Trump-DeSantis Tensions Ratchet Up

The long-simmering tensions between former President Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) are reaching a boiling point ahead of a potential 2024 primary clash.

Trump has griped behind the scenes for months about DeSantis’s rapid political rise, including chatter about a future White House bid. But the complaints from the former president have only grown louder, raising concerns among some Republicans about a looming brawl between two GOP heavyweights.

While DeSantis’s political brand in many ways mirrors Trump’s combative style, he’s also begun to carve out his own reputation, notably as a staunch opponent of COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.

Still, DeSantis’s appeal among Republicans — including Trump’s base — is clear. Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based GOP strategist and former congressional candidate, said the governor has been successful in taking aspects of Trump’s political brand and making them his own, especially amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“What he’s done is he’s taken Donald Trump’s America First playbook and crafted it as a Florida First playbook,” O’Connell said.

“If you had told me that Ron DeSantis would display more political courage than Greg Abbott, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he added, referring to the Republican governor of Texas. “The idea that DeSantis gave all the other Republicans a backbone and cover to do what’s best for their states is why conservatives are rewarding him now.”

Read more from Max Greenwood at The Hill

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Florida Looms Large In Republican 2024 Primary

Florida is emerging as the epicenter of the early fight for the GOP presidential nomination as speculation grows about the possibility of as many as four Republicans from the Sunshine State pursuing the party's nod in 2024.

Among the Floridians seen as potential White House hopefuls are Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and, of course, former President Trump, who has repeatedly hinted at a 2024 comeback bid.

The densely packed field of Floridians weighing campaigns for the White House raises the potential for a political free-for-all that could pit some of the state’s most prominent Republicans against one another. But it also underscores the extent to which the Sunshine State has become a hub for the conservative movement in recent years.

“You’re almost guaranteed that a Floridian is going to be the nominee in 2024,” said Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based Republican strategist and former congressional candidate.

“Until Donald Trump became a Florida resident, Florida had never had a presidential nominee or VP nominee in the history of the state,” he added. “It’s gone from being an important battleground to literally the center of the universe for the Republican Party.”

Read more from Max Greenwood at The Hill

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Trump To Make Election Claims Center Stage In Arizona

Former President Trump will address the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol at a campaign rally in Arizona on Saturday, setting the tone for his wing of the GOP going into the midterm cycle.

The issues of election security and the 2022 election results will likely take center stage as his Democratic foes dig into the issue of voting rights.

“Voter integrity is a huge issue within the Republican grassroots and there are a lot of Republicans that are sort of out of touch with how a lot of Republicans feel about the 2020 election,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. 

“Republicans by and large feel that the 2020 election was riddled with problems and that those problems are not being addressed by Republicans in elected office, not just in Arizona but across the country,” he continued.

Republicans, on the other hand, say Trump’s visit to Arizona will only serve to help the party in what is expected to be a contentious Senate race.

“He is going to spotlight the battle in Arizona just like he’s going to spotlight the battle in Georgia and the battle in Florida,” O’Connell said. “If the Republicans want to take the Senate, they have to win in Arizona."

Read more from Julia Manchester at The Hill

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Trump's Attacks On McConnell Seen As Prelude To 2024 White House Bid

Former President Trump is refusing to let his feud with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) die, instead amplifying it in what Republican strategists suspect is an effort to rev up the GOP base ahead of a 2024 campaign for president.

More than anyone else in politics, McConnell, the Senate minority leader, is emblematic of the Republican establishment in Washington, and Trump’s repeated salvos against McConnell appear designed to make it clear to GOP base voters that Trump — despite his four years in the White House — would be the true outsider candidate in a 2024 primary.

Trump has signaled his interest in running again for president in other ways, including supporting the work of the Make America Great Again Action super PAC, which held its first fundraising event at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.

“It’s the clearest sign he’s running for president,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell of Trump’s repeated attacks on McConnell.

Trump’s latest shot was to rip McConnell for being one of 19 Senate Republicans who voted in August for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which the House passed last week, giving President Biden a major win. 

“What he’s saying is that McConnell isn’t able to keep his caucus in line. The people that are most upset about this bill are the base of the Republican Party, and what Donald Trump is saying is, ‘Your party has let you down again and only I can keep them in line,’” O’Connell added.

Read more from Alex Bolton at The Hill

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Democrats Point Fingers While Biden Credits Trump For Party’s Election Setbacks

Frustrated Democrats blamed one another and President Biden on Wednesday after the party’s devastating losses in Virginia and narrow win for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy that was supposed to be a cakewalk.

The victory by Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, raised questions for Mr. Biden and hisallies, who have failed to deliver big-spending results for their base and now risk losing the House and the Senate next year.

“I don’t think the Republicans themselves did anything to improve the party brand,” said Republican Party strategist Ford O’Connell. “They were successful [on Tuesday] because they literally watched Democrats light themselves on fire for the past 10 months.”

He said former President Donald Trump helped Republican candidates by providing a road map of “America First” working-class issues.

Read more from Dave Boyer, Tom Howell Jr. and Mica Solemner at The Washington Times

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‘Perfect Storm’: Pence Lauds Loudoun County Fight Against Wokeness

Former Vice President Mike Pence took his support for parental choice and educational freedom Thursday to ground zero, better known as Loudoun County.

