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Grand Old Party? Donald Trump remaking GOP in his image

For eight years, a leaderless Republican Party has rallied around its passionate opposition to President Barack Obama and an unceasing devotion to small government, free markets and fiscal discipline.

No more.

On the eve of his inauguration, Donald Trump is remaking the party in his image, casting aside decades of Republican orthodoxy for a murky populist agenda that sometimes clashes with core conservative beliefs. Yet his stunning election gives the GOP a formal leader for the first time in nearly a decade. The New York real estate mogul becomes the face of the party, the driver of its policies and its chief enforcer.

Despite their excitement, Republican loyalists across the country concede that major questions remain about their party’s identity in the age of Trump.

The simple answer: The modern-day Republican Party stands for whatever Trump wants it to.

“He’s a sometime-Republican,” American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said. “Donald Trump was elected without having to really put all the details out on all these questions. We are going to see in the first six months how this plays out. Does government get bigger or does it get smaller?”

Trump is eyeing a governing agenda that includes big-ticket items that Schlapp and other conservative leaders would fight against under any other circumstances. Yet some see Trump’s agenda as more in line with the concerns of average Americans, which could help the party’s underwhelming public standing and keep them in power.

The president-elect initially promised a massive infrastructure spending bill to update the nation’s roads and bridges, an investment that could dwarf the infrastructure spending Republicans opposed when it appeared in Obama’s 2009 stimulus package. Trump has also vowed to put the federal government in the child care business by allowing parents to offset child care costs with tax breaks. And he has railed against regional trade deals and threatened to impose tariffs on some imports, a sharp break from the free-market approach that has defined Republican policies for decades.

“From a policy perspective, he might be one of the more flexible Republican presidents. He’s just not encumbered with 30 years of Republican ideology,” said veteran Republican operative Barry Bennett, a former Trump adviser.

“If there’s a win involved, he’s interested,” Bennett said.

Republicans in Congress and elsewhere have expressed some hesitation, but most appear to be willing to embrace the incoming president’s priorities — at least at first.

There are indications that Trump may initially avoid issues that would divide his party. That’s according to Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who said in a recent radio interview that the new administration will focus in its first nine months on conservative priorities like repealing Obama’s health care law and rewriting tax laws.

In a postelection interview with The New York Times, Trump acknowledged that he didn’t realize during the campaign that New Deal-style proposals to put people to work building infrastructure might conflict with his party’s small-government philosophy.

“That’s not a very Republican thing — I didn’t even know that, frankly,” Trump said.

Trump’s confusion can be forgiven, perhaps, given his inexperience in Republican politics. He was a registered Democrat in New York between August 2001 and September 2009. And once he became a Republican, his political views were shaped from his perch in New York City, where the Republican minority is much more liberal — particularly on social issues — than their counterparts in other parts of the country.

Trump said he was “fine” with same-sex marriage in a postelection interview in November, for example. And while he opposes abortion rights, he supported Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion-related women’s health services throughout his campaign.

It’s unclear how aggressively Trump will fight for his priorities, but there are signs that he’s not expected to have much tolerance for detractors in either party. He has been remarkably thin-skinned, using Twitter to jab critics like former President Bill Clinton, “Saturday Night Live” and a little-known union official from Indiana.

“You cross him at your peril,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist who worked for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz‘s GOP presidential bid.

Tyler said Trump’s leadership style as he prepares to enter the Oval Office sends a clear message: “Unless you move in my way, I’ll make your life, including Republicans, pretty miserable.”

At the same time, the public’s perception of the Republican Party seems to be improving, albeit modestly.

A NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted in December found that 37 percent of Americans have a positive rating of the GOP compared to 36 percent who have an unfavorable view. That’s slightly better than the Democratic Party, which earns positive marks from 34 percent and negative from 42 percent.

Before Trump’s rise, the Republican Party’s message didn’t necessarily resonate with the needs of “everyday Americans,” said veteran Republican strategist Alex Conant.

“The challenge for the party now is to adopt policies that fulfill those needs. And we have a lot of work to do on that front,” Conant said.

The uncertainty leaves longtime Republican loyalists with more questions than answers about the future of their party.

“The party will be what Trump wants it to be,” said Steve Duprey, a Republican national committeeman from New Hampshire.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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Americans say Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton most admired in 2016

President Barack Obama is the man most admired by Americans 2016.

In a new Gallup Poll, 22 percent of respondents mentioned Obama in response to the open-ended question. Coming in second was President-elect Donald Trump at 15 percent. This marks Obama’s ninth consecutive time at the top of the most-admired list, but with a margin of only seven percentage points, it was his narrowest victory yet.

Often, incumbent presidents are ranked highest — in the 70 times Gallup asked the question, the president has won 58 times. Twelve exceptions came mostly when the sitting president was unpopular, such as 2008, when President-elect Obama was named over sitting President George W. Bush. The only other president-elect was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, later finishing first 12 times, more than any other man in history. Gallup notes that Obama is now second all-time with nine first-place finishes.

