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On the roster: Captive Rubio symbolizes GOP struggle - Early voting begins in the Buckeye State - Clinton aides discuss ‘acceptable’ conservative faiths - Audible: Ughhhhhh - Swim for it, boys!

CAPTIVE RUBIO SYMBOLIZES GOP STRUGGLE
The wave of fear and outrage after the revelation of Donald Trump’s creepy banter with a fellow celebrity seems to have crested. Republicans who joined the misguided movement to call for him to step down – as if such a thing were really possible – are crawling back.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Republican Senate nominee in Colorado, Daryl Glenn, found that the time between denunciations and calls for withdrawal to shrugging acceptance was only about 72 hours.

Those who tried to adopt a middle position between disavowal and continued support found themselves squished in the middle of the road.

That number does not include Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who was quiet during the cresting wave of outrage. But on Tuesday confirmed that he remained exactly where he has been: unhappily, but resolutely for Trump.

“I wish we had better choices for President,” Rubio said in a statement. “But I do not want Hillary Clinton to be our next President. And therefore my position has not changed.”

And no one can say that it hasn’t been working for him. Despite his awkward embrace of Trump, through it all, Rubio remains 7 points ahead of Rep. Patrick Murphy in the latest poll of their Senate contest.

By standing by Trump, Rubio was spared from inclusion in Trump’s latest fatwas against his party. As David Drucker describes, Trump’s war on Republicans is something we’ve never seen in politics before.

Had Rubio defied Trump with something like Fischer’s misbegotten bid to have her cake and eat it too, one can imagine that Trump’s Panama City, Fla. rally on Tuesday night would’ve turned into a rip-Rubio session with all the old gags and insults packed in, “sweaty,” “liddle Marco,” the amnesty fan.

Rubio also can be cheered by the fact that Republicans are mostly standing behind Trump. The quarter of elected Republican officials found in a USA Today survey to be against Trump, constitutes a significant, but ineffectual minority.

What Rubio has to worry about though is whether there will be anything left of him at the end.

As part of the bid by Julian Assange and his benefactors in Moscow and elsewhere to scuttle Clinton’s chances, a bit about Rubio dribbled out.

It’s impossible to say whether the email from senior Clinton strategist Joel Benenson about Rubio is legit. But Clinton has corroborated other hacks, and it certainly has the ring of truth.

In a February 2015 email to his colleagues, Benenson allegedly expressed his “anxiety thought of the day” about Rubio. This was in the midst of Republicans tumbling head over feet trying to deal with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s claim that Barack Obama didn’t really love his country.

While many Republicans were afraid to confront the hottest cauldron of Obama hatred in their party, Rubio jumped right out and said that he believed Obama was patriotic, and pivoted to an attack on the president’s policies.

“I’m beginning to worry more about Rubio than the others,” Benenson allegedly wrote, “He’s playing this very smart – only one who didn’t duck like a chicken [s***] on the Q of whether POTUS loves America.”

Benenson went on to talk about whether Rubio would be well suited to beat Clinton in a change election given his youth and verve as well as his appeal to Hispanic voters.

“He has stronger right wing cred than Jeb,” Benenson is said to have written. “And he’s finding a way to the middle enough for now and he will be the most exciting choice to Republicans.”

This jibes with what former Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote in an op-ed last November: “There is no question that Rubio is the Republican that Democrats fear most.”

Would Pfeiffer and Benenson say the same things today? Probably not.

Rubio is making the point that many in his party are: that an expected Trump loss will be like other losses of the past. Rubio supported Mike Huckabee in the 2008 Republican primaries but that didn’t impinge on his options four years later. Of all of the weakest sauce in political attacks, trying to make a candidate take responsibility for another politician’s positon is pretty hard.

But will Trump be different? Rubio bets not, and so do other potential future leaders of the GOP, including Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Others like Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are making a different calculation. Whether Trump succeeds in breaking the party or not, Sasse & Co. are wagering that backing Trump will be treated differently than prior nominees and will in fact be a litmus test in the future.

