Trump Headlines CPAC In Orlando, Which Is Conservative Florida's Coming-Out Party

Former President Trump will mark his return to the political arena at the annual CPAC summit, but the four-day fest that kicked off Thursday in Orlando is a coming-out party for Florida's conservative leaders, too.

“The reason why Florida is the conservative hub of the universe at the moment is a lot of conservatives believe that the road back to power is highlighting Florida as a conservative model of government for the rest of the nation,” said Ford O’Connell, a Naples-based Republican strategist and former presidential campaign operative. “Given the fact that we are shut out of all three levels of the federal government, the one place Republicans are thriving is Florida.”

In fact, Florida is home to the former president, who will close out the conference Sunday afternoon. It is a major fundraising venue for Republican and conservative candidates from across the country. It boasts a Republican-dominated state government, two U.S. senators and a firebrand congressman with ambitions for higher office.

Still, it is no coincidence that CPAC, which stands for the Conservative Political Action Conference, chose Florida to host this year’s event after its traditional location outside Washington remained closed because of COVID-19 restrictions, O’Connell said.

Besides being Trump’s adopted home state, Florida is home to Trump’s heir apparent, DeSantis, O’Connell said.

“You have a governor who, probably, if Trump did not run for election in 2024, would likely be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination,” he said.

Read more from Antonio Fins and Wendy Rhodes at the Palm Beach Post

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GOP Not Worried About Voting Against Popular Relief Bill

Republicans are dismissing the idea that they'll be punished at the ballot box for voting against President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

The relief measure is expected to get few, if any, GOP votes as it moves through Congress in the coming weeks. Democrats are trying to pressure Republicans into voting for the package, touting polls that show it's popular with the public.

Republicans counter that much of the bill is focused on Democrats' longstanding priorities rather than coronavirus relief. And strategists note that it's unclear whether voters will be thinking about the relief package closer to the midterm elections, which are more than a year and a half away. 

“I don’t see any risk to Republicans at all opposing this, especially as it relates to the 2022 election,” said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist and former congressional candidate in Florida.

Read more from Namoi Jagoda at The Hill

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Governors In Hot Water Over Their Coronavirus Response

Governors from both parties are increasingly finding themselves in the hot seat over their response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts who's up for reelection in 2022, has become the latest state leader to face criticism in recent months. He joins Andrew Cuomo (D) of New York and Gavin Newsom (D) of California as one of the high-profile governors to see his reputation take a noticeable hit amid the public health crisis, posing a potential challenge to his future political ambitions.

The recent turn of events presents a stark contrast to the early months of the pandemic, when many governors — Cuomo in particular — gained positive media exposure for their responses to COVID-19. Most governors, in fact, had higher approval ratings than former President Trump at the beginning of the crisis.

Republicans are quick to draw a contrast between Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has taken the opposite approach to the pandemic, aggressively pushing for reopenings while Democrats like Newsom favored statewide shutdowns.

“In a lot of DeSantis’s counties, people are in in-person schools and the economy is rebounding,” said Florida-based GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “Newsom is starting from, how shall I say? Scratch.”

Read more from Julia Manchester at The Hill

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Trump Slams McConnell As 'Political Hack' In Statement Reasserting Control Over GOP

Republicans are wrestling with the future of their party after the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. While a faction of Republicans wants a clean break from the former president, the vast majority remains loyal to Trump, indicating that reports of the death of Trumpism within the GOP may be greatly exaggerated.

In a statement Tuesday, Trump reasserted his influence over the party and tore into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"Trump does not control the GOP, the grassroots control the GOP...and these folks love Donald John Trump. That is the reason Trump has so much influence," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "So until the grassroots sour on Trump, this is his party."

Conventional political wisdom suggests a candidate can't get elected without support from the grassroots. These are the voters who attend party meetings and vote in every primary election. If the grassroots haven't found a reason to turn on Trump by now, there's little reason to believe they will before the midterm election. That means the Republican Party's electoral fate is inextricably tied to Trump, for better or worse.

O'Connell said the idea of a third party was "beyond a stupid fantasy" and noted that the parties that lose always go through a period of soul-searching to figure out why they didn't win.

"One of the great misperceptions out there is that parties stay static," O'Connell noted. "It's a two-team match and the parties are always reinventing themselves."

Read more from Leandra Bernstein at WZTV

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Republicans On Forming A Third Party: Don't Count On It

Don’t hold your breath on Republicans angered with former President Trump breaking away to form a new party.

Interviews with more than half a dozen Republican strategists, operatives and former officials conducted ahead of this weekend’s impeachment trial vote show there is a deep reluctance among even Trump’s most ardent critics to formally break away from the GOP.

Trump allies waved off the possibility of a new center-right movement forming either separate from the GOP or within the party itself, arguing that such an effort is out of touch with the conservative grassroots.

“It’s beyond a stupid fantasy,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and staunch Trump supporter. “If the goal is to win back the party and the base, destroying the base and giving the Democrats power isn’t going to make them friends.”

“The grassroots is what has influence over the party and the grassroots loves Trump,” he added.

Read more from Max Greenwood at The Hill

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Trump In Exile: The Man And The Idea

The contrast could not be more stark. 

A year ago, during Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, presidential tweets and retweets lit up social media, disparaging House Democrats as they made their case for a Senate conviction. “Sleaze bag,” “con job,” “corrupt politician” – the barbs coming from then-President Trump’s Twitter account seemed endless. 

Today, midway through the former president’s historic second impeachment trial, the social media silence is almost deafening.