Rounding out the year’s top 10 most admired man list: Pope Francis, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Rev. Billy Graham, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Dalai Lama, former President Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Americans also named Hillary Clinton as Most Admired Woman, her 15th consecutive year and 21st time overall. Her first one was in 1993 as the first lady, after which Clinton has topped the list every year but 1995 and 1996 (finishing behind Mother Teresa) and 2001 (Laura Bush). Eleanor Roosevelt holds the second-most No. 1’s among women, with 13.

First lady Michelle Obama finished second this year on the Most Admired Woman list. The remainder of the top 10 includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former and current talk-show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres, Queen Elizabeth of England, human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The poll — taken since 1946 — was conducted Dec. 7-11 with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The sample includes 60 percent cellphone users and 40 percent landline users. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

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Year’s top news filled with division — and no middle ground

Fed up with Europe’s union across borders? Reject it. Disgusted with the U.S. political establishment? Can it.

The news in 2016 was filled with battles over culture and territory that exposed divisions far deeper than many realized. But people confronting those divides repeatedly rejected the prospect of middle-ground solutions and the institutions put in place to deliver them.

While the headlines told many different stories, the thread connecting much of the news was a decisive torching of moderation, no matter how uncertain the consequences.

“You’re not laughing now, are you?” Nigel Farage, a leader of the Brexit campaign, told the European Parliament after voters in Great Britain spurned membership in the continental union. “What the little people did … was they rejected the multinationals, they rejected the merchant banks, they rejected big politics and they said, ‘Actually, we want our country back.'”

Farage was speaking only about the United Kingdom. But his observation that many people well beyond Britain shared that disdain for working within the system was borne out repeatedly in the year’s biggest headlines.

In a U.S. presidential campaign fueled by anger and insults, in Syria’s brutal war and Venezuela’s massive protests, in fights over gay rights and migration, opposing sides rejected not just compromise but also the politics of trying to forge it.

That was clear from the year’s first days, when armed activists took over a national wildlife refuge in Oregon’s high desert, opposing the federal government’s control of public lands.

“It needs to be very clear that these buildings will never, ever return to the federal government,” LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher among the activists, told reporters. Weeks later, federal agents stopped vehicles outside the refuge, arresting eight of the activists and fatally shooting Finicum when he reached into a jacket that held a loaded gun.

Even in the rare cases when compromise prevailed, it was viewed with suspicion.

When a deal took effect in January limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief on sanctions, it marked the culmination of prolonged negotiation by President Barack Obama‘s administration. But the pact was repeatedly attacked by critics in both countries, including Donald Trump, saying it gave the other side too much.

“The wisest plan of crazy Trump is tearing up the nuclear deal,” a leading Iranian hard-liner, Hossein Shariatmadari, told his country’s news agency.

In mid-February, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep, leaving a vacuum on a court where he had long been the leading conservative voice. Barely an hour after Scalia’s death was confirmed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell staked out an uncompromising position on what lay ahead.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said, disregarding the fact that U.S. voters had twice elected Obama. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

North Carolina lawmakers prompted protests and counterprotests when they rushed through House Bill 2, voiding local gay-rights ordinances and limiting bathroom access for transgender people. Companies, the NBA and others followed through on threats to move jobs, games and performances out of the state, amplifying the division.

Tensions over U.S. policing bled into a third year. In July, a sniper killed five Dallas police officers during a protest over shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. A South Carolina jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial of a white officer caught on video fatally shooting a black man fleeing a traffic stop.

Division, though, was hardly limited to the U.S.

In Venezuela, triple-digit inflation and shortages of food and medicine fueled 6,000 protests throughout the year that brought millions into the streets. But the government of President Nicolas Maduro, blamed by many voters for the chaos, blocked a recall campaign.

“If you’re going to shoot me because I’m hungry, shoot me!” a young man shouted at a soldier during one protest in Caracas.

In Colombia, voters narrowly rejected a deal between the government and a guerrilla group to end a 52-year civil war. Even when lawmakers approved a renegotiated deal, the peace remained fragile.

In Brazil, senators impeached President Dilma Rousseff for manipulating budget figures, though many of the lawmakers were, themselves, tarred by accusations of corruption. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was stripped of power in December amid allegations she let a close friend use the government for financial gain.

Meanwhile, Syria’s war entered its sixth year. But despite pressure by the U.S. and its allies, Russia and the government of President Bashar Assad unleashed an assault on Aleppo to wipe out rebels, driving up the toll in a conflict that has already claimed as many as 500,000 lives.

“This is a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, accusing Syria and Russia of war crimes.

“As long as war crimes are at question,” a Russian government spokeswoman said, “the Americans should start with Iraq.”