Whatever the future holds though, there will be a cost for Trump support and a cost for Trump refusal. Rubio, once the Republican Democrats feared most, is staking a great deal on the premise that the cost will be higher for the Trump refuseniks.

What he can’t know, however, is how history will judge Trump and the Republicans who supported him.

THE RULEBOOK: CHECK YOURSELF
“In the legislature, promptitude of decision is oftener an evil than a benefit. The differences of opinion, and the jarrings of parties in that department of the government, though they may sometimes obstruct salutary plans, yet often promote deliberation and circumspection, and serve to check excesses in the majority.”– Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 70

TIME OUT: RETHINKING THE STORMIN’ NORMAN
William the Conqueror
 is known to history as a villain who tried to take over England. But nearly a millennia of history has poked some holes in that theory. History Today: “What, then, can we say about the man who conquered England in 1066? As far as his physical appearance goes, the sources are very limited. On the subject of his reputation, our sources are best described as mixed. Orderic Vitalis, despite deploring the effects of the Norman Conquest, considered the Conqueror himself to have been a good king and described him as a peace-loving ruler who had protected the Church and relied on the counsel of wise men. The German chronicler Wenric of Trier was altogether less forgiving and condemned the king for having established his reign with ‘murder, rape, butchery and torment’.”

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

SCOREBOARD
Average of national head-to-head presidential polls: 
Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +9 points
[Polls included: NBC News/WSJFox NewsQuinnipiac UniversityFairleigh Dickinson University and CBS/NYT.]

Average of national four-way presidential polls: Clinton vs. Trump vs. Johnson vs. Stein: Clinton +7 points
[Polls included: The AtlanticNBC News/WSJFox NewsQuinnipiac University and The Atlantic.]

EARLY VOTING BEGINS IN THE BUCKEYE STATE
Columbus Dispatch: “Just a couple of weeks ago, the smart money was saying Ohio’s time as one of the most important states in the presidential election was passing. Too white, not many Hispanics and nowhere near enough college graduates, they said. While Republican Donald Trump’s populist message resonated with working-class whites, Democrat Hillary Clinton had little chance to connect with voters in the state. With early voting starting today, it could prove to be a premature eulogy for a state that has sided with every presidential winner since 1964. Democrats have carried Ohio in four of the past six presidential elections…Yet some argue that Virginia, North Carolina and Florida have eclipsed Ohio in importance. Because Ohio’s population is static and its number of electoral votes has dropped to 18, a Democratic candidate should focus on the rapidly growing Middle Atlantic region, they say.”

Utah (!) dead even in new poll - [Salt Lake City] Deseret News: “Republican Donald Trump appears to have, in his earlier words, ‘a tremendous problem in Utah’ as a new poll shows him slipping into a dead heat with Democrat Hillary Clinton since crude comments he made about women surfaced last weekend. And along with the billionaire businessman’s sudden fall, independent candidate and BYU graduate Evan McMullin surged into a statistical tie with the two major party presidential nominees, according to survey conducted Monday and Tuesday by Salt Lake City-based Y2 Analytics.”

CLINTON AIDES DISCUSS ‘ACCEPTABLE’ CONSERVATIVE FAITHS
Fox News: “A top spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign mocked Catholics and evangelical Christians in a 2011 email exchange exposed by Wikileaks this week. In the exchange reported Tuesday night on Fox News Channel’s ‘The Kelly File,’ Jennifer Palmieri, now the Clinton campaign’s director of communications, says that politically conservative Catholics ‘think [Roman Catholicism] is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.’ Palmieri was responding to a message from John Halpin, a fellow at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.”

Podesta suggests Trump team had warning of leaked emails - Politico: “Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta said Tuesday that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating the hack of his Gmail account -- and suggested a top Trump adviser colluded with WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence to destroy Clinton’s campaign. Podesta, speaking to reporters aboard Clinton’s flight back to New York after a Florida campaign swing, charged that Roger Stone, a longtime friend of Donald Trump’s who has spoken to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, had ‘advance knowledge’ of the leaks.”

