Ukraine Raises Stakes For Trump's 'America First' Agenda

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is emerging as a serious test for former President Trump and his “America First” approach to the world, as rising public support in the U.S. for the effort to counter Moscow threatens to undermine a key pillar of the former president’s political brand.

Trump’s long-held grievances about NATO and other multinational partnerships — grievances that came to define the modern GOP’s approach to foreign policy — have suddenly put him out of step with many in his party, who have begun calling for the U.S. to take a more active leadership role in the crisis in Ukraine.

Ford O’Connell, a Trump-aligned Republican strategist and former congressional candidate, rejected the notion that the former president’s “America First” doctrine was akin to isolationism, arguing that Trump helped reshape GOP foreign policy in a way that more accurately addressed modern challenges. Republicans, he said, would be wise to stick with the former president.

“Trump redefined it,” O’Connell said, referring to Trump’s influence over Republicans’ foreign policy agenda. “He railed against Republican foreign policy for quite some time and he redefined it into something that better meshes with the realities of the world.”

“When it comes to people like [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] and Putin, they don’t care about traditional diplomacy in the way, say, the United Nations does,” he added. “I think Trump was very, very wise to that.”

Read more from Max Greenwood and Amie Parnes at The Hill

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Pompeo Flashes Foreign-Policy Chops As He Eyes 2024 Bid

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is testing the waters for a 2024 presidential bid by highlighting his foreign policy credentials and criticizing President Biden’s handling of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The slimmed-down Mr. Pompeo joined former Trump National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien as keynote guests Thursday at the Nixon Seminar on Conservative Realism and National Security to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Trump’s sought-after endorsements have the unrivaled ability to influence Republican primaries, and his PACs had a total of $122 million heading into this year. Although Mr. Trump is the heavy favorite to capture the presidential nomination in two years if he runs, Republicans such as Mr. Pompeo and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are positioning themselves for campaigns if Mr. Trump opts out, party strategist Ford O’Connell said.

President Biden’s unpopularity is encouraging the Republican jockeying, he said.

“There’s no question that [Mr. Pompeo] is doing what everyone in the Republican Party is doing,” Mr. O’Connell said. “They really see 2024 as a chance to be president if you’re the Republican nominee, just because of where Biden is. Right now, Biden is a lame-duck president.”

Some Republican operatives think Mr. Pompeo is positioning himself for a possible vice presidential nomination, given Mr. Trump’s overwhelming popularity in the party. In the annual Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll last month, Mr. Pompeo came in a distant third with 2%, far behind Mr. Trump at 59% and Mr. DeSantis at 24%.

“He could be back in a [Republican] administration, most likely if that were to be in a VP setting,” Mr. O’Connell said. “This is sort of his time to feel things out, and everyone’s going to do it until Trump pulls the trigger.”

Read more from Dave Boyer at The Washington Times

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Republicans Warn Justice Department Probe Of Trump Would Trigger Political War

Republican lawmakers are warning that any Department of Justice prosecution of former President Trump will turn into a political battle, setting a high bar for Attorney General Merrick Garland to act on an expected criminal referral from the House’s Jan. 6 committee.  

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol previewed its likely referral to the Justice Department in a court filing made public last week and experts say the evidence assembled by House investigators would provide a strong impetus for prosecutors to act.  

But Republican lawmakers and strategists warn that any federal prosecution of Trump will be accused of being politically motivated, boost Trump within the GOP and turn into a partisan food fight at a time when President Biden is pivoting to the center and trying to keep his 2020 campaign promise to unify the country. 

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said a prosecution “will only make Trump stronger with the GOP primary voters.” 

“If your goal is to make sure Donald Trump is the nominee in 2024 for the Republicans, then by all means proceed with this. You’re just going to make him stronger,” he said. 

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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2024 Republicans Eager To Be Seen As Tough On Russia

Republicans eyeing White House runs in 2024 are increasingly taking hard-line stances on Russia, underscoring the political importance the war in Ukraine has for those with presidential ambitions.

Even former President Trump, who was criticized for initially praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, has shifted his rhetoric in recent days, calling the invasion of Ukraine a “holocaust” this week. And Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another likely 2024 contender, called Putin a dictator after also facing criticism for past praise of the Russian leader.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — thought to be one of Trump’s most likely successors to lead the party — is facing calls from Democrats and Republicans alike to divest from Russia, an action he has so far resisted. Among those calling for a tougher approach is Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a potential 2024 rival.

Others argue that while the symbolic moves leaders take to condemn Russia are by no means bad, there are other foreign policy stances that can be taken to strengthen the U.S.

“Are you more concerned about divesting from Russia when their economy is the size of Italy or are you more concerned about divesting from China which is the real threat of the 21st century?” said Florida-based GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “Ron has been on that.”

Republicans say they should increasingly aim their messaging on the importance of energy independence.

“Currently the way [energy independence] is structured under the Biden administration is hurting working class Americans,” O’Connell said. “When you look at inflation, when you look at gas prices and you realize gas prices are the biggest portion of the producer price and index and you want to know why people on Main Street are hurting when they’re paying an extra $380 nationally due to inflation, it’s absolutely smart to stay on energy independence because that is the economy.”

Read more from Julia Manchester at The Hill

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Republicans Seize On Ukraine To Attack Biden's Climate Policies.

Republicans are trying out a message that aims to link President Joe Biden’s climate policy and rising gasoline prices to the war in Ukraine.

The problem? Their rhetoric largely defies reality.

Republicans including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance are making the claim that Biden’s efforts to expand renewable energy and restrict fossil fuels have emboldened Putin to send troops, tanks and missiles into Ukraine.

“For the Republicans, from a political perspective I would say the Democrats’ anti-fossil fuel agenda has taken a hit,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said, adding that anxieties about rising costs means the shift to clean energy does not feel “so gradual to the everyday American.”