In Yemen, cease-fires broke down, extending a nearly two-year civil war. But with Syria capturing most international attention, a famine resulting from the turmoil was mostly overlooked.

As the fighting continued, terrorist strikes spread fear well beyond the Middle East.

A bombing at a Brussels airport in March and another attack in June at Istanbul’s airport by gunmen with explosives killed a total of nearly 80 people. More than 70 died when a bomb went off in a park in Pakistan, with a faction of the Pakistani Taliban claiming responsibility. In July, a terrorist drove a truck into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, France, killing 86 and injuring more than 400 others. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

In June, security guard Omar Mateen opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in the deadliest mass shooting ever in the U.S. In a call to police during the attack, which killed 49, Mateen — a U.S. citizen born to parents who emigrated from Afghanistan three decades earlier — said he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State group.

A day later, Trump pointed to the attack in a renewed call to ban Muslim immigrants to the U.S. while suggesting that American Muslims were turning a blind eye to terrorists in their midst.

“We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer,” Trump said.

Still, there were moments when the obstinacy that characterized so much of the news was set aside.

When boxing great Muhammad Ali died in June, a figure whose outspokenness on race, religion and other issues once made him deeply polarizing was eulogized as an inspiration.

In March, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928, affirming a contentious move to resume ties after more than a half-century of hostility. But the death of Cuba’s Fidel Castro in November renewed criticism of the U.S. opening, with Trump threatening to “terminate the deal.”

The hard line typified the outspokenness that attracted many voters. Critics lambasted the U.S. presidential campaign for feeding prejudice against minorities and denigrating women, warning that Trump could not win.

But each time Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton appeared to open a gap between herself and the billionaire developer, a scandal over her use of a personal email server while serving as secretary of state returned to the headlines.

When FBI Director James Comey reignited the issue in late October by announcing his agency had found new emails, Clinton’s popularity fell even as early voting began. Trump clinched victory by winning states representing an Electoral College majority, though Clinton captured more than 2.8 million more votes nationwide.

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” Trump told supporters in his first speech as president-elect.

The election’s shocking outcome was arguably the year’s biggest news story. But Trump’s speech made headlines in no small part for sounding a note of moderation that was jarringly out of place in a year of discord.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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GOP: Cut taxes, change brackets; but what about deficits

Congressional Republicans are planning a massive overhaul of the nation’s tax system, a heavy political lift that could ultimately affect families at every income level and businesses of every size.

Their goal is to simplify a complicated tax code that rewards wealthy people with smart accountants, and corporations that can easily shift profits — and jobs — overseas. It won’t be easy. The last time it was done was 30 years ago.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have vowed to pass a tax package in 2017 that would not add to the budget deficit. The Washington term is “revenue neutral.”

It means that for every tax cut there has to be a tax increase, creating winners and losers. Lawmakers would get some leeway if non-partisan congressional analysts project that a tax cut would increase economic growth, raising revenue without increasing taxes.

Nevertheless, passing a massive tax package will require some tough votes, politically.

Some key Republican senators want to share the political risk with Democrats. They argue that a tax overhaul must be bipartisan to be fully embraced by the public. They cite President Barack Obama‘s health law — which passed in 2010 without any Republican votes — as a major policy initiative that remains divisive.

Congressional Democrats say they are eager to have a say in overhauling the tax code. But McConnell, who faulted Democrats for acting unilaterally on health care, is laying the groundwork to pass a purely partisan bill.

Both McConnell and Ryan said they plan to use a legislative maneuver that would prevent Senate Democrats from using the filibuster to block a tax bill.

McConnell says he wants the Senate to tackle a tax plan in the spring, after Congress repeals Obama’s health law. House Republicans are more eager to get started, but haven’t set a timeline.

Some things to know about Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code:

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THE HOUSE PLAN

House Republicans have released the outline of a tax plan that would lower the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The gist of the plan is to lower tax rates for just about everyone, and make up the lost revenue by scaling back exemptions, deductions and credits.

The plan, however, retains some of the most popular tax breaks, including those for paying a mortgage, going to college, making charitable contributions and having children.

The standard deduction would be increased, giving taxpayers less incentive to itemize their deductions.

The non-partisan Tax Policy Center says the plan would reduce revenues by $3 trillion over the first decade, with most of the savings going to the highest-income households.

That’s not revenue neutral.

Small business owners would get a special top tax rate of 25 percent.

Investment income would be taxed like wages, but investors would only have to pay taxes on half of this income.

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SENATE PLAN

Senate Republicans have yet to coalesce around a comprehensive plan, or even an outline.

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TRUMP’S PLAN

Trump’s plan has fewer details. He promises a tax cut for every income level, with more low-income families paying no income tax at all.

The Tax Policy Center says Trump’s plan would reduce revenues by a whopping $9.5 trillion over the first decade, with most of the tax benefits going to the wealthiest taxpayers. Trump has disputed the analysis.

