Fox News Halftime Report

On the current fascination with crowds

Bryan Llenas explains the turbulent political environment

 

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On the roster: On the current fascination with crowds - Tillerson, Kelly head to Mexico to repair relations - Parties seek footholds in shifting electoral landscape - Trump vows to ‘clean up’ federal finances - What is 9+1+1?

ON THE CURRENT FASCINATION WITH CROWDS
Funny thing: The current era of politics was supposed to be all about connecting far-flung people through the use of social media and technology, but the ultimate political currency has actually become the crowd.

No, we are not talking about “crowdsourcing” or “crowd funding” or any of that virtual jabberwocky, but rather good, old-fashioned throngs of humanity, pressed cheek-by-jowl, looking for a place to park and a public restroom.

The current crowd fascination relates to the town hall events being hosted by members of Congress during their almost-compulsory visits home during this President’s Day week.

Just as Democrats were flummoxed eight years ago, Republicans now find themselves a bit adrift on what to do when the rabble gets roused and shouting ensues.

Some in the GOP, including the president, are following the playbook Democrats used when they dismissed the Tea Party-steeped crowds of 2009 and 2010.

When President Trump dismissed the “so-called angry crowds” as stunts “planned out by liberal activists,” he sounded pretty much like Nancy Pelosi back in the day as she blew off town hall protests as, “funded by the high end — we call it AstroTurf – it’s not really a grassroots movement.”

Pelosi said the crowds were a trick being played by “the wealthiest people in America” to keep voters focused on then-President Obama’s floundering health law, rather than efforts to raise taxes on the wealthy.

The then-speaker of the House was correct. And Trump is correct now. But both only partly.

As Rich Lowry points out, Republicans would be just as foolish to ignore the phenomenon of large-scale protests at their town halls as Democrats were. Republicans should pay attention if only for the fact that it reflects the intensity on the other side and the effectiveness of the very organizations Trump deplores.

Who knows the power of crowds better than Trump, who in his presidential campaign delivered more attendance estimates than the PA announcer at Busch Stadium?

Trump winced for weeks at his less-than recording-breaking inaugural crowds for the same reason he constantly touted, sometimes even accurately, the size of his campaign rallies.

Pelosi also understood the power of crowds after watching the phenomenal success Obama had in gathering enormous throngs during his maiden presidential run, even overseas.

Not since Hands Across America sought to raise money for homelessness, or Africa or something 30 years ago, has American public life focused so much on getting large numbers of humans to go be in the same place at the same time.

One of the first uses devised for electronic messaging was the “flashmob” in which people would gather for a snowball fight or to perform George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” or to all dress up like Mr. T, or whatever twee delight they could imagine.

Like Aquaman, our new connectedness gives us the power to summon support to our side: send the message and they come swimming.

The ability to perform this feat has become a yardstick by which we judge our politicians and political movements. The fact that a group of women protesting Trump the weekend after his inauguration outdrew the inauguration itself was deemed to have significance.

Certainly, getting people to spend their Saturday wearing pink hats and listening to Madonna talk is a sign of some considerable intensity. But left-leaning Washington, D.C. is a much easier place for liberal activists to organize than it is for a Republican president. There were big rallies across the country, but from a statistical point of view getting one percent of the electorate to turnout doesn’t mean anything.

But from a statistical point of view, neither did it mean anything for Trump to get 10,000 people to jam inside a hangar at a Florida airport to sweat to the strains of “Phantom of the Opera” and the Rolling Stones.

Most Americans alive today have dim memory or no memory at all of the 1960s when crowd size last mattered so much. Civil Rights Movement and the anti-Vietnam War effort both made mass demonstrations the cornerstone of their strategy to shift public opinion.

Filling the National Mall for civil rights or shutting down Chicago over Vietnam seem foreign now, but maybe not for long.

Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” was all about the political power of the people who weren’t turning out to protest in the 1960s. His heir Trump’s movement might better have been called the “boisterous plurality.” Their willingness to make noise in large numbers elevated their stature beyond their actual size.

Our current fascination with crowds – in part because of our fascination with the technology that creates them – may be ushering in a new era where mass demonstrations dominate.

We once imagined a future in which polling, mass media and interconnectedness might allow for a rather bloodless politics in which our preferences, opinions and eventually, even our votes, to whir past each other in the antiseptic confines of cyberspace.

Instead, we are in era in which flesh-and-blood crowds are what confer legitimacy on a political movement or candidate.

The political “revolutions” that we have seen rock other Western countries in recent years may be harbingers of America’s future in which political power is determined by getting feet in the street.

