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On the roster: Trump tries to disrupt Clinton scandal cycle - Hillary looks to put Trump under the boardwalk - Power Play: Sticky Tar Heel State - Audible: Wat? - Tastes like sadness

TRUMP TRIES TO DISRUPT CLINTON SCANDAL CYCLE
Can Donald Trump disrupt a 30-year cycle when it comes to Clinton scandals?

The phases of a Clinton scandal are pretty well established: discovery and denial, character assassination of the accusers, partial, mitigated, confession, then wait for Republicans to overplay their advantages and, finally, triumphant victimhood.

Boom.

This time-tested and oft-imitated approach was forged in the annealing fire of Bill Clinton’s sex scandals and has been used for other mishaps in the family’s long career. The Clinton system works whether it is lost billing records from Hillary Clinton’s law firm that suddenly reappear, foreign political contributions or the orgy of pardons and influence peddling in the waning days of their administration.

The scandal biorhythms we know so well have been much on display in the case of the former secretary of state’s mishandling of classified information. It’s all there: abject denial followed by incontrovertible evidence, partial apology, attacks on the accusers -- the whole shebang.

Something is different this time, though. The leader of the Republican Party is not playing his part.

A Republican nominee other than Trump would have sounded very much like Paul Ryan did Tuesday night on the “Kelly File.” Ryan hit Clinton hard for her violations but stopped short of calling out FBI Director James Comey. In fact, Ryan based his attacks on Clinton on what Comey said, which makes for a damning supercut of Clinton’s dishonest handling of the whole matter. The House speaker showed respectful disagreement with the Justice Department, but did not attack the legal system itself.

Trump though, did something it is hard to imagine any major party nominee doing, and basically said that the Justice Department was a criminal enterprise itself. He accused Attorney General Loretta Lynch of accepting “a bribe” to protect the Democratic nominee. That would mean that Comey was in on the conspiracy too, since Lynch wasn’t supposed to interfere in the investigation anyway.

These are not little allegations. Trump is not saying that Clinton skated through the system, but that the system itself is massively corrupt.

In Ryan’s version of the world voters should punish Clinton for her wrongdoing by not electing her president. In Trump’s version, the whole federal government is shot through with criminal corruption.

We can see where the road leads on Ryan’s approach. Already, the hearings have been scheduled in which Lynch, Comey and presumably others will be “grilled” by showboating Republican lawmakers hoping to cook up a clip for the local news. The hearings will fail to yield new information and will help Clinton and the Democrats build their narrative that this is all so much GOP election-year grandstanding.

Unless the Republicans are prepared to say what Trump is saying, that the FBI is full of crooks, these hearings will amount to nothing more than an opportunity for Democrats to say that after more than a year and millions of dollars spent by the world’s premiere law enforcement agency, House Republicans can’t accept the truth.

There’s a reason, though, that the leaders of parties don’t generally say things like accusing the FBI of crimes.

Conspiracy theories are deadly things. When we see something is amiss and just know that the stated story doesn’t add up, we start to fill in the blanks with our own imaginations. If we just know that one gunman couldn’t have killed President Kennedy then our minds are given free rein. And when the only test for our suppositions is their seeming likelihood, anything becomes possible.

Where it gets sticky is the proving part. If you accuse anybody of taking a bribe they’re likely to demand some proof. If you accuse America’s top law enforcement official of massive corruption, one supposes even more proof would be required. And remember, this is not a surrogate or some flunky making the claim on late night TV, this is the new leader of the Republican Party. His words matter.

So while we may know the location of the dry well to which Ryan and his colleagues are headed, we can’t be sure where Trump’s gambit goes.

The potential for disaster is very real. When you start trafficking in conspiracy theories of this magnitude even the smallest slip or misunderstanding of fact brings the whole thing to ruin. With Clinton’s army of lawyers, researchers and operatives combing through everything Trump says and does, any claim that can be disproven will be.

Rather than making the most out of Clinton’s digital debacle, Trump could wipe out any gains by sounding like a crackpot – just remember what happened when Trump pushed his birther conspiracy too far.

But we can’t be sure of the outcome with Trump since we’ve never seen the Clintons confronted with this kind of full-spectrum allegation of corruption by one so prominent so soon in the lifecycle of a scandal.

