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On the roster: History reasserts itself - It’s Election Day, for real - Power Play: GOP eyes states for health insurance plan - Momentum for Senate panel on Russian interference - If he offers you an apple, say no
HISTORY REASSERTS ITSELF
History has impeccable timing. Just when we think we’ve figured out the shape of things to come – blam-o!
Today, the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey is blazing across our screens to strains of Franz Ferdinand and Gavrilo Princip. Might we remember today’s shooting in a century as plainly as we now remember Ferdinand’s death in Sarajevo?
Maybe Russia will use the assassination as a pretext for attacking Turkey. Maybe NATO will find itself drawn into conflict as one of its members is under fire. Maybe, President-elect Donald Trump will take office with a real war in the offing. Or, maybe, the hostile powers involved will find a way to talk it through without spinning up any warheads.
That word, “maybe,” is a tough one for human beings. We crave certainty and predictability, the false promises of which are all the more common in this era of smart technology and the pre-programmable life.
All of us, especially Americans, would like to take the Ron Popeil approach: “set it and forget it.” But events matter, our decisions matter and our ration of time never increases nor decreases: it’s always one day.
To grasp just how bad human beings are at predicting the future, consider what’s happening today at statehouses across the country. Members of the Electoral College are finally putting the 2016 election out of its misery.
And then remember what happened on this date in 1998.
Hillary Clinton’s post-White House book was called “Living History,” and while she has surely lived a lot of it, her knack for predicting it seems little improved by experience.
Clinton is going down to her final, official defeat exactly 18 years to the day after her husband was impeached. She marched arm in arm with him onto the South Lawn for a now historic press conference in which he famously promised “to rise above the rancor, to overcome the pain and division, to be a repairer of the breach.”
[Ed. note: Yeah, about that...]
The two-count indictment approved by the House on Dec. 19, 1998 – perjury for lying to a federal grand jury about his assignations with a White House intern and obstructing justice during the subsequent investigation – made Bill Clinton only the second president ever to be impeached, the first in 130 years.
It was also the same day that then-House Speaker Bob Livingston stepped down after the revelation of his own dalliances.
A presidential impeachment and the resignation of a House speaker all in one day would have been hard for anyone to have predicted even a handful of years earlier. But go back another two decades, and the scenario would have been utterly unimaginable, even in the still relatively fresh wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Standing there in the crisp December air, the first lady might have imagined that she would one day run for president herself, and perhaps win. Could she have imagined that she would lose twice, once to a one-term Senator with the middle name Hussein, and a second time to Trump?
As Clinton reaps the final sheaves of her second defeat today, many in politics and the press are prognosticating.
Those urging or threatening the members of the Electoral College to defy the voters of their states say that faithlessness is demanded by patriotism and fealty to the Constitution. Fascism, they say, is stalking the republic.
Well, duh. Fascism is always stalking freedom and very seldom does the quarry become the hunter. Governments want more power. Presidents want more authority. Governments always find liberty annoying.
This tendency stretches certainly across party lines, but also across two centuries of our history and millennia before us. Finding the balance between freedom and order was the central work of the Founders and has continued to be the aspiration of every conscientious leader since.
But Trump, they say, is something different. His attacks on the free press, his demagogic style and his intolerance of disrespect make him a Mussolini in waiting, as if history only began the day after the 2016 election.
Paul Krugman at the NYT and many others have issued dire warnings about the demise of the republic and promised that the remaining institutions to hold Trump in check are too feeble to stand.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe this is the end.
Or, maybe Trump will be an enlightened leader who also seeks that balance between freedom and order. Or, maybe he won’t be, but those other institutions will find new strength in opposing him.
We simply don’t know because we haven’t gotten there yet.
The hysterical screaming from Clinton supporters and Trump haters does not allow for the possibility that we do not yet know the shape of things to come.
And that is a gift to Trump.
After winning an election by surmounting the rock-bottom expectations set for him by his opponent and the press, Trump will enter the White House with a chance to seem a modern day Thomas Jefferson simply by not ordering internment camps for those found guilty of insufficient America greatness making.
Some of this, no doubt, is a cynical attempt to delegitimize Trump. By saying the election was stolen by the Russians or sewing chaos in the electoral vote, Democrats might hope to bring Trump’s budding honeymoon phase with voters to an abrupt end.
This is particularly dangerous given that the electoral ploy comes at the expense of the very institutions that Trump’s detractors are ostensibly protecting. If the bulwarks of liberty in our republic are as feeble as they say, this hardly seems like the time to hack them.