Mr. Trump’s permanent banishment from Twitter on Jan. 8, two days after the Capitol riot he is blamed by Democrats and some Republicans for inciting, has certainly crimped his style. He’s at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, living in deplatformed exile. Old-fashioned press releases from The Office of Donald J. Trump land in reporters’ inboxes. But the ex-president has made no TV or radio appearances since leaving office.

“His instinct is telling him to be quiet,” says Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based Republican strategist. 

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Donald Trump’s Impeachment Lawyers On Back Foot After Performance Panned

Donald Trump’s legal team entered the second day of his impeachment trial on Wednesday on the back foot after a debut performance that was widely panned by Republican senators, including some of the former US president’s closest allies.

The first day of Trump’s trial kicked off on Tuesday with a powerful opening argument from Democratic impeachment managers acting as de facto prosecutors, who relied heavily on video footage that tried to tie the deadly January siege on the US Capitol to the former president’s words and actions.

Trump’s lawyers appeared to struggle to respond during a subsequent four-hour debate that was intended to settle the question of whether it is constitutional to try a former president once he has left office.

Ford O'Connell, a Trump ally and former Republican congressional candidate, said Democrats were "trying to ... prey upon the horrors of what happened in the Capitol in an effort to paint all Republican voters as extremists and to prevent Donald Trump from ever running for president in the future."

"They see the political game here," he added.

Read more from Lauren Fedor at the Financial Times

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Impeachment Dilemma: Republicans Rally Behind Trump Before Senate Trial

After four years of moving in virtual lockstep with Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell used his final day as Senate majority leader to make a clean break with the outgoing president.

In a speech on the Senate floor on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration, McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, placed the blame for the violent January 6 siege on the Capitol squarely on Trump.

Yet with the Senate trial due to begin this week, McConnell is striking a very different tone. Just one week after blaming Trump for the riots, he joined 44 fellow Republicans in backing a Senate motion declaring an impeachment trial unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in the White House.

“The Republican party is the party of Donald John Trump for the foreseeable future,” says Ford O’Connell, a former Republican congressional candidate in Florida and a Trump ally. “The base of the Republican party loves Trump, and the base has that power over elected officials in Washington.”

In his final days in office, Trump briefly toyed with the possibility of forming a “Patriot party”. But his allies now say the former president has gone off the idea, given the US system makes third parties exceedingly unlikely to succeed at the national level.

“The idea of a third party, while it sounds enticing in theory, in practicality it is a disaster,” says O’Connell. “It is the quickest way to make sure that you never get to power again.”

Read more from Lauren Fedor at the Financial Times

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Republicans Face Political Challenges In Trump Impeachment Trial

The pending prosecution of former President Donald Trump has Republicans caught between a rock and a hard place as they look to chart their political future, strategists say.

Five GOP senators -- Romney, U.S. Sens Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pensylvania -- then voted against a Republican-led attempt to dismiss Trump's second impeachment trial as unconstitutional.

Still, Republican strategists Ford O'Connell said Democrats want to forge ahead with the trial in part to "create a divide within the Republican base between traditional GOP voters and Trump voters, because they are concerned that if the GOP gets its act together, that (the Democrats are) probably going to lose the House and could conceivably lose the Senate."

Read more from Lisa Kashinsky at the Boston Herald

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Republicans Might Be Finding Ways To Oppose Biden — If They Can Get Out Of Their Own Way

Republicans are beginning to coalesce around a message for confronting President Biden’s new administration, with one GOP missive stating: “There’s bipartisan agreement. … Joe Biden’s a partisan.”

The GOP is hammering Biden’s executive orders, his use of a budgetary maneuver to pass a COVID-19 relief package without Senate Republicans (despite their offers to compromise), and even occasional clashes with the dwindling number of centrist and red-state Democrats on Capitol Hill to undercut the new president’s talk of “unity.”

But as was the case during the 2020 presidential campaign, the Republican message is having a difficult time being heard over continued discussion of former President Donald Trump and their own infighting. The headlines over the past week were dominated by an unsuccessful attempt to boot House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney from her leadership position because she voted to impeach Trump and the House stripping Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments for conspiracy theorizing and incendiary comments. Soon attention will turn to Trump’s Senate trial, his second in as many years.

That hasn’t stopped some Democrats from questioning whether their party leadership is trying to squeeze too much legislative output out of their razor-thin majorities without Republican cooperation.

Republican operatives see a target-rich environment ahead of a midterm election in which they need only a net gain of one seat in the Senate and seven in the House to recapture the majorities.

“President Biden’s ‘return to normalcy’ has been an unmitigated disaster, and while congressional Democrats may not yet realize it, or choose to ignore the harsh realities outside of D.C., as the corporate media does,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “We were assured that Biden had a ready-to-go vaccine distribution plan, but America quickly found out he didn’t. Most voters want their kids back in school yesterday, but Biden is petrified of the teachers unions."

"America was told that Biden would govern from the middle and would work to seek bipartisan consensus," he added. "Instead, Biden is issuing radical executive orders on just about every issue from open borders to canceling the Keystone XL pipeline to nonsensical climate edicts like they were parking tickets accrued after a late night in Foggy Bottom. Fifty percent of America simply did not vote for this hard-left turn.”

Republicans are cognizant of the challenge.

“Yes, Biden’s early approval ratings remain high, but it is only a matter of time before America wakes up to the harsh realities of what Biden and company means for their families,” O’Connell said. “And for those who doubt what I am saying, there is a reason why the top political story in the U.S. for the last week has been about the past utterances of a backbench congresswoman from Georgia who, until recently, 99% of America had never heard of.”

“The reason is simple: If corporate media can’t fraudulently paint the Republican Party as ‘extremists’ before the American public feels the pain of one-party rule," he added, "then the Biden administration will be neutered at the ballot box in 2022."

Read more from W. James Antle III at the Washington Examiner

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