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On the roster: What will be the damage done by 2016? - The Rulebook: You gotta let it go, man - Trump wouldn’t let his own campaign staff vet him - Hacked emails: Hillary long prepared for rerun on sex scandals - ‘I’m coming for you, Harambe’

WHAT WILL BE THE DAMAGE DONE BY 2016?
Around this time every four years, members of the political press start to share the some version of same mirthless greeting: “25 days,” we say. “It’s almost over.”

The road to Election Day stretches over two years’ worth of missed flight connections, gas station pizza, pointless controversies, angry flacks, 11 p.m. rallies and 5 a.m. charter plane takeoffs, interchangeable motel rooms with the same popcorn-finish ceilings and about 2,000 cups of coffee.

By now, the sameness of the routine begins to become almost disorienting. The candidates and give the same speeches over and over. The same songs blare from the speakers. The campaigns issue the same hackneyed talking points. The race feels like a rudderless rowboat about to be carried over Niagara.

Is this Tampa or Toledo? Raleigh or Reading?

(By the way, you can send your sympathy, Twitter follows and clean laundry to the Fox News Channel producers who have been grinding it out for you for so long that they can remember when Jeb Bush was worried about peaking too early: @jakebgibson@finnygo@NickKalmanFN@jenngirdonmills,@DPatrickWard and @dangallo.)

But this year, it’s not just the road warriors who are counting the days until it’s over, it’s the voters. 

On the morning after the blighted, ugly presidential debate, a woman in a St. Louis grocery store who said she turned off her television after the first hour had a question: “Do you think we can come back from this?”

She didn’t mean either candidate or either party, but rather the country and the culture. Are we as Americans going to be able to rebound from an election this atrocious?

Now, the official posture of Halftime Report is that America is not its government and its politicians, but that America is Americans. As a people we are better, stronger, braver, kinder and more gracious than our politics and our politicians. America has endured worse than this. And each travail of the past has led to rebirth and greater glory.

But at a certain point, we are all forced to consider the damage done by an election so ripely rotten.

Now, lest any Democrat be feeling too superior about this year, hold up. This is the election that President Obama and Hillary Clinton rooted for and worked to create. If the emails purportedly hacked from the Clinton campaign are to be believed, she and her team worked to elevate Donald Trump and to encourage reporters to treat him with respect.

And that certainly fits with Team Obama’s longstanding effort to sow division among Republicans and elevate the loudest, angriest voices in the opposition party. The original intent seems to have been to produce an opposing nominee damaged and distrusted by his base, as was the case in 2008 and 2012, but they were more successful than they imagined.

But now what?

Clinton’s entire campaign pitch is essentially that she is not Trump. And even if the current polls held and she won a smashing victory this fall, what would it be worth? She will have fulfilled her full mandate on Election Day and then face a nation that both mistrusts her and has no clear idea of her purpose.

When your closing argument is that your opponent is a letch and a creep, you have failed as a candidate, just less than the other guy.

We may be witnessing the rise of another Lyndon Johnson, a powerful insider who knows how to pull the levers of power but who lacks the gifts to build public consensus behind their agenda. She has been chasing this ultimate power for at least 16 years. But why? For what? Her technocratic policy briefing books give us no answers.

As a result of a Democratic focus on the evils of the GOP that now stretches back at least eight years, what’s the consensus in her party? What’s the idea that could unite the country around her candidacy? 

Crickets.

And what would be left of the Republicans to oppose her?  

The old knock on the Republicans was that they were “too conservative” or “too extreme.” That’s been the standard attack since Johnson whipped Barry Goldwater 52 years ago. And radical conservatism has been what party leaders have feared themselves: nominees with positions too radical to appeal to swing voters.

But in this closing chapter of his campaign, Trump has not been railing about conservative causes but rather conspiracies. Since his third and current skid in the polls has begun, Trump has refreshed his focus on shadowy forces working against him and his followers and lots of misinformation.

Yes, the GOP nominee has been aggressively pushing back against his accusers and the attacks on what he says were joking boast about sexual assaults. But he has placed those rebuttals into the same dark frame on which he officially launched his general election campaign.

International bankers, Trump says, are manipulating the media they control to stop him, the last hope to preserve American sovereignty. Clinton is in on it, he says, as well as the rest of the Republican Party. Trump’s throaty calls for nationalism have increasingly given way to blaming shadowy figures for his tumbling fortunes. 

