Fox News Halftime Report

Press pause

Chris Stirewalt

**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

On the roster: Press pause - Time Out: Long may she wave - GOP voters stay away from polls in Virginia stunners - Trump clears way for Afghan troop surge - Patsy to the rescue

PRESS PAUSE 
Will you think more carefully about what you say about politics today?

You face that question every day, but it comes with real poignancy right now because a madman tried to murder lawmakers at practice for Thursday’s congressional charity baseball game.

So, what will you do? Will you speak peace or will you escalate the war of words?

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the man for whom the slain suspect volunteered and passionately campaigned, condemned political violence in the wake of the attack. But that’s not enough. All reasonable people condemn political violence. By the time you have to condemn it, it’s already too late.

What matters now is whether you condemn political hatred – whether you renounce and reject the kind of toxic rhetoric that makes this shooting and this vile moment in American political history possible.

These attempted murders are ultimately only the fault of their perpetrator, but surely this should give everyone from voters to elected officials a moment to consider the culture we are creating.

John Brown and four of his sons murdered five pro-slavery settlers in Pottawatomie, Kan. on the night of May 24, 1856. 

The Browns were avenging a raid on the town of Lawrence, in which pro-slavery forces wrecked two abolitionist newspaper presses and a hotel that housed anti-slavery settlers for the divided territory.

Brown’s Pottawatomie massacre, in turn, helped set off a summer of violence, known to history as Bleeding Kansas, that would claim dozens more lives and help set the stage for the Civil War.

As Union soldiers marched into battle they would sing praises to the martyred Brown, who at his trial in 1859 for trying to foster an armed revolt among slaves said that he would willingly go to his execution and “mingle [his] blood” with that of those who suffered “wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments” of a government that tolerated chattel slavery. 

Brown thought himself justified in his killings and was deemed a hero by many, includingFrederick Douglass, because Brown’s cause was just, even if his methods were unseemly. 

No one sang any songs of praise for Charles Hamilton and his band of border ruffians who killed five unarmed free-state settlers at Marais des Cygnes, Kan. at the end of the bloody summer of 1856 that began with Brown’s Pottawatomie raid. 

No one now calls Hamilton and his men heroes for corralling their prisoners in a narrow valley and opening fire.

History has covered over Hamilton’s murders like the prairie grass that covers the remains of his victims. But surely Hamilton and his fellows thought themselves right, and surely the pro-slavery activists who armed and supplied his efforts considered their cause just. 

Facing a madman like Brown who pursued his cause by any means necessary surely would grant them moral authority to do the same. Rather than being condemnable, political violence would have been thought necessary.

Political violence is upon us again. It’s not just in today’s attempted killings, but in the riots and melees that announce political rallies and protests across the country. It is present in the mobs that attack lecturers on college campuses. It is present when a gunman opens fire on police officers on duty protecting anti-police activists. It is present in the sucker punches visited on protesters by what seem like otherwise normal citizens.

But where is the cause that might make their acts seem just? Where is the evil that might make violence morally permissible, as it is in a time of war or self-defense?

David French has very convincingly argued that we are not heading toward another civil war but to a national divorce in which the opposing sides of our divided country self-segregate into like-minded enclaves and, ultimately, states.

But very often, history is not directed by civilized men. The John Browns and Charles Hamiltons in our midst are only too willing to precipitate catastrophes that long outlive the men themselves. And it becomes clearer that such people are intent on having their way just now.

What reasonable men and women must do then is to deny these people the rationales that would excuse violence. 

America in 2017 is free, prosperous and full of liberty for its citizens. There are no slaves in shackles. There is no just cause for political violence in a free, functional society. And yet many Americans recklessly, lazily speak as if there is.

It has become common now for people to assume that their political opponents aren’t just in disagreement, but are intentionally trying to harm the country. It is far from uncommon to read or hear people accuse the current president of being an agent of a hostile foreign power. It was almost as common to hear his predecessor accused of being a secret foreigner himself, bent on hobbling the nation.

Those are accusations, which, if they were true, would constitute treason, a crime punishable by death and even meriting rebellion.

Many people have lamented the way in which ascribing bad motives to political rivals makes good governance impossible. Who would compromise with a Russian stooge or a secret jihadist, after all?

At the risk of sounding alarmist, we have to think about worse consequences of reckless rhetoric than stalled budget bills. The consequences of treating our political foes as enemies of the republic leads to violence, and that violence will invariably beget more violence in return. 

Bleeding Kansas was a tragedy, but imagine if we had endured it for no cause – that the dead men of Marais des Cygnes been killed over nothing more than dishonest political spin, not the fate of 4 million slaves.

So we’d respectfully resubmit the question: Will you think more carefully about what you say about politics today?

THE RULEBOOK: MAY IT EVER BE SO 
“A strong sense of the value and blessings of union induced the people, at a very early period, to institute a federal government to preserve and perpetuate it.” – John Jay, Federalist No. 2

TIME OUT: LONG MAY SHE WAVE 
History: “On this day in 1777, during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress adopts a resolution stating that ‘the flag of the United States be thirteen alternate stripes red and white’ and that ‘the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.’ The national flag, which became known as the ‘stars and stripes,’ was based on the ‘Grand Union’ flag, a banner carried by the Continental Army in 1776 that also consisted of 13 red and white stripes. According to legend, Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross designed the new canton for the flag, which consisted of a circle of 13 stars and a blue background, at the request of General George Washington. Historians have been unable to conclusively prove or disprove this legend. With the entrance of new states into the United States after independence, new stripes and stars were added to represent new additions to the Union.”