We don’t know what the Trump years will look like any more than Hillary Clinton knew what her future would hold 18 years ago as she stood shivering on the South Lawn.
The Turks don’t know what the Russians will do today any more than Kaiser Wilhelm II did in 1914.
History belongs not to the seers but rather those with the best reflexes.
THE RULEBOOK: THIS IS HOW WE DO IT
“No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 68
TIME OUT: WELL, IT DID HAVE A CRACK
After over 500 years in business, the company that cast the Liberty Bell is ceasing operation. Smithsonian: “East London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd., a company nearly five centuries old, cast many of these colonial voices, including the 12 bells stashed during the Revolutionary War. In a statement released on December 1, the Foundry announced that within the next six months, it would stop its operations on Whitechapel Road, its home since 1738. Owner Alan Hughes, whose family has owned the foundry for more than a century, has sold the property and is considering ‘the future direction, ownership, and location of the company.’ It's an abrupt shift for a company that's been in business since approximately 1570—and perhaps even earlier…In London alone, its handiwork tolls from Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Palace of Westminster.”
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions
IT’S ELECTION DAY, FOR REAL
Despite the best efforts of its participants, the American electoral system is going to churn out its work product today. Here’s what you can expect as the republic’s 538 presidential electors convene.
[Watch Fox: Follow the results of the Electoral College votes throughout the day here.]
How they vote - Time: “Electors will convene in each state to cast two ballots–one for the president and another for vice president—to select the next administration. The 538 members are not necessarily politicians, though most are, but are chosen by state party leaders to cast ballots. Each state has as many electors as it does members of Congress, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. After the ballots are cast, they’ll be sent to the U.S. Congress, which will convene in early January to accept the votes.”
Why the system works this way - Bloomberg: “Every state is assigned as many Electoral College votes as it has members of Congress, a formula that amplifies the importance of small states. In the early 19th century, states seeking to maximize their impact adopted a winner-take-all approach that awards all their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the most votes in that state on Election Day. (Maine and Nebraska are the only exceptions.) The electoral votes of many states – including reliably Democratic California or Republican Texas – can be taken for granted. So the vote normally comes down to whether swing states favor the Democrat or the Republican.”
Rouge ones? - ABC News: “In an open letter Sunday addressed to Republican electors on his Facebook page, [polemicist Michael Moore] wrote, ‘…I will personally step up pay your fine which is my legal right to do.’”
But probably nah…- AP: “An Associated Press survey of electors found very little appetite to vote for alternative candidates…. The AP tried to reach all of the electors and interviewed more than 330 of them, finding widespread aggravation among Democrats with the electoral process, but little expectation Trump would be derailed.”
[David Axelrod argues that although he is worried about Trump, electors should vote with their states as usual.]
POWER PLAY: GOP EYES STATES FOR HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., lays out what he’d replace ObamaCare with as Republicans vow to repeal and replace the law in 2017. Part of his plan? If states want to keep the law they can. How? WATCH HERE.
TRUMP’S NEXT BIG DECISION: VA SECRETARY
Former U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen has emerged as a “serious contender” for Veterans Affairs secretary, transition sources tell Fox News’ Serafin Gomez. Allen is meeting with Trump today at the president-elect’s resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where he is spending the holidays with his family. Former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., has also said he’s in the running for the spot.
MOMENTUM FOR SENATE PANEL ON RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE
Roll Call: “A bipartisan group of four senators is calling for a select committee to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., Armed Services ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday that the Senate should establish a temporary committee to investigate the matter. The new committee would also develop comprehensive recommendations to improve cyber security.”
Priebus: Trump would finding of Russian wrongdoing - Fox News: “Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus suggested Sunday that President-elect Donald Trump will accept that Russia is behind the hacking of Democrats’ email accounts during the 2016 White House race if the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community draft a report with that consensus agreement. ‘I think he would accept the conclusion if they would get together, put out a report and show the American people they are on the same page,’ Priebus said on ‘Fox News Sunday.’”
Tillerson headed Exxon’s Russian subsidiary leaked docs show - The Guardian: “Rex Tillerson, the businessman nominated by Donald Trump to be the next US secretary of state, was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, leaked documents show.”
AUDIBLE: TOO LATE
“Don’t go around just looking for insults.” – President Obama in his NPR exit interview giving his advice to ‘progressives.’