It sounds like John Birch Society stuff, but this is a major party nominee telling his animated and energized supporters that the government is supremely corrupt, the election is being stolen and both parties are in on the scam. The anguish and rage of his followers reflects a worldview that America is doomed.

If “only Trump” can face down the sinister, shadowy plot, what happens if Trump loses? Then the bankers and their minions have already taken America. It’s all too late…

In choosing to excuse a defeat in advance rather try to salvage victory, Trump is sowing seeds for a bitter harvest for his party.

Republicans and conservatives who believe that they will be able to return to these voters in six months’ time and start talking about limited government and free enterprise will find themselves with no standing. They will find a radioactive core of their electorate that disagrees not on policy points but on what constitutes reality.

And what will the party that is pinning its hopes for survival in this election on conspiracy theories and the handiwork of Kremlin-backed hackers do when the conspiracy theorists and hackers turn on them?

Is there good cause to believe that America is better than this cynical and dishonest election? You bet. Is the smart bet that America’s best days are still ahead? No doubt about it. No country in the world has anything like the advantages this one does.

But there will be damage done by this year. How much and for how long is what remains to be seen.

But hey, 25 days…

THE RULEBOOK: YOU GOTTA LET IT GO, MAN
“An ambitious man, too, when he found himself seated on the summit of his country’s honors, when he looked forward to the time at which he must descend from the exalted eminence for ever, and reflected that no exertion of merit on his part could save him from the unwelcome reverse; such a man, in such a situation, would be much more violently tempted to embrace a favorable conjuncture for attempting the prolongation of his power, at every personal hazard, than if he had the probability of answering the same end by doing his duty.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 72

TIME OUT: IT’S ALL IN THE EYES
Nat Geo: “Of all the invertebrates—animals that lack a backbone—octopuses are the ones that seem the most like us. In part, it’s the way they return your gaze, as if they’re scrutinizing you. (This sets them apart from plenty of vertebrates too: Most fish don’t appear to stare at you.) In part, it’s their dexterity. Their eight arms are lined with hundreds of suckers; this allows them to manipulate objects, whether it’s to open clamshells, dismantle the filtration system of an aquarium tank, or unscrew lids from jars. This distinguishes them from mammals like dolphins, which, for all their smarts, are limited by their anatomy and can’t easily unscrew anything.” 

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 +7.6 points
[Polls included: Fox NewsNBC News/WSJ, Quinnipiac UniversityFox News and Fairleigh Dickinson University.]

Average of national four-way presidential polls: Clinton vs. Trump vs. Johnson vs. Stein: Clinton +6.8 points
[Polls included: Fox NewsNBC News/WSJThe AtlanticQuinnipiac University and Fox News.]

TRUMP WOULDN’T LET HIS OWN CAMPAIGN STAFF VET HIM
Bloomberg: “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump rebuffed political aides’ requests to research his past, people familiar with the matter said, a decision that contributed to his campaign being caught unprepared for the past week’s barrage of claims he mistreated women…Opposition research would allow Trump’s new political team to prepare for potential attacks on his candidacy… the issue became a point of contention among his closest political advisers and some long-time employees at the Trump Organization.”

Fox News poll: Clinton lead increases to 7 points -
 Fox News: “Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump has increased to seven points, as more than half of voters say he is not qualified to be president. That’s according to a just-released national Fox News Poll of likely voters. Clinton receives 45 percent to Trump’s 38 percent.  Libertarian Gary Johnson is at 7 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein gets 3 percent. Last week, Clinton was up by two points in the four-way contest (44-42 percent). In the two-way matchup, it’s Clinton over Trump by eight (49-41 percent).  She had a four-point edge a week ago (48-44 percent, Oct. 3-6). Clinton’s lead is outside the poll’s margin of sampling error in both the two-way and four-way contests.”

Michelle Obama denounces Trump’s ‘sexually predatory behavior’ - LAT: “First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a powerful rebuke of Donald Trump and his behavior toward women during one of the most emotional speeches of the presidential campaign on Thursday. ‘This is not normal,’ Obama said in the New Hampshire address. ‘This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. This is intolerable.’ Obama framed the election as a crucial moment for the history of women — not just because voters have the opportunity to elect their first female president, but because they can send a message that the country no longer tolerates the attitudes toward women that Trump represents.”