Like the House plan, Trump would reduce the top income tax rate for individuals to 33 percent, and he would reduce the number of tax brackets to three. He would also increase the standard deduction.

Trump has embraced two ideas championed by Obama but repeatedly rejected by Republicans over the past eight years. Trump’s plan would cap itemized deductions for married couples making more than $200,000 a year. It would also tax carried interest, which are fees charged by investment fund managers, as regular income instead of capital gains.

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CORPORATE TAXES

The top corporate income tax rate in the U.S. is 35 percent, the highest in the industrialized world. However, the tax is riddled with so many exemptions, deductions and credits that most corporations pay much less.

Both Trump and House Republicans want to lower the rate, and pay for it by scaling back tax breaks.

Trump wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. Ryan says 20 percent is more realistic, to avoid increasing the budget deficit.

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BORDER ADJUSTMENT TAX

This is one of the most controversial parts of the House Republicans’ tax plan. It is also key to making it work.

Under current law, the United States taxes the profits of U.S.-based companies, even if the money is made overseas. However, taxes on foreign income are deferred until a company either reinvests the profits in the U.S. or distributes them to shareholders.

Critics say the system encourages U.S.-based corporations to invest profits overseas or, more dramatically, to shift operations and jobs abroad to avoid U.S. taxes.

House Republicans want to scrap America’s worldwide tax system and replace it with a tax that is based on where a firm’s products are consumed, rather than where they are produced.

Under the system, American companies that produce and sell their products in the U.S. would pay the new 20 percent corporate tax rate on profits from these sales. However, if a company exports a product abroad, the profits from that sale would not be taxed by the U.S.

There’s more: Foreign companies that import goods to the U.S. would have to pay the tax, increasing the cost of imports.

Exporters love the idea. But importers, including big retailers and consumer electronics firms, say it could lead to steep price increases on consumer goods. The lobbying has already begun.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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U.S. election voted top news story of 2016

The turbulent U.S. election, featuring Donald Trump‘s unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, was the overwhelming pick for the top news story of 2016, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

The No. 2 story also was a dramatic upset — Britons’ vote to leave the European Union. Most of the other stories among the Top 10 reflected a year marked by political upheaval, terror attacks and racial divisions.

Last year, developments related to the Islamic State group were voted as the top story — the far-flung attacks claimed by the group, and the intensifying global effort to crush it.

The first AP top-stories poll was conducted in 1936, when editors chose the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII.

Here are 2016’s top 10 stories, in order:

1. US ELECTION: This year’s top story traces back to June 2015, when Donald Trump descended an escalator in Trump Tower, his bastion in New York City, to announce he would run for president. Widely viewed as a long shot, with an unconventional campaign featuring raucous rallies and pugnacious tweets, he outlasted 16 Republican rivals. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton beat back an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, and won the popular vote over Trump. But he won key Rust Belt states to get the most electoral votes, and will enter the White House with Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.

2. BREXIT: Confounding pollsters and oddsmakers, Britons voted in June to leave the European Union, triggering financial and political upheaval. David Cameron resigned as prime minister soon after the vote, leaving the task of negotiating an exit to a reshaped Conservative government led by Theresa May. Under a tentative timetable, final details of the withdrawal might not be known until the spring of 2019.

3. BLACKS KILLED BY POLICE: One day apart, police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and a white police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. Coming after several similar cases in recent years, the killings rekindled debate over policing practices and the Black Lives Matter movement.

4. PULSE NIGHTCLUB MASSACRE: The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded on Latin Night at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people over the course of three hours before dying in a shootout with SWAT team members. During the standoff, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

5. WORLDWIDE TERROR ATTACKS: Across the globe, extremist attacks flared at a relentless pace throughout the year. Among the many high-profile attacks were those that targeted airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a park teeming with families and children in Pakistan, and the seafront boulevard in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed when a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration. In Iraq alone, many hundreds of civilians were killed in repeated bombings.

6. ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ambushes and targeted attacks on police officers in the U.S. claimed at least 20 lives. The victims included five officers in Dallas working to keep the peace at a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. Ten days after that attack, a man killed three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In Iowa, two policemen were fatally shot in separate ambush-style attacks while sitting in their patrol cars.

7. DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMAIL LEAKS: Hacked emails, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed at-times embarrassing details from Democratic Party operatives in the run-up to Election Day, leading to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials. The CIA later concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hacking in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton.

8. SYRIA: Repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia’s help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction.

9. SUPREME COURT: After Justice Antonin Scalia‘s death in February, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy. However, majority Republicans in the Senate refused to consider the nomination, opting to leave the seat vacant so it could be filled by the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump has promised to appoint a conservative in the mold of Scalia.

10. HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS: Amid the presidential campaign, the FBI conducted an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails she sent and received as secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton for carelessness but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges.

