**Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

Buzz Cut:
• Humbug, indeed
• 2016 GOP Power Index: Ahem…
• Power Play: Conservative scorekeepers
• Watchdogs bark over Hillary’s help for son-in-law’s biz
• Toasters don’t toast crumpets, people do


HUMBUG, INDEED
For Christians, this is the season of Advent – an intentionally somber period of preparation before the fat geese and goodies of Christmas. It’s something like a low-key Lent. Think of the haunting strains of "O come, O come, Emmanuel” for Advent versus the sonic blast of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” for Christmas.

Even though Christians know that these are just thought exercises and spiritual disciplines, the spreading gloom still sometimes seems real. Ash Wednesday or Advent vespers can leave believers in a fog of gloom. The tomb is full. The manger is empty.

But Christmas always comes. Easter always comes. The fog will be burned away. Christians intellectually understand what has happened and what will come, but emotions overawe intellect.

For Republicans, December of every fourth year acts as something of a secular Advent. There will be a brokered convention. The party will rupture and break. The House and Senate are doomed. The divisions are so deep that they cannot be overcome. A third-party candidate will arise and hand the election to the Democrats. Woe betide!

The gloom is gloomier this year than most. And the political press leans in to whisper into anguished ears, “Doomed, doomed, doomed…”

There is silly talk from party leaders about how to deny Donald Trump the nomination at the Republican National Convention – wishful thinking born of desperation. They shouldn’t kid themselves. If Trump gets the delegates, he will get the nomination and there’s nothing any “establishment” can or will do about it.

And if Trump doesn’t get enough delegates, somebody else almost certainly will. The idea that the convention will be deadlocked is (for now) exclusively the province of political journalists that would love to cover it and long-shot candidates who need some reason (beyond vainglory) to continue their campaigns.

Now, predictions of a re-united party and an orderly convention can hardly be delivered with the same certitude with which Christians can await December 25. Trump’s wealth and celebrity do afford him the chance to play spoiler if he chooses. The overpopulated GOP field does make it harder for the party to sort itself out. And the chaotic, dangerous condition of the world certainly creates a scenario in which dark Advent dreams could become real.

But in every year past, the deep angst of December has faded and Republicans have found some way to survive, endure and, occasionally, win elections.

So if you are one of the GOPers caught in the December fog, give yourself a break. The Halleluiah Chorus is almost certainly still to come.

[If you missed Kristen Soltis Anderson’s smart, useful piece on how polling works (and doesn’t), you should do yourself the favor.]

2016 GOP POWER INDEX: AHEM…
Fox News First is not the kind of political note that would say “we told you so,” but in this case we’ll make an exception. Sen. Ted Cruz clambered atop the 2016 GOP Power Index on Sept. 28, knocking off longtime leader Jeb Bush.

Now, 11 weeks later, polls nationally and in Iowa confirm what we have long held: that Cruz’s ability to unite religious conservatives and libertarian-leaning Republicans would be a potent combination.

And Cruz looks far different from other conservative insurgents in two ways. First, his resources and campaign discipline are built to last, especially with Southern states moving up in the calendar this year. Second, as the unquenchable fire that is Donald Trump’s candidacy burns through the open prairie of the GOP, the settlers are looking nervous in their cabins.

Cruz may be an insurgent, but he is an insurgent within the establishment and is doctrinally conservative.  If the choice was between Trump and Cruz alone, even the crustiest barnacles on the hull of the USS Establishment would assent to Cruz. While Cruz would mean a tough general election with Hillary Clinton, Trump portends generational damage for his adoptive party.

For all those reasons, the Power Index mostly stands pat this week.

One big change this week: Ben Carson’s downward trajectory in the polls reaffirms what we have long supposed: that there will be no second act for his campaign given the availability of attractive alternatives for his supporters in Cruz and Rubio.

His replacement, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, has turned his New Hampshire hype into something of substance. If Cruz’s most likely final rival, Sen. Marco Rubio, suffers a blowout in February, Christie is shaping up to be the one to chase him.

But the auguries all still – and increasing volume – point to a helluva stretch run between Cruz and Rubio.

1) Ted Cruz; 2) Marco Rubio; 3) Donald Trump; 4) Carly Fiorina [-1]; 5) Jeb Bush ; 6) Chris Christie [previously unranked]

On the radar -  Ben Carson, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum

[Watch Fox: Chris Stirewalt joins “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson” in the 2 p.m. ET hour with the latest on who’s up and who’s down in the 2016 Power Index.]

What would you say? - Give us your take on the 2016 Power Index. We will share the best and brightest with the whole class. Send your thoughts to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM

Trump on Cruz: ‘a bit of a maniac’ - On “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” Donald Trump criticized fellow frontrunner Ted Cruz calling him “a bit of a maniac” when discussing Cruz’s lack of qualifications to be president. Trump said, “When you look at the way he’s dealt with the Senate, where he goes in there like a -- you know, frankly, like a bit of a maniac. You never get things done that way.” Watch here.

Just a steel town girl on a Saturday night… - Cruz responded to Trump’s critique within hours tweeting, “In honor of my friend @realDonaldTrump and good-hearted #Maniacs everywhere,” and linked to the ‘Maniac’ dance sequence in the movie ‘Flashdance.’