This again? Donors want GOP to cut ties with Trump - 
Fox News: “Some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors called on the Republican National Committee Thursday to sever ties with presidential nominee Donald Trump in the wake of the controversy surrounding claims of sexual assault and the recent hot-mic recording of him that was leaked last week. A group of generous contributors to the GOP told The New York Times that it’s time the party stop affiliating with Trump and focus on those who represent the party’s core conservative values. ‘At some point, you have to look in the mirror and recognize that you cannot possibly justify support for Trump to your children — especially your daughters,’ David Humphreys, a Missouri businessman who has donated more than $2 million to the Republican party since the 2012 election, told the paper.”

HACKED EMAILS: HILLARY LONG PREPARED FOR RERUN ON SEX SCANDALS
Fox News: “The emails, purportedly hacked from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s account, reveal the questions Clinton’s team expected her to face about the women who’ve accused her former president husband of sexual assault and rape – and the optimal way to present her answers. The most extensive information was contained in a 157-page debate prep book attached to a March email from Campaign Manager Robby Mook…Topic 14 was ‘WJC: What do you say to the women making accusations?’ Specifically, the question asked if Hillary Clinton’s actions helping her husband ‘cast doubt on these women’s stories” was ‘in line with feminism.’ Clinton’s strategy, as it was for many answers in the prep book, was to dismiss the questions as off-base and outdated where possible and then pivot to her vision for the country.”

Emails show internal angst about Clinton Foundation - Politico: “Hillary Clinton’s campaign has pushed back against criticism of her family’s charitable foundation, declaring that she’s “really proud” of its work, but behind the scenes her aides worked to deflect attention from the foundation and her role in it, hacked emails released Thursday show. As Clinton’s aides prepared for her presidential run in late 2014, Robby Mook, who would eventually become her campaign manager, raised the possibility of removing the former secretary of state’s name from the foundation.”

POWER PLAY: LIKE DEER IN THE HEADLIGHT OF THE TRUMP TRAIN…
 
As the Trump train barrels towards November, Republican lawmakers can’t decide whether they want on or off. Some have never quite been onboard while others are in it for the long haul, and then there are those who frankly can’t seem to make up their mind 25 days out from Election Day. How will this all play out for the party on Nov. 8? And, arguably even more important, what will the fallout be the day after? The Huffington Post’s Paige Lavender and The Weekly Standard’s Michael Warren weigh in. WATCH HERE.

October surprises indeed - 
WikiLeaks dropped its long-promised ‘October surprise’: a trove of emails allegedly from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Targeting Southerners, Christians and even those within the Clinton circle, these emails have put her campaign on the defense. But is it the bombshell Trump’s campaign hoped for? Our panel weighs in. WATCH HERE.

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
“Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What” breaks down all the latest 2016 news with Democrat Karine Jean-Pierre, New York Post’s Daniel Halper and WashEx’s David Drucker. Join Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt on the Fox News Channel this Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. You can get a head start and listen to the ITYW podcast here.

Fox News Sunday -
 Bret Baier hosts this week’s show from Las Vegas with vice presidential nominee Mike Pence as well as a collection of journalists from this year’s swing states. Chris Wallace also joins the discussion ahead of his moderating duties for the final presidential debate of 2016. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m

AUDIBLE: THANKS, 2016

“And I believe him.” – Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence when asked by an anchor from Columbus’ WBNS whether Trump has ever groped or kissed a woman without consent. Pence repeated Trump’s blanket denials and finished with the declaration above.