In what he called “the epicenter of a powerful movement that is spreading across America,” Mr. Pence lauded the parents and community members packing school board meetings to speak out about critical race theory, sexually graphic books, transgender policies and other hot-button cultural issues.

Ford O’Connell, a longtime Republican Party strategist who has worked extensively in Virginia, said Loudoun’s emergence at the tip of the spear of the culture wars was driven by a “perfect storm” of fast-changing politics, traditional values and upper-middle-class residents.

“If you want to look at the overall picture, change came too fast for this community,” said Mr. O’Connell. “And this community was affluent enough, motivated enough and educated enough to push back, unlike some of the others that may have similar demographics across the country in this shift from red to blue.”

“Usually when you have that, you typically have more white-collar educated folks who tend to side with what I call the woke agenda,” Mr. O’Connell said. “But in Loudoun County, I think they still retain some of what I call traditional Virginia values, and that’s why they’re having this.”

The schools issue took over the Virginia governor’s race in September when Democrat Terry McAuliffe, asked about the conflict at a Sept. 29 debate, said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Read more from Valerie Richardson and Mica Solemner at The Washington Times

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'Justice For J6' Rally Puts GOP In Awkward Spot

Saturday’s rally at the U.S. Capitol in support of the more than 500 people charged in connection with the storming of Congress on Jan. 6 is an embarrassing development for Republican leaders in Washington.

Earlier this year, they condemned the “mob” that overran Capitol Police in January, but now they don’t want to further fuel divisions within their party over that violent day.

While McConnell and other GOP leaders in Washington have sought to put the focus on Biden’s messy exit from Afghanistan, rising inflation and the Democrats’ plans for a massive spending package, many Republican base voters are more fired up by hot-button topics such as election fraud and critical race theory. 

“It’s one of the top issues along with illegal immigration and critical race theory,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “Essentially the base of the Republican Party feels that this country is being stolen out from underneath and that [Republicans], particularly in Washington, are not doing enough to stop it.”

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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GOP Governors Divided Over Response To COVID-19 Surge

Republican governors are increasingly split over how to respond to the latest coronavirus surge as the delta variant wreaks havoc on parts of the country.

While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) have sparred with localities in their states eager to impose mask mandates in venues, including schools, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said last week that he regretted signing a ban on mask mandates in schools and asked the state legislature to reverse the decision. 

Meanwhile, divisions among Republican governors are also apparent when it comes to vaccine rhetoric.

Republican strategists argue that the division between the party’s governors isn’t a matter of ideological differences, but rather of geography.

Republicans have also deflected blame toward Biden’s response to the crisis. 

“They’re no longer listening to Washington because they feel that Biden doesn’t have a plan at all other than browbeating DeSantis and Abbott about what they’re doing,” Florida-based Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill. 

Read more from Julia Manchester at The Hill

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Republicans See Trump Endorsements Helping Candidates In 2022

Republicans are pushing back against the idea that former President Donald Trump has lost sway over the party after the former president's pick came out on top in a crowded Ohio primary election.

Mike Carey, a coal lobbyist and political newcomer, beat ten other GOP candidates, including state politicians, in a bid to represent Ohio's 15th Congressional District. The special election to replace retired Republican Rep. Steve Stivers will take place in November.

The win came a week after another Trump-endorsed candidate, Susan Wright, lost the Republican primary bid for Texas' 6th Congressional District. The loss prompted reports that the former president was losing his influence.

"This media narrative that Trump has lost influence over the Republican Party is beyond insane," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

"This narrative is made to create doubt among Republicans about the direction of the party and to make sure they're not marching in a single file line," he continued. "If they can say Trump lost power, then, all of sudden, people start deviating from the America First Agenda and that's what Democrats want to see."

Read more from Leandra Bernstein at CBS 4

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Trump Candidate’s Loss In Texas Not An Indication The Ex-President Has Lost Clout, Strategists Say

The first loss of a Trump-endorsed candidate this year, in a special election in Texas, doesn’t diminish the former president’s clout in the Republican Party but shows that his endorsement alone isn’t enough for victory, analysts said Wednesday.

Susan Wright‘s loss on Tuesday in Texas’ 6th Congressional District in suburban Dallas should serve as a warning to former President Donald Trump and his hand-picked candidates, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Mr. Trump‘s endorsement of Mrs. Wright this spring to capture the House seat formerly held by her late husband, Ron, helped her to secure first place among 23 candidates in the primary in May. But she lost the runoff election on Tuesday to Republican state Rep. Jake Ellzey, by a margin of 53% to 47%.

Mr. Ellzey had out-raised Mrs. Wright in campaign funds by early July, $1.7 million to $740,000.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said the loss in Texas doesn’t tarnish Mr. Trump‘s status as the gold standard for endorsements in GOP primaries.

“Trump‘s endorsement has been in no way diminished, and Republican candidates in primaries will literally cut off their finger or promise their firstborn to get it,” Mr. O’Connell said. “His endorsement in this race was successful because either way, a Republican holds the seat, and the runoff was not between a Republican and a Democrat. This is a case where you have a candidate who just sat on her laurels and got significantly out-campaigned by her challenger.”

Read more from Dave Boyer at The Washington Times

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