Ya think? Lynch now regrets tarmac meeting with Bubba - Fox News
Nate Silver’s advice to Democrats: Look South - FiveThirtyEight
Wha? John Kerry praises Tillerson pick for State - Boston Globe
China sets a news course for showdown with Trump - Bloomberg
Meh: Elections officials received almost no reports of ballot fraud - NYT
Josh Kraushaar explains Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s tough choice - National Journal
Trump keeping his private security squad in a move that may frustrate Secret Service - Politico
Trump holds off-the-record meeting with reporters with over 140 days since last press conference - The Hill
The time Trump partied with Richard Nixon. No, seriously! - NYT
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“A lot has been said lately about the Electoral College and the fact that each State has 2 Senators (regardless of size or population)… I need not remind you why both of those items were designed into our Constitution as they originally were. My comment to you is this: It would be immensely appreciated if you explained to your readers what our Founding Fathers hoped to achieve with both of those items… and why/how it is in the interest of politicians seeking more power to change them… and how dangerous that would be to the future of our country.” – Richard A. Battista, Johnson City, N.Y.
[Ed. note: One of our favorite questions, Mr. Battista! As we discussed above, Americans aren’t very familiar with the concept, so a primer is always helpful. The first point of the Electoral College, as well as uniformity of Senate representation, was to preserve the rights and influence of small states against large ones. By having states, not voters as a whole, choose the president, it gives additional clout to states that might otherwise get overlooked in the process, an idea very near to the soul of our federal system. The other reason for the Electoral College is harder for Americans born after the Progressive Era to comprehend. Prior to 1830, electors were chosen by state legislatures, just as Senators were until 1913. In the initial period of the direct selection of electors, the delegation of authority was much clearer. Prior to the Progressive Era, many voters likely would’ve understood they were choosing a slate of electors rather than the actual presidential candidate. This was partly a practical consideration since in the days of hard travel, limited communication and inefficient election systems deputizing a group of individuals to represent the citizens of a state – just as they did for independence and crafting the Constitution – made sense. But also it was a reflection of the Framers desire for indirect democracy, tempered by (gasp!) elites. The trend in the 20th century has been towards more and more democracy and less and less republicanism. This election or one after it may prove the tipping point that uproots this, one of the last vestiges of the original system. But for now, it still serves as a tap on the shoulder from the Founders.]
“Please excuse me if I oversimplify, but everyone seems to miss a VERY important point: even if the Russians did hack the Dems, the disgusting filth and moral decay that was revealed is what did the damage, not so? The hackers sold rope, the hackees hung themselves.” – Doug Brodie, East Windsor N.J.
[Ed. note: Mr. Brodie, you make an argument similar to those discussing police surveillance: if you didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. The American system abjures this notion on the grounds that constraining the government’s power to prosecute and deprive the liberty of its citizens is more important than the prevention of crimes. When you cross over into a hostile foreign actor’s intrusions, you enter a space with no guarantees on due process or any constraints. The next concern becomes false information. Some of Hillary Clinton’s foes have trumpeted the reliability of the hacked material and its sources. That may be so this time. It may not be so the next time. Plus, when it comes to “disgusting filth and moral decay” you speak of is hardly isolated within one campaign or one party. Add in the possibility of forgeries, and you have the makings of of an unending cycle of destruction that truly advantages only America’s enemies. But one supposes that’s the whole idea. You’re not wrong that it was the contents of the emails, not the hacking of them, that damaged Clinton. Mostly it was by distraction and dividing Democrats against each other, but every American ought to be concerned about our enemies playing gatekeeper to information available to American voters.]
“One more comment on the topic, I had never tried mayo on grilled cheese but I must admit it is a winner! Today's version, smoked provolone on sourdough rye, perfection. By the way you and Dana converse like I do, rambling all over the map, but in the end all topics are covered with humor and great information. I could listen all day :)” – Cathrine McLaren, Victor, Mont.
[Ed note: Working with your friends is a delight. Working with a friend who is as smart, sensible, kind and insightful as Dana Perino is a rare privilege indeed – even if she puts butter on her quesadillas.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
IF HE OFFERS YOU AN APPLE, SAY NO
The Guardian: “It’s no partridge in a pear tree but a Melbourne woman got a seasonal surprise when she found a tiger snake entwined among the tinsel on her Christmas tree. The Frankston woman discovered the snake in her tree on Sunday morning and called in professional snake catcher Barry Goldsmith. ‘It’s one of the more different ones, but we find them in all sorts of places,’ Goldsmith said. ‘Tiger snakes are very good climbers.’ Goldsmith, who runs Snake Catcher Victoria, said the woman did the right thing by taking a photo of the snake then closing off the room until a professional arrived. With the warmer weather, snakes are more active, but people should leave them alone and not try to kill them, Goldsmith said. ‘It’s dangerous, it’s illegal, and it’s cruel.’”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in you inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.