Data mind - The WaPo was oohing and ahhing over the data techniques and “psycographic targeting” being used by Ted Cruz’s campaign. This comes as no surprise to Power Play viewers who recall way back in May when Cruz data guru, Chris Wilson, discussed their data plan. WATCH HERE.

Fiorina focuses on veterans in new video - CARLY for America PAC has a new video out highlighting Fiorina’s focus on veterans’ issues. The video features a group of veterans discussing the major issues facing those coming home, and Fiorina fighting to give those issues prominence.

Also on the video front - Team Rubio has a new television ad out today in Iowa and New Hampshire targeting social conservatives who feel “out of place” in their own country.

CNN changes rules to admit Rand to main debate - Time: “[Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul] has struggled in the polls and among donors, and seen his support erode even further amid renewed concerns over the threat of terrorism following the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. In recent days, as it became clear Paul was unlikely to make the debate stage, his campaign began a social media push to call on the network to change its rules to allow his participation, just as the network did for former HP CEO Carly Fiorina before its September debate. In the end, the network announced that Paul would be allowed to participate in the main stage, stating Paul was ‘showing viability’ by polling at 5% in a Fox News Iowa poll released Sunday morning, but it did not explain—as it did in the case of Fiorina—how it let Paul, whose polling average considered by the network is below the required 4% in the state, on stage.”

POWER PLAY: CONSERVATIVE SCOREKEEPERS
Paul Mero
, head of the Leadership Project for America PAC, explains why his group’s method of ranking candidates is unique. Mero says the PAC’s matrix bases their scores on leadership qualities instead of ideology as most other scorecards do. He reveals the current rankings to Chris Stirewalt. WATCH HERE.

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE…
Today in 1799, George Washington breathed his last breath, dying (most likely of quackery) at his beloved estate, Mount Vernon, at the age of 67. Washington only had about two-and-a-half years of his long-awaited retirement before he met his end. During his many years away from home at war and as president, Christmas was one part of life at Mount Vernon for which Washington yearned most – understandable given how he spent some Christmases. What would Christmas look like to our nation’s first president? Much of it would look familiar today, including a church service and large gathering of family and friends. The Washingtons loved to entertain and Christmas was no exception. The day typically included a feast followed by the seasonal activity of foxhunting. Something that would have been missing? St. Nicholas paying a visit and a glittering evergreen tree. Both would not be popular in America until the first large wave of German immigrants reached our shores in the mid-1800s.

Got TIP from the RIGHT or the LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

POLL CHECK
Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval
: Approve – 44.0 percent//Disapprove – 52.0 percent
Directions of Country: Right Direction – 24.5 percent//Wrong Track – 67.3 percent

WATCHDOGS BARK OVER HILLARY’S HELP FOR SON-IN-LAW’S BIZ
Fox News: “A conservative watchdog group will call for a federal investigation Monday into Hillary Clinton’s actions toward a deep-sea mining company tied to her son-in-law, according to a published report. According to Time magazine, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics alleging that Clinton gave Neptune Minerals ‘special access to the State Department based upon the company’s relationships with Secretary Clinton’s family members and donors to the Clinton Foundation.’

“The complaint comes two weeks after emails released by the State Department show that Clinton, now the Democratic presidential front-runner, ordered a senior State Department official to look into the request from Marc Mezvinsky. Mezvinsky, a partner in a New York hedge fund and the husband of Clinton’s daughter Chelsea, had received an email in May 2012 from investor Harry Siklas asking if he could help set up contacts with Clinton or other State Department officials.”

FUNDING BILL UNDER THE GUN, AGAIN
Time is again running short as lawmakers try to hammer out a long term spending deal and avert a new government shutdown deadline of Wednesday midnight.  Riders to the $1.1 trillion spending bill that would fund the government through the Fall of 2016 continue to be the sticking point.  With both parties looking to tout those riders as policy victories in 2016, pressure is building on new rail yard master Speaker Paul Ryan to get the omnibus legislation out of the station without leaving disgruntled passengers, especially among the Republican conference, in the process.

[Sticky wickets - Miami Herald details some of the policy riders that are vexing congressional negotiators]

The Hill: “The House could vote Wednesday at the earliest if the catch-all spending bill, known as an omnibus, is made public on Monday in order to meet a rule that all legislation be made public for three calendar days before a vote. But the House won’t have its first votes of the week until Tuesday night — an indication that the omnibus might not be released until as late as possible. The Senate will likely have less than 24 hours to pass either the omnibus bill or yet another stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown Wednesday night…. The spending bill is also expected to be linked to a major package renewing expiring tax credits, with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) saying that negotiations would likely extend through the weekend.”

TOASTERS DON’T TOAST CRUMPETS, PEOPLE DO
Conservatives in the United States are worried about keeping their firearms. In Britain, the battle for liberty is somewhat, er, different as the Guardian tells: “A prized communal toaster has sparked a standoff between council staff and Conservatives at Bradford town hall, with councillors vowing to hide the appliance from health and safety staff who say it is a fire risk. Staff working in the [historically preserved], 19th-century building are banned from using toasters because they are a fire hazard and contravene the council’s eco-friendly policies on energy use. The rebellion by Conservative councillors was precipitated by an internal memo sent to all staff that said an environmental awareness officer had spotted contraband items. An amnesty would be held on Monday, it said, for ‘all portable heaters, fans and toasters ... [which] do not comply with the council’s agreed recycling and heating efficiency policies.’”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.