“Believe me, I get it. In the last few weeks I’ve watched a lot of cats do a lot of weird and interesting things.” – Hillary Clinton talking about how she sympathizes with voters who want to tune out and look at cat videos on the Internet.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Melania Trump
 disputes unrelated parts of reporter’s claim of sex assault in her home - Fox News

Pence answers question about how Trump talk damaged Girl Scout’s self-esteem with foreign policy attack on Hillary - NY Magazine

Trump claims he doesn’t know or never met some of the women accusing him of sexual assault - 
AP

Three “Apprentice” staff claim Trump called contestant  Marlee Matlin ‘retarded’ - Daily Beast

Hillary says Trump ‘stalked’ her around the stage - 
ABC News

New Clinton ad push targets white males - 
USA Today

Clinton leads by 4 points in N.C., Trump leads by 1 point in Ohio - 
NBC News

New polls show Hillary holds steady lead in N.H. - 
UMass LowellWBUR

Whoo doggies! Poll puts Texas at 4-point margin for Trump - 
Texas Tribune

Trump says Serbian apology never happened - 
WaPo

Ryan brings in huge haul for House Republicans -
 WashEx

Walker, Johnson, Ryan all skipping Trump’s Wisc. event next week - Chicago Tribune

Ryan to lay out principles in speech at University of Wisc. - ABC News

More than $1 million in Obamacare plan to lose insurance as providers pull out -
 Bloomberg

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris, you hit the nail on the head on your podcast. My over 65 year old friends and I who have loved following politics and always voting are appalled by both candidates and saddened for our beloved country. Different than you we don’t have years to wait to see things turn around. I would love a word of encouragement. Thank you for your extraordinary work.” – Sally Tilden, Cathedral City, Calif.

[Ed. note: Ms. Tilden, you are far too kind! Perhaps you should meditate a bit on a politician with whom you share a surname, Samuel Tilden. The Democratic New York governor won the popular vote in 1876 as reconstructed Confederates helped his party regain national footing. Tilden was denied the presidency in a disputed Electoral College vote. Democrats cried “Tilden or blood!” Their demand was that the popular winner be ratified or the rebellion of the South would be resumed. In 1877, a deal was struck between both parties in Congress to make Republican Rutherford Hayes president, but to end the military occupation of the South. Surely, if we can survive “Tilden or blood!” we can survive this.]

“What did the Trump supporters expect from a playboy?  However, the PRESS is so hypocritical it makes my blood boil.  When Bill Clinton was in the middle of his scandals, his supporters told me that was off limits because it was ‘his personal sex life.’ Even though I have been a ‘never Trump’ from the beginning it almost makes me inclined to vote for him!  And as Al Gore said, my vote really counts.” – Karen Morrow, Tampa

[Ed. note: Indeed it does, Ms. Morrow! Just as the former president’s scandals of 20 years ago revealed hierocracy in many Democrats, many Republicans today find themselves hoisted on the petard of Trump’s past. As for the press, you are certainly right that some who once defended Clinton as a loveable rogue now call Trump a perpetrator of sexual assault. Some of that is bias, but another part is the way the world has changed when it comes to sexual misconduct over two decades. How many Democrats would be ashamed today to hear their chuckling at Clinton’s assignations with a 21-year-old woman?] 

“Rather than the eternal stories about the two candidates and their foibles and peccadilloes, why not just acknowledge that Trump is a lecher and Hilary is a liar and move on.  Do we need another Donald groping story?  Do we need another lying Hilary email?” – Carol Kruse, Sarasota, Fla.

[Ed. note: Ms. Kruse, there’s no question that political coverage tends to obsess over personality rather than policy. And there’s no question that impulse is driven by a desire for the salacious and less complicated topic. But being president tends to have a lot less to do with what you want to do than who you are. Put simply, most of a president’s job is responding to what happens, and we have no idea what the next four years will bring. Character is different from morality. Character is about a person’s disposition, judgment and ethics. Politicians routinely lie about their views and ignore their policy platforms in office. But their character is usually revealed as they run.]

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

‘I’M COMING FOR YOU, HARAMBE’
AP: “London Zoo said Friday that a silverback gorilla’s escape from its enclosure was a ‘minor incident’ that posed no danger to the public — but animal rights activists are demanding an official, independent investigation. A wildlife advocacy group said the incident, which ended without injuries to visitors or the animal, could have had a more tragic outcome. Kumbuka, a 400-pound (184-kilogram) male western lowland gorilla, escaped from his enclosure Thursday evening into what the zoo said was a ‘secure keepers’ area.’ Armed police descended on the zoo and visitors were locked inside buildings until the animal was subdued by a tranquilizer dart. Officials said the public was not in danger and the gorilla was back in his enclosure in just over an hour…Some witnesses reported that the gorilla had been behaving aggressively and banging on the glass of his enclosure before his escape.”

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.