Trump could blow himself up, to be sure, but if he can convince enough people that their government is a complete fraud, he might just manage to convince them to let him burn it all down.

TIME OUT
Ugly is the new hotness on the Internet. The Awl tells us about users’ nostalgia and a fight against homogeneity: “The pre-platform, pre-mobile internet was a web of pages and links and counters. The most essential thing about it is the notion that it looked bad. But the bad-looking web is making a comeback…A recent Washington Post piecefocused on one Swiss designer’s designation for the bad web renaissance: ‘Web Brutalism.’ Pascal Deville collects examples of web brutalism on brutalistwebsites.com, itself a kind of brutalist template, which highlights some of the web’s best worst design…Web brutalism might even be an important way to conceptualize the internet. Why not? Independent web publishing (ahem) is still important, and its operation separate of larger commercial interests becomes even more important in our contemporary Hogan-Thielscape.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions

SCOREBOARD
Average of national presidential polls: 
Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +6.2 points
Generic congressional vote: Democrats +2.8

HILLARY LOOKS TO PUT TRUMP UNDER THE BOARDWALK
WaPo: “On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton won’t be campaigning in a swing state, but rather in safely blue New Jersey. The reason is simple: Donald Trump. At a campaign stop in Atlantic City, Clinton plans to assail Donald Trump with accusations that for years, he stiffed the city’s small businesses and laid off thousands of workers through his failed business dealings there for years. Clinton will deliver a speech on the front of Boardwalk Hall, literally next door to the site of one of Trump’s shuttered casino and hotel ventures, Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel. According to a Clinton official, she will be introduced by a small business person who was hurt by Trump in Atlantic City…Ahead of Clinton’s appearance, the campaign released a new web video blasting Trump for his ‘Atlantic City gamble,’ in which the campaign said he made millions while his businesses went bankrupt.”

POWER PLAY: STICKY TAR HEEL STATE
On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were both in North Carolina, a swing state that should make Republicans nervous. What does the Tar Heel State mean for our 2016 candidates and what does the rest of the map look like? Chris Stirewalt explains it all in just 60 seconds. WATCH HERE.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Corker pops his own veep bubble, bows out after one day on the trail with Trump - WaPo

Trump repeats longstanding praise for Saddam Hussein -Time

Swing state polls and national polls basically say the same thing - FiveThirtyEight

Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wisc., agrees to speak at RNC - WKOW

Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, encourages delegates to vote their conscience - WaPo

AUDIBLE: WAT?
“I watched him today. It’s like a carnival act. A lot of fun. Moving around, he has a whole thing. You know, great great, great. I’m saying, ‘this is a president?’” – Donald Trump describing President Obama’s campaign style.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris, I usually agree with your analysis but you missed the boat on this one…The Clintons did NOT know the result of the FBI investigation or Bill would not have met with Lynch.  Why would he if he knew there would be no charges? Bill met with Lynch to get her disqualified because they didn’t know the outcome and Obama could NOT control her in the event that charges were recommended.  If Lynch were to be disqualified (recuse herself or removed by Obama), Obama would be free to appoint an AG he could control.  Or, if that was too obvious, Obama could appoint a special prosecutor and delay the result for a couple of years, their usual MO on scandals.” – Jim Arnold, Raleigh, N.C.

[Ed. note: But that’s what we wondered last week!]

“Comey sounded to me like he really wanted her to be indicted (first 9/10 of the report) but realized that there is no way, for numerous, not necessarily legitimate, reasons, a prosecutor would win this case with this defendant, so, perhaps with regret, he recommends no charges be brought. He said repeatedly that the investigation had not been influenced by anyone. However, such a declaration regarding his recommendation was glaringly lacking.” – Fred McIntyre, Prescott Valley, Ariz.

TASTES LIKE SADNESS
Daily Mail: “An event at a New York food festival is being billed as the world’s healthiest eating championship. Competitors sanctioned by Major League Eating are famous for downing hot dogs by the dozen but will compete for the Kale Cup at this year’s Taste of Buffalo food festival on Saturday. They’ll have eight minutes to consume as much of the leafy green vegetable as possible…Major League Eating says on its website: ‘Let it not be said that Major League Eating has shirked its responsibilities when it comes to highlighting the wonders of the vegetable kingdom’”

AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“The conclusion of the day is that [Hillary Clinton] is a non-criminal liar.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” Watch here.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up 
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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.