Read more from Ben Lefebvre and Zack Colman at Politico

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GOP Bill Highlights Republican Rift On Immigration

A new immigration reform proposal by first-term Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) is further exposing a split within the GOP between those who want the party to lead on immigration reform and hard-liners increasingly vocal against immigration as a whole.

Salazar’s proposal would ultimately grant legal status to a majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States, a conclusion many other House Republicans are unlikely to get behind.

While the bill has tough enforcement provisions meant to attract GOP votes, it is unlikely to be supported by the many conservative Republicans who say providing legal status to undocumented immigrants amounts to "amnesty" for lawbreakers.  

“The Chamber of Commerce's position is no longer the majority position within the Republican Party,” said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell.

“Pre-Biden, you might have had more Republicans on the Chamber of Commerce sort of point of view. Unfortunately, with what's going on under Biden in the understanding that administrations can unilaterally dramatically affect the numbers of illegal immigrants, that scares a lot of folks," he said.

Read more from Rafael Ballard and Mike Lillis at The Hill

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Biden To Revive Climate Agenda At Meeting With Utility Company CEOs

Desperate to revive his stalled $1.7 trillion economic spending package, President Biden on Wednesday will meet with the heads of some of the nation’s largest utility companies to renew his push for the package’s climate provisions.

The White House event will be the first major effort by Mr. Biden to highlight pieces of the massive spending bill since it was derailed last year by Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat.
 
Mr. Biden acknowledged last month that he needs to break up the massive legislation and pass it in smaller parts.
 
He will start with the package’s $550 billion in energy and climate spending. Included in that is more than $300 billion in new and expanded tax credits for wind and solar power, nuclear plants, and other items that have won support from utility companies.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said Mr. Biden is zeroing in the climate provisions because it’s an issue that would most resonate with his leftist base amid dismal approval ratings.
 
Not only is Mr. Biden’s approval rating mired in the mid-30s, but polls show voters are skeptical of hisBuild Back Better agenda. Only 41% of respondents to a December NPR/Marist poll said they support the spending package. Nearly 75% of Democrats backed the plan, while 36% of independents and 13%of Republicans said they support it.
 
“The Democrats are excited about the climate change provision, and no one else is,” Mr. O’Connell said. “He’s trying to get a consensus among the base of his party and then build out from there.”

“He’s wasting everyone’s time,” Mr. O’Connell said of the president. “He’s trying to message ahead of midterms that the Republicans are blocking his agenda when in reality it’s his own party blocking him.”

Read more from Jeff Mordock at The Washington Times

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Trump Fundraising Juggernaut Has More Money To Dole Out Than DNC, RNC Combined

Former President Donald Trump is sitting on an absurd amount of campaign cash — more than the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee combined.

His political committees raised $51 million over the last six months of 2021, and he ended the year with $122 million in the bank, most of that in his Save America Political Action Committee.

His operation said the money came from more than 1.6 million donations, and more than 98% of those were considered “small-dollar” contributions of less than $200, in what political operatives described as an unprecedented show of force for someone not currently in office.

That’s even after the country’s largest tech-media companies kicked him off their platforms, denying hima conduit to voters, said Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based strategist with strong ties to the Trump operation.

“He is the most powerful force in American politics,” Mr. O’Connell said. “People have tried to bury this guy, and he is still as relevant as ever.”

Mr. Trump is still eligible for another term, and Mr. O’Connell said it is “nearly certain” at this point that he will run again.

“It’s not just his fundraising, which is jaw-dropping,” Mr. O’Connell said. “It’s his rallies, his endorsements, his influence on policy. In a lot of ways, he is the Republican Party at this point.”

Read more from Stephen Dinan at The Washington Times

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Court Fight Represents Golden Opportunity For Cruz, Hawley, Cotton

The looming Senate battle over President Biden’s coming pick for the Supreme Court is a golden opportunity for conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

Cruz, Hawley and Cotton are all viewed as potential White House candidates, either in 2024 or later depending on the plans of former President Trump, and all three sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has the job of vetting Biden’s nominee.  

The battle over Biden’s pick, as a result, is an opportunity for all three to make a play to the conservative base, which will be watching the proceedings carefully, ahead of possible White House runs.

Trump is widely expected to run for president in 2024, and his potential candidacy is freezing the field of rising Republican stars who are eyeing the White House. Nevertheless, a confirmation battle is a rare chance for ambitious conservatives on the Judiciary Committee to shine.  

“I think it’s a big moment for all of them because you’re talking about a lifetime appointment at a time when the country grinds to a halt until the judiciary renders an opinion,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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Donald Trump’s Machine Kicks Off 2022 With War Chest Of More Than $100mn

Donald Trump’s political machine has started the year with a war chest of more than $100mn, reinforcing his status as the Republican party’s most formidable fundraiser as he positions himself ahead of November’s midterm elections and toys with another run for the White House in 2024.

The former president’s team said on Monday night that fundraising associated with Trump raked in some $51mn in the second half of 2021, ending the year with around $122mn in the bank.

“If you went to people potentially running for office, whether it is Congress, senator or governor, they would cut off their hand and sell their first child to have a Trump endorsement,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican operative in Trump’s adopted home state of Florida. O’Connell added that ballot box successes for Trump endorsees were likely to fuel the former president’s desires for another run at the White House.

O’Connell added that ballot box successes for Trump endorsees were likely to fuel the former president’s desires for another run at the White House.

“The better he does for the Republican party in terms of capturing the most possible governor’s mansions, House seats and Senate seats, the better he feels he is positioned for 2024,” O’Connell added. “He would be one thousand per cent right.”

Read more from Lauren Fedor at Financial Times

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