Stories that did not make the top 10 included Europe’s migrant crisis, the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and the spread of the Zika virus across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Darryl Paulson: Selecting party chairs: The Florida experience

(Part 2 of 2)

 In the first part of this series, I discussed the process and candidates used by the Republican and Democratic parties to select their national party chairperson. We will now look at the process and candidates used to choose the Florida Republican and Democratic chairs.

After a disastrous showing by the Florida Democratic Party in the 2016 election, a fate which has become all too common for the party, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party decided not to seek a second term. Like recent Democratic Party chairs, Allison Tant agreed that “one and done” was the proper course of action.

Given Donald Trump‘s Florida victory, as well as a better than expected showing by Republicans in the Congressional and state legislative races, one might have expected incumbent party chair, Blaise Ingoglia, to be a cinch for re-election. That is not the case. Ingoglia faces opposition from Christian Zeigler, a Sarasota County Republican State Committeeman.

The race pits House member Ingoglia versus Senate Republicans who do not want the House and Speaker Richard Corcoran to control the supply of money. It also pits Gov. Rick Scott against party pragmatists.

Scott was incensed in 2015 when his choice to lead the party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by Ingoglia. This rare rebuke of a governor’s prerogative to select the party chair, resulted in Scott telling donors to give money to his political action committee, Let’s Get to Work, instead of to the Republican Party of Florida. Senate Republicans pulled $800,000 out of the GOP account.

Twenty years ago, the Florida Republican Party, under the leadership of Tom Slade, was considered to be the premier state party organization in the nation. Today, after the fiasco of the previous chair Jim Greer and the efforts of Scott to decimate the state Republican Party, it more closely resembles the Keystone Kops.

At the very least, it more closely resembles Democratic Party operations (and that is faint praise).

Although the Florida Republican Party operations have been a mess for a number of years, the Democrats are approaching its third decade as a nonfunctioning party organization. The Democrats, due to their poor showing, have had a difficult time recruiting quality candidates and raising sufficient funds to support their efforts.

The Democrats lack of success at the polls has accelerated party squabbles. Every Democrat is looking for someone to blame for their poor showing, and the party chair is the easiest person to blame. The pettiness of Democrats can be seen in the 2016 election, where several potential Democratic candidates for chair were defeated in internal elections.

Alan Clendenin, Susannah Randolph, and Annette Taddeo were all defeated in races they needed to win to run for chair. The winner of the battle for state committeeman between Stephen Bittel and Dwight Bullard in Dade County will determine which candidate will run for party chairperson.

After losing the race for state committeeman in Hillsborough County after a controversial ruling by the county chair, Clendenin has moved to Bradford County in North Florida and was sworn in as the committeeman for Bradford County, making him once again eligible to run for state party chairperson.

Clendenin lost the election for the Democratic chair four years ago when he lost to outgoing chair Allison Tant by 139 votes.

It appears that Bittel is emerging as the last man standing, although there is still sufficient time for his campaign to be torpedoed. Bittel has been a major Democratic donor, which has led some Democrats to accuse him of trying to buy the position of chair.

Sen. Bill Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat who will be up for election in 2018, says: “I think Stephen Bittel would bring that type of professionalism to the organization. We need a professional to run the organization and raise money.”

Bittel received a surprise endorsement from Keith Ellison, who is running for National Democratic Party chair. Ellison supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary, while Bittel was a backer of Hillary Clinton. One Revolution, an organization of Sanders supporters, has announced its support for Bullard, saying that “An extremely wealthy donor wants to buy his way to lead Florida’s Democratic Party and the only thing between him and control of the party is our political revolution.”

Bittel also won the endorsements of the Florida Educational Association and the Florida Service Employees Union, two important constituency groups within the Democratic Party.

Ingoglia, the incumbent Republican Party chair, is backed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Sen. Marco Rubio and Susie Wiles, who managed Trump’s campaign in Florida. Wiles said that “I can say that the organization built under chairman Ingoglia’s leadership was a critical element in our success.”

With that backing and the Republican success in 2016, Ingoglia should be favored. But, with Scott sitting on the sidelines, he is really encouraging Republicans to back Zeigler.

On the Democratic side, no one should be foolish enough to predict what Florida Democrats will do. After all, they seldom know what they are doing.

___

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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Darryl Paulson: Selecting the national party chairperson

(First of two parts)

The state and national elections are over. At least most of them are over. Still to be decided is the person who will chair the Florida and national party organizations. Is it much ado about nothing, or do party chairs make a difference?

Selecting the party chairperson is normally easier for the victorious party. Whoever wins the governorship or presidency usually can handpick the leader of the party. This was not the case in 2015 when Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice to head the Florida Republican Party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by challenger Blaise Ignoglia.