THE RULEBOOK: MORE THAN A MOMENT
“Nothing, therefore, can be more fallacious than to infer the extent of any power, proper to be lodged in the national government, from an estimate of its immediate necessities.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 48

TIME OUT: UNLOCKING HISTORY
Nat Geo: “Using DNA from skeletons excavated in New Mexico more than a century ago, researchers have shown that more than a dozen people buried in a small, hidden chamber were likely members of a powerful Native American dynasty related through their mothers. New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon was once the center of the most influential culture in the American Southwest. Between approximately 800 A.D. and 1100 A.D., the ancient 6777 built settlements called pueblos with huge, five-story buildings and grand ceremonial plazas. Elaborate road networks connected the pueblos, and at its peak the culture covered most of modern New Mexico, along with parts of Utah, Colorado, and Arizona… Recently, new radiocarbon dates and ancient DNA analysis of the millennia-old bones revealed that the burials may represent an early Native American dynasty.”

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TILLERSON, KELLY HEAD TO MEXICO TO REPAIR RELATIONS
LAT: “Few international relationships have gotten off to a rockier start for the Trump administration than the one with Mexico. Days after he took office, President Trump argued on the phone and on Twitter with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto over Trump’s demand that Mexico pay to build a tall wall along the border.  Peña Nieto repeated his blanket refusal to pay for a wall — and then rebuffed Trump by canceling a planned visit to the White House. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will fly to Mexico City in an attempt to repair the relationship, which went into a tailspin during the presidential race last year when Trump frequently used anti-Mexican rhetoric, and has yet to recover.”

Several posts at State Dept. remain vacant - WashTimes: “The State Department’s press office and Mr. Tillerson’s office have declined to comment on the more than 100 management posts and foreign ambassadorships awaiting even a nominee, let alone a Senate confirmation. Just three ambassadors — to China, Israel and Britain — have been named.”

PARTIES SEEK FOOTHOLDS IN SHIFTING ELECTORAL LANDSCAPE
Josh Kraushaar maps the terrain in the fight for former Rep. Tom Price’s suburban Atlanta House district: “The dis­trict is filled with the type of col­lege-edu­cated voters who have grav­it­ated away from Trump—in­clud­ing in­de­pend­ents who don’t have strong par­tis­an loy­al­ties but tend to vote Re­pub­lic­an. El­ev­en Re­pub­lic­ans will be fight­ing against each oth­er on an all-party primary bal­lot, mak­ing it likely the even­tu­al GOP stand­ard-bear­er will be wounded head­ing in­to an ex­pec­ted run­off. Trump’s pres­id­ency has got­ten off to a rocky start, giv­ing any Demo­crat plenty of ma­ter­i­al to work with. But the early Demo­crat­ic fa­vor­ite in the race is about as awk­ward a fit for this par­tic­u­lar dis­trict as Demo­crats could find.” 

Fred Barnes looks at the challenges for Republicans in the previously friendly confines of suburban Houston: “For Republicans, it was literally a wipeout. Even so, that doesn't quite capture how bad it was for them. The Democratic sweep underlined how rapidly the GOP is fading in Harris County, third population-wise among the nation's counties. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama by 971 votes. In 2016, Trump lost to Clinton by 161,511. She beat Trump by a larger margin than former Texas governor and President George W. Bush achieved in his two presidential campaigns.”

[Dems eye Virginia governor race as test case for 2018.]

TRUMP VOWS TO ‘CLEAN UP’ FEDERAL FINANCES
Roll Call: “Trump, during a meeting with senior aides about the federal budget…repeated his pledge to produce a health care plan next month. He said it should be rolled out ‘maybe mid-to-early March,’ saying his White House will be “submitting something” to Congress ‘that I think people will be very impressed by.’ Trump also signaled he favors deep federal budget cuts, saying the government ‘must do a lot more with less.’ ‘The finances of this country are a mess, but we’re going to clean that up,’ Trump told reporters, according to a pool report…Trump also deflected any blame for the country’s finances, despite being all too willing to take credit for any positive economic signs…Trump again vowed to renegotiate federal contracts, saying his administration already has ‘saved a lot — billions and billions of dollars.’ President Trump met with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, senior adviser Jared Kushner, chief strategist Steve Bannon, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and OMB officials Russ Vought and Emma Doyle over lunch to discuss the federal budget.”

