its conservative roots.
Republican political consultant Ford O'Connell said the party is serious about making big changes before the next presidential election. Otherwise, the GOP faces being shut out of the White House for eight more years, especially if Hillary Clinton runs on the Democratic ticket.
"Republicans are really reading the tea leaves," O'Connell said. "This change is truly out of necessity."
Leaders of the conservative movement sparred Friday over how to build a winning coalition following the disappointment of 2012, with some calling for a pivot to fresh ideas and others pushing for a recommitment to old ideals.
The debate at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference revealed the depth of disagreement among conservatives that remains more than four months after Mitt Romney lost the presidential election and congressional Republicans lost seats in both the House and Senate.
"People are frustrated with the nit-picking. One of the big fights right now is is this a messaging problem or a policy problem? It's a both problem," GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said. "When it comes to the fiscal issues those are timeless but you're going to have to repackage them and explain to people why that impacts them. On the other side, I think there are some real policy issues that have to be taken on — what is our role in national defense? Where are we with certain social issues? What's worrisome going out of CPAC is, will the narrative be about the [candidates] in the past or will the narrative be about the people going forward?"
Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) speech to an influential group of conservatives on Friday will provide clues on whether he has his eyes on becoming president or chairman of the House's powerful Ways and Means Committee.
The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee is coming off a big week after introducing a plan aimed at balancing the budget within 10 years, and his Friday morning speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will be delivered to his biggest live audience since the election. The address gives him an opportunity to discuss his budget in detail or lay out a broad economic vision of the country.
“[Ryan] now has a recognition that a lot of people don't know what goes on inside the Beltway, and to get things done with the issues he's pushing he needs a national platform to do it,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “In some ways the budget may be boring to the media, but it's red meat to these guys.”
Republicans are holding their breath Thursday at the start of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, the big annual Washington gathering that is expected to air divisions within the GOP four months after President Obama’s reelection.
The roster of speakers tells the story: From movement-conservative keynote speaker Ted Cruz, the outspoken new Republican senator from Texas, to libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, an establishment favorite, different strains of conservative thought will be on full display.
Other speakers will shift the focus to the recent, uncomfortable past. Mitt Romney, not a beloved figure in conservative circles, will make his first public address since losing to Mr. Obama last fall. And Sarah Palin, the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2008, will return to the spotlight after her recent split with Fox News.
“For a party seeking to rebrand and expand its tent, CPAC couldn’t come at a worse time,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.
Even if the public isn’t paying close attention to politics right now, the media are – and they will focus on conflict, not consensus. “The only thing we agree on is free markets,” says Mr. O’Connell.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) highly publicized stumble over whether he supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants has proven a major distraction during his media blitz on immigration policy — and it could be a sign of rust as he considers jumping back in the political fray.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said that rust could be Bush adjusting to the speed of today’s news cycle.
“You’ve got to recognize everything you say is going to be scrutinized and held against you. That’s the hardest thing for any candidate moving from the sideline into the fray of the general election,” O’Connell said.
“It’s something he needs to work on, and something everyone in the Republican Party has to be cognizant of.”
It is true President Obama has the upper hand right now in the blame game over the sequester. He has traveled the country performing his version of Adele's Oscar-winning song, Skyfall, and his partners in the press have played their oh-so-predictable role in amplifying his message.
But if Republicans will be patient—if they will allow the cuts to take effect, endure the first day or two of press clippings and stay the course—this could and probably will turn into a massive PR victory for them.
Marco Rubio is the “it” man of the Republican Party.
The junior senator from Florida is Latino, young, articulate, and photogenic – and on Tuesday night, he will deliver the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address. In a first, he will give the speech in both English and Spanish.
On his back, Senator Rubio carries the hopes of a party that lost badly among Latino voters in the presidential race, winning just 27 percent. But Rubio represents more than just outreach to the America’s fastest-growing ethnic minority: He is, Republicans hope, a bridge to other minorities who also fled Mitt Romney in droves.
“He may not consider himself the savior, but he’s got to be the savior for at least one night,” says Ford O’Connell, chairman of the conservative CivicForumPAC.
After the State of the Union address Tuesday night, Sen. Marco Rubio steps before the cameras to deliver one of the Republican responses — and the stakes couldn’t be higher for the high-profile young senator.
“He has the weight of a party on his shoulders, not to mention he is going toe-to-toe with the most popular person in office right now,” said Ford O'Connell, who served as the rural outreach director for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“I think, in some ways, his potential 2016 aspirations are on the line,” he said about a possible Rubio presidential bid. “I think the party needs Rubio to be successful more than Rubio needs Rubio to be successful because we are at a time when we need new leaders.”
Thou shalt compromise, at least on immigration reform.
That is the message being heard from some leading evangelicals in the United States. After decades of promoting traditionally conservative causes like opposition to abortion, many evangelical leaders are now wielding their formidable influence to persuade Republican lawmakers to back one of President Barack Obama's top priorities.
While evangelicals have been a major force in Republican politics for years, Republican lawmakers will take some persuading to back the sort of immigration reform supported by President Barack Obama, which includes a "pathway" to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
"Some of them don't necessarily see or acknowledge the changing demographics or the electoral merits of passing immigration reform, but I do think that many of these religious leaders could push them in that direction by really referencing the humanitarian interest, or moral argument," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.
"This is one area where social conservative input is extremely welcomed by the Republican Party," said O'Connell.