After winning the presidential race against Hillary Clinton, President-Elect Donald Trump selected Ronna Romney McDaniel to head the Republican Party. McDaniel, the niece of Mitt Romney, replaces party chair Reince Priebus who was chosen to be Trump’s chief of staff. McDaniel served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and played a key role in Michigan voting for the Republican presidential nominee for the first time since 1988.

McDaniel will become only the second woman to chair the Republican Party, the other being Mary Louise Smith, who was appointed by President Gerald Ford to head the party in 1974. The 168 members of the Republican National Committee will confirm McDaniel at their January 2017 meeting.

With the surprising loss of Hillary Clinton, the race for party chair is wide open. As the outgoing president, Barack Obama can influence, but not select the incoming party chair. As the losing candidate, Clinton will have no voice in picking the new head of the party.

The last Democratic Party Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, left the position in the midst of widespread controversy. Bernie Sanders supporters accused Wasserman Schultz of blatant favoritism for Clinton. The scarcity of Democratic presidential primary debates and the scheduling of those debates at non-prime viewing times was a major criticism of Wasserman Schultz.

The final straw occurred when WikiLeaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) showing favoritism for Clinton, led to Schultz’s resignation at the close of the Democratic convention. Her fate was sealed when Schultz was loudly booed after addressing the Florida delegation and agreed not to gavel open the convention.

Donna Brazile was selected as interim chair of the Democratic Party until a permanent chair is elected by the DNC at its February meeting. The selection of a new party chair may help mend divisions within the party, or it may further divide the party and lead to an internal civil war between the establishment and progressive forces. Three months ago, everyone thought this would be a battle that Republicans, and not Democrats would be facing. Brazile warned Democrats that they need to “pick ourselves up” and not “pick each other apart.”

If an establishment candidate wins, the progressives will be angered that their views have been once again neglected by the party and some may seek to form their own political movement. If the progressives win, the Democrats run the risk of moving too far to the left and moving even further away from voters who gravitated to Trump. A similar problem confronted Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s when Republicans effectively branded Democrats as “San Francisco Democrats” who moved too far to the left.

Among the potential Democratic Party Chair candidates are South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison and New Hampshire Party Chair Ray Buckley, along with Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison.

On December 15, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced his candidacy for party chair, and many believe he is the preferred candidate of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Ellison is backed by the progressive wing of the party and has the endorsement of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He is also supported by the outgoing Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, as well as the incoming leader, Chuck Schumer.

Critics have several concerns about an Ellison candidacy. As the only Muslim member of Congress, some are concerned that Dems will be accused of engaging in identity politics with a group that is not trusted by many American voters. Ellison’s writings have been critical of Israel and supportive of Louis Farrakhan and the Black Muslims. Ellison supported Farrakhan after he was attacked for his racist and anti-Semitic views, as well as his support for a separate state for blacks.

Another problem for Ellison is an issue that faced Wasserman Schultz. Can a sitting member of Congress have the time for both jobs and doesn’t that create conflicts of interest? Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, among others, has said the Democrats need a full-time chair. As a result of this criticism, Ellison has vowed to resign his congressional seat if selected as party chair.

Former presidential candidate and former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean flirted with serving as chair before backing away. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm‘s name was often mentioned for the job, but she has announced that she is supporting Perez, the most recent candidate to enter the field.

Where Romney McDaniel has the race for Republican Party Chair all wrapped-up, the Democratic field is wide open, and some of the announced candidates may drop out before the February vote of the DNC; others may enter the race if they see all of the current candidates unable to attract widespread support.

Also, Democrats have had a dual chair system before, so it is possible that both an establishment and progressive candidate might emerge. Wouldn’t that make things fun?

(Part 2: Selecting the Florida party chairs)

___

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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Donald Trump action on health care could cost Planned Parenthood

One of President-elect Donald Trump‘s first, and defining, acts next year could come on Republican legislation to cut off taxpayer money from Planned Parenthood.

Trump sent mixed signals during the campaign about the 100-year-old organization, which provides birth control, abortions and various women’s health services. He said “millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood,” but he also endorsed efforts to defund it.

Trump once described himself as “very pro-choice.” Now he’s in the anti-abortion camp.

Still, the Republican has been steadfast in calling for repeal of President Barack Obama‘s health care law, and the GOP-led Congress is eager to comply. One of the first pieces of legislation will be a repeal measure that’s paired with cutting off money for Planned Parenthood. While the GOP may delay the impact of scuttling the law for almost four years, denying Planned Parenthood roughly $400 million in Medicaid funds would take effect immediately.

“We’ve already shown what we believe with respect to funding of Planned Parenthood,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters last month. “Our position has not changed.”

Legislation to both repeal the law and cut Planned Parenthood funds for services to low-income women moved through Congress along party lines last year. Obama vetoed it; Trump’s win removes any obstacle.