AUDIBLE: SICK OF WINNING?
“Winners make policy and losers go home.” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in response to protesters attending his speech to local business leaders in Kentucky.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump administration to let states decide on transgender bathroom use -
Fox News

Trump policy guru Stephen Miller says new refugee ban will have ‘same basic policy outcome’ - Fox News

Dick Cheney to introduce Pence at Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual gathering -
The Hill

Ellison responds to Trump tweet saying president’s support won’t divide party -
The Hill

Nearly one-third of Republicans now have favorable view of Putin -
Gallup

French Nationalist Marie Le Pen surges with Trumpian tactics -
Bloomberg

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“What’s with the crazy formatting [Tuesday]? Searching for a more appealing layout is nice, but the all-centered look is too hard to read.” – Neil Howard, Cedar Park, Texas

[Ed. note: Welllll, Mr. Howard…you were not the only one to have noticed our very unusual format on Tuesday. No, we were not encouraging you to read in iambic pentameter. Rather, technical problems beyond our control, but related to our fun new graphic, interfered. The problem has been resolved and you will no longer have to go looking for quatrains in your Halftime Report. One error that was within our control and the result of lazy editing, however, was failing to use “martial” in reference to matters military and instead using its ill-suited homophone. I regret the error.]

“I was tickled to read in Parade Magazine this weekend that pepperoni rolls were the favorite comfort food of Mountaineers. As a Magnolia Blue Eagle (class of ’70) who contested against Triadelphia and Linsly, selling those were a major source of funding for our boosters’ programs. In recent years in Illinois, I have tried to replicate those pieces of almost heaven, but have never truly succeeded.” – J.R. Hermeling, Centralia, Ill.

[Ed. note: Now here is something very interesting, Mr. Hermeling. You left Northern West Virginia for Central Illinois, while my father started in Central Illinois and ended up in Northern West Virginia. And I knew from the time that I was a toddler about Centralia since it was the birthplace of the great Dike Eddleman and his world-famous “Centralia kiss shot.” I even had the chance to meet Dike as a boy on a visit to my father’s hometown of Springfield. As for pepperoni rolls, the secret is not to think of them as a conveyance for the sausage, but rather a savory bread that happens to contain pepperoni. My recipe is so simple: A sweet, white, yeasty dough formed around just a few thin slices of spicy pepperoni. The orange goodness as the grease bakes into the soft roll is perfect alchemy. My thanks to you as one Cadet to one Blue Eagle.]

“I was amused and interested in your comments about male fashion today. It brought to mind a situation I observed in our Presbyterian Church last summer. One of the men serving communion was clad in shorts and a t-shirt. My father was an elder in my home church (Presbyterian) some seventy years ago. In that church when the elders served communion they wore formal morning clothes, tails and all. What a difference!” – Dick Neff, Bowie, Md.

[Ed. note: While I am loath to weigh in on matters divine in this space, I will offer that I feel oddly less concerned about slovenly attire at church than I do in the workplace or the rest of society. I usually wear what has horribly become known as “business casual” to church, but with the recognition that my slight effort at finery in my attire is a sign of respect for my fellow worshippers rather than for Him who is the object of our worship. Mainline American churches have done lots of doctrinal somersaults in the past 40 years in a failing bid to keep people coming in the doors. It’s been a thoroughgoing bust. But I do think that if Christians foster a belief among the unchurched, or those tenuously clinging to the vine that outward appearances matter too much, it’s a shame. We know that we will be judged by what is in our hearts not what is on our bodies. My Lord has seen me at my very worst and won’t be fooled by a sharp necktie. And certainly some of the best turned-out folks I have known have been the most curdled on the outside. The saying goes “Come as you are and you will be loved,” and that is a good watchword for me.]

“I’m sure you’ll get lots of comments on this, albeit unfairly since you’re quoting another news source. But, the story of the Connecticut male cows prompted me to write. Those of us in the Midwest are well aware that male cows are more accurately referred to as either steers or bulls – as a cow is the female of the species.” – Heath Courtney, Kearney, Mo.

[Ed. note: Well, we might give our friends from Connecticut a little slack since their knowledge of commuter trains and Whiffenpoofs likely far exceeds what they know about bovine terminology. But yes, we should have clarified in a bracket for our more sophisticated readers. Mooooving alone…]

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

WHAT IS 9+1+1?
CBS News: “When Molly Draper found out her 10-year-old daughter, Lena, messaged the local police department on Facebook requesting help with her math homework, she couldn’t believe it. Not only that: they actually responded. Lena sent a message to the Marion, Ohio, Police Department’s Facebook page last week, explaining that she was having trouble with her fifth-grade math assignment. Instead of turning her away, Draper says Marion Police Dept. Lt. B.J. Gruber, the officer who runs the page, simply responded, ‘Ok with what?’ The 10-year-old began to list some math problems, ‘Well I don’t understand (8+29)x15.’ ‘Do the numbers in the parenthesis first so in essence it would be 37 x 15,’ the officer responded…Afterward, Draper posted screenshots of their exchange on Facebook, and the post went viral with more than 2,100 shares. Unfortunately, as some Facebook users pointed out, some the officer’s guidance turned out to be incorrect.”

Chris Stirewalt is the 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 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.