AUDIBLE: UGHHHHHH
“Enough of the pussyfooting around about, do you support us or do you not support us?” – Kellyanne Conway, Trump campaign manager, on “Good Morning America” today.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Farenthold says he’d support Trump even if he said he liked to rape women, then took it back - WaPo

How Assange turned WikiLeaks into Trump’s best friend - Bloomberg

Doc dump of Podesta emails details how every Hillary interviewer was ‘for her’ on Michigan primary swing -Wash Free Beacon

Trump campaign manager skids on lawsuit question - Business Insider

Salt Lake Tribune endorses Hillary - Salt Lake Tribune

Maine governor calls for Trump to show some "authoritarian" power -Daily Caller

Gerrymandering helped Republicans take control of Congress, but it’s now dividing them over Trump - LAT

Alaska’s two GOP Senators resign leadership posts over Trump - AP

Gay rights law takes center stage at N.C. gubernatorial debate - Time

Al Gore in Fla. for Clinton: Your vote really, really, really matters - Atlantic

Republican candidate for New York Senate advertises free KFC and Kool-Aid for event in black community - NBC News

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“With Bill, Chelsea, President ObamaMichelle ObamaBernie SandersTim Kaine, and Al Gore all campaigning for Hillary, I understand why she might say ‘why aren’t I fifty points ahead?’ (correct grammar: Why am I not…). Chris, what are your thoughts on this?  (please keep the Federalist quotes coming.  I really enjoy them.)” – Mary Curtis, Irving, Texas

[Ed. note: Thank you, Ms. Curtis! It's been great fun to revisit them and the debate over the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As for our current election, Democrats are working very hard to buoy enthusiasm for a nominee who is not well liked by her party's base. Democrats had hoped that voters would be frightened enough by Trump to rally to Clinton, but it's been hard to maintain. And as the Russians and WikiLeaks continue to focus on stoking anger in the Democratic base, it may continue to matter.]

“Can we please define the fine line between an ‘Independent’ and a ‘Moderate?’ Being a moderate Republican - and I only whisper that in the dark, nowadays - Speaker Ryan has my full support and I will be voting AGAINST Mr. Feingold (not for Johnson). ... (Between the locker room talk and the special prosecutors, a Trump presidency is going to be like Richard Nixon spending the weekend at Bob Crane’s beach house). Saying you’re ‘Independent’ is about as meaningless as claiming to be ‘Agnostic.’” – Richard L. Allen, Pleasant Prairie, WI

[Ed. note: What a weekend You're quite right that "independent" is not synonymous with "moderate." Imagine non-partisan voters in a similar, parallel spectrum with Republicans and Democrats -- all the way from far left to far right. But what we have seen since 1996 is that voter behavior is highly, highly correlated to party identification. Will those numbers be weaker this year? Yes. But the starting proposition for every election is who can do the best with the voters with the weakest affiliation with either party. If Trump loses in a rout it would be because he not only lost with independents but sees the correlation with partisan vote and party identification break down.]

“If Hillary wins, and it looks like she’s on the most unlikely trajectory to do so, given her current unfavorability numbers, would she be the most disliked president ever to be elected?” – Michelle Rak, Peoria, Ill.

[Ed. note: Can you be an unpopular candidate but a popular president? Well, it depends on how you govern and whether history offers you good or bad opportunities. Clinton could end up like Lyndon Johnson and chased from office four years after a huge win or like Richard Nixon and win in four years by even more than he won the first time around.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

SWIM FOR IT, BOYS!
DW: “Up to 80,000 rainbow trout have escaped into open waters after a cargo ship crashed into a Danish fish farm. Danes have been encouraged to take up their poles and start fishing, as the trout could damage the sea habitat.  A cargo vessel on the Baltic Sea en route to Denmark collided with a harbor fish farm on Tuesday, freeing between 70,000 and 80,000 rainbow trout. The incident took place between the Danish island Funen and Jutland. The trout were worth up to 10 million Danish crowns ($1.5 million, 1.3 million euros), Tim Petersen, co-owner and director at Snaptun Fisk told Reuters news agency. The fish weigh around 3 kg (6.6 lb) each and were set to be slaughtered this week.”

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 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.