Cutting off Planned Parenthood from taxpayer money is a long-sought dream of social conservatives, but it’s a loser in the minds of some GOP strategists. Planned Parenthood is loathed by anti-abortion activists who are the backbone of the GOP coalition. Polls, however, show that the group is favorably viewed by a sizable majority of Americans — 59 percent in a Gallup survey last year, including more than one-third of Republicans.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood as one of their first acts in the new year would be devastating for millions of families and a huge mistake by Republicans,” said incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Democrats pledge to defend the group, and they point to the issue of birth control and women’s health as helping them win Senate races in New Hampshire and Nevada this year. They argue that Trump would be leading off with a political loser. But if he were to have second thoughts and if the Planned Parenthood provision were to be dropped from the health law repeal, then social conservatives probably would erupt.

“They may well be able to succeed, but the women of America are going to know what that means,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., citing reduced access to services Planned Parenthood clinics provide. “And we’re going to call Republicans on the carpet for that.”

At least one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, may oppose the effort. Collins has defended Planned Parenthood, saying it “provides important family planning, cancer screening and basic preventive health care services to millions of women across the country.” She voted against the health overhaul repeal last year as a result.

Continued opposition from Collins, which appears likely, would put the repeal measure on a knife’s edge in the Senate, where Republicans will have a 52-48 majority next year. Senate GOP leaders could afford to lose just one other Republican.

Anti-abortion conservatives have long tried to cut Planned Parenthood funds, arguing that reimbursements for nonabortion services such as gynecological exams help subsidize abortions. Though Planned Parenthood says it performed 324,000 abortions in 2014, the most recent year tallied, the vast majority of women seek out contraception, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and other services including cancer screenings.

The drive against Planned Parenthood picked up steam in 2015 after an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress released secretly-recorded videos that it claimed showed Planned Parenthood officials profiting from sales of fetal tissue for medical research. The measure, however, would strip Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding for only a year, a step taken to give time for continued investigations of Planned Parenthood’s activities. A House panel is still active, but investigations by 13 states have been concluded without charges of wrongdoing.

Planned Parenthood strongly denied the allegations and no wrongdoing was proved, but the group announced in October that it will no longer accept reimbursement for the costs involved in providing fetal tissue to researchers.

The defunding measure would take away roughly $400 million in Medicaid money from the group in the year after enactment, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and would result in roughly 400,000 women losing access to care. One factor is that being enrolled in Medicaid doesn’t guarantee access to a doctor, so women denied Medicaid services from Planned Parenthood may not be able to find replacement care.

Planned Parenthood says private contributions are way up since the election, but that they are not a permanent replacement for federal reimbursements. “We’re going to fight like hell to make sure our doors stay open,” said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Erica Sackin.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump says Michelle Obama’s ‘no hope’ comment about the past

President-elect Donald Trump said first lady Michelle Obama “must have been talking about the past” when she said there’s no sense of hope after his election.

Trump, speaking Saturday at the final rally of his postelection “thank you” tour, then resisted escalating the spat further, suggesting “she made that statement not meaning it the way it came out.”

But as Trump praised the Obamas for treating him so nicely when he visited the White House shortly after the election, many in the Mobile, Alabama, crowd booed the first family.

Michelle Obama, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey set to air Monday on CBS, said she was now certain that her husband’s victory had inspired people because “now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like.”

“What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope?” she added.

Trump’s comments about Michelle and President Barack Obama was one of the few conciliatory notes he sounded during a victory tour in which he showed few signs of turning the page from his blustery campaign to focus on uniting a divided nation a month before his inauguration.

At each stop, the Republican gloatingly recapped his election night triumph, reignited some old political feuds while starting some new ones, and did little to quiet the hate-filled chants of “Lock her up!” directed at Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

At the tour’s finale at the same football stadium in Mobile that hosted the biggest rally of his campaign, Trump saluted his supporters as true “patriots” and made little attempt to reach out to the more than half of the electorate that didn’t vote for him.

“We are really the people who love this country,” said Trump.

He reminisced about his campaign announcement and his ride down Trump Tower’s golden escalator. His disputed a newspaper’s account of the size of the crowd at one of his rallies and bashed the press as dishonest. And he joked that he had booked a small ballroom for his election night party so, if he lost, he “could get out!”

He paid homage to the August 2015 rally in the same stadium that he said jump-started his campaign. Though the crowd was not as large on Saturday, it was no less fervid, repeatedly chanting “Build the wall!” when Trump renewed his vow to build an impenetrable border at the Mexican border.

Trump brought his nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, up onstage to receive cheers from his hometown crowd. When Trump’s plane landed, he received a water cannon salute from a pair of fire trucks and was greeted by several Azalea Trail Maids, local women dressed in antebellum Southern Belle outfits.

The raucous rallies, a hallmark of his campaign, are meant to salute supporters who lifted him to the presidency. But these appearances also have been his primary form of communication since the Nov. 8 election.

Trump has eschewed the traditional news conference held by a president-elect within days of winning. He’s done few interviews, announced his Cabinet picks via news release and continues to rely on Twitter to broadcast his thoughts and make public pronouncements.

That continued Saturday morning when Trump turned to social media to weigh in on China’s seizure of a U.S. Navy research drone from international waters, misspelling “unprecedented” when he wrote “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.”

He later corrected the tweet. China said Saturday it intended to return the drone to the U.S.

Within days of beating Clinton, Trump suggested to aides that he resume his campaign-style barnstorming. Though he agreed to hold off until he assembled part of his Cabinet, Trump has repeatedly spoken of his fondness for being on the road. Aides are considering more rallies after he takes office, to help press his agenda with the public – a possibility that Trump embraced from the stage Saturday.

But Trump has also sounded some notes of unity on the tour. In Mobile, he acknowledged that “now the hard work begins” and ended with a plea for all Americans, including those who did not support him, to “never give up.”

After the rally, Trump planned to return to Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach estate. Aides said the president-elect probably would spend Christmas week there and could stay until New Year’s.

Earlier Saturday, he announced the nomination of South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney to head the Office of Management and Budget, choosing a Tea Partyer and fiscal conservative with no experience assembling a government spending plan.

Mulvaney, a founder of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, has taken a hard line on budget matters, routinely voting against increasing the government’s borrowing cap and pressing for major cuts to benefit programs as the path to balancing the budget.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Pinellas County GOP head Nick DiCeglie to run for head of state chairs

After successfully leading his county to go red in last month’s presidential election, newly re-elected Pinellas County Republican Party Executive Committee Chairman Nick DiCigle is thinking ‘bigly’ for 2017. At next month’s state party meeting in Orlando, he intends to run for the Chairman’s Caucus Chairman, the leader of all 67 county GOP leaders from across the state.

“My goal – if successful – is to share what worked for us here in Pinellas County with the other chairmen in the state of Florida,” DiCeglie said last week in an interview at the Pinellas GOP’s offices in Clearwater last week.

Initially elected in 2014 and re-elected on Monday night, DiCigle says that unlike many other county chairs across the state, he has the luxury of being in a large county with a substantial donor base and other resources that he’s been able to adroitly tap into.

“I want to be able to share not on my successes and our successes here in the party, but to share those successes, so that collectively we can come together as a group of chairmen, (so) when these folks go back to their counties, they’re more knowledgeable, they’ve  learned something, and they can improve what their doing locally, that’s the ultimate goal,” DiCigle says.

The Long Island native has been active with the Pinellas Republican Party since 2009. After a stint as vice chair, he was elected chairman of the REC in 2014 when he defeated two other challengers to take the reigns of the local party. His biggest accomplishment to date was leading Pinellas to go red for Donald Trump in last month’s presidential election, a significant development in comparison to 2012, when Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by nearly ten percentage points in the county.

DiCeglie is aware that some of the migration to the local Republican party in 2016 emanated directly from those attracted to Trump, and that some of those voters don’t necessarily have that strong of an allegiance to the GOP. His goal is to make them want to stay in the party.

“I think this is an opportunity for Republicans,  and we have a responsibility as a local party as well to change minds, and as we change minds, and as things improve in this country, we’re going to be able to not only register Republicans as voters, we’re going to bypass the Dems by significant margins,” he says, adding that one of his goals over the next to years is to “identify, engage, communicate and motivate this new electorate.”

The next big thing in Pinellas when it comes to elections is the St. Petersburg Mayor’s race, taking place next November. And while Rick Kriseman has been struggling at City Hall regarding  his handling of the sewage crisis, he still doesn’t appear to be in danger for re-election unless Rick Baker were to leave the private sector and run for the job he held from 2000-2009.

DiCeglie acknowledges that the list of potential challengers to Kriseman begins with Baker, but says if he doesn’t pull the trigger “there are other Republicans that we’re going to be engaging, though he says he can’t say who those people are just yet. He grows impassioned when discussing what he says has been a distressing lack of leadership at City Hall.

The GOP leader scoffs at the idea that the mayoral race is nonpartisan. “Tell that to Rick Kriseman,” he says. “He made that race extremely partisan four years ago,” referring to the tens of thousands of dollars that the Florida Democratic Party contributed to his campaign in 2013.

“We certainly want to play a role,” he says about the municipal election, where four City Council seats will also be on the ballot. “We don’t know exactly what that’s going to be, but there’s a significant concern about the direction about the city of St Petersburg, and we’re firm believers that any leader of mayor, who focuses on limited government and fiscally conservative values is certainly better than what we’re seeing right now.”

Regarding the election for state party chair, DiCeglie is a Blaise Ingoglia man, but says he’s friends with his challenger, Sarasota state Committeeman Christian Ziegler. “They’re both great people, and either way, we’re going to have a very strong party coming into this next cycle, no question about it.”

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