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

SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -19.6 points
Change from one week ago: -1 point

GOP VOTERS STAY AWAY FROM POLLS IN VIRGINIA STUNNERS
What was expected to be a cakewalk in the closely-watched Virginia gubernatorial primary for former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie ended up as a squeaker. 

The party’s 2014 Senate nominee won the nod by a margin of just a little more than 1 point over former Trump campaign state chairman and Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart

Gillespie had led in the scant early polling, but Stewart, who famously referred to his rival as a “cuckservative,” evidently mounted a late charge, based at least in part on his championing the preservation of Confederate Civil War monuments. 

The bigger surprise, though, was that in the Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam cruised past Bernie Sanders-backed former Rep. Tom Perriello. The more moderate Northam trounced Periello by almost 12 points. 

Perriello represented the best hope for liberal activists Democrats in the Old Dominion. He was well connected to national groups and fundraising, had the backing of both Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren and was well known in much of the commonwealth from his two campaigns for Congress.

But Northam, riding on substantial support in both affluent suburban and heavily African-American precincts, squashed him. The revolt on the left was a dud, but the populist uprising among Republicans nearly succeeded. Why?

Virginia’s politics matter more than most states from a national perspective. A former GOP stronghold, Virginia now represents the forward position of Democrats in the post-Obama era. It’s a fairly large, prosperous, well-educated state – a near-perfect microcosm of the new Democratic coalition of affluent suburbanites and minority voters.

A year ago in Virginia, GOP primary turnout was about 31 percent higher than that of Democrats. This year, Democrats topped the GOP by 43 percent. We can attribute some of that shift to the level of interest in each party’s primary, but not a swing of 74 points. 

This collapse in GOP turnout helps explain why polls flew so wide of the mark. The electorate pollsters expected based on prior performance just didn’t show up.

There are two viable explanations for why that is so. First is that Republicans are simply dispirited after an already grueling year and simply stayed home. Second is that former GOP voters migrated into the Democratic contest. 

Both are probably true, but we won’t know for some time which trend is dominant. Northam’s surprisingly good showing and Gillespie’s nail-biter would certainly seem to suggest some migration, but it’s hardly unreasonable to think those voters wouldn’t drift back in future cycles.

But there is in Thursday’s outcome what could be an omen of real pain for Republicans: A migration of moderates into the Democratic Party that not only keeps hard-left voters in check but also leaves Republicans even more vulnerable to radical primary candidates like Stewart.

TRUMP CLEARS WAY FOR AFGHAN TROOP SURGE 
NYT: “President Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to determine troop levels in Afghanistan, three administration officials said Tuesday… Mr. Mattis is believed to favor sending several thousand more American troops to strengthen the effort to advise Afghan forces as they push back against gains made by the Taliban, the Islamic State and other militant groups. But officials said he had not yet decided how many more forces to send to Afghanistan, or when to deploy them. … Mr. Mattis alluded somewhat cryptically to the decision when he testified on Tuesday morning to the Senate Armed Services Committee. During his appearance, the defense secretary promised Congress that the Trump administration would develop a new strategy for Afghanistan by mid-July to turn around the war.”

Mattis: U.S. ‘not winning’ in Afghanistan - 
Reuters: “The United States is ‘not winning’ the war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress on Tuesday, promising to brief lawmakers on a new war strategy by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more U.S. troops. The remarks were a blunt reminder of the gloom underscoring U.S. military assessments of the war between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Islamist militant group, classified by U.S. commanders as a ‘stalemate’ despite almost 16 years of fighting. ‘We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,’ Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.” 

PLAY-BY-PLAY
 
Tillerson still supports Paris Climate agreement despite U.S. withdrawal - The Hill

Josh Kraushaar says African-American voters will be key for Democrats in 2020 - National Journal

Internal House GOP budget feud threatens agenda - Politico

Congressional Democrats to file lawsuit against Trump on foreign payments - WaPo

Poll: Trump disapproval hits new high - Gallup

AUDIBLE: GOOD TIMES 
“At times there could be a good shutdown, at times there may not be a good shutdown. There could be reasons at various times why that is the right outcome.” – Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, quoted by The Hill, when asked about President Trump’s tweet earlier this year that “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I am halfway through Shelley's Heart on your recommendation via the podcast. While I am thoroughly enjoying it, I can't help but think that a thriller penned by Director Comey would be quite a page-turner. I'm sure many publishers would jump at the chance to sign the rangy G-man to a book deal.” – William ThrasherWarsawInd.

[Ed. note: I think “Comey’s Notes” would be quite a sequel to “Shelley’s Heart!’ So glad you’re reading and enjoying. A truly wonderful book.] 

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

PATSY TO THE RESCUE
KDVR: “A California woman’s grandma was hospitalized for three days and wanted to see her dog. So, her granddaughter made it possible. 21-year-old Shelby Hennick was passing by her grandma’s house when her mom called and said that her grandma, Dona, was missing her dog, Patsy. Pets are generally not allowed in hospitals, unless they’re service animals, so Hennick got creative. The veterinary technician decided to wrap Patsy in a blanket, put her over her shoulder, and managed to sneak her into the hospital looking like a baby. She took a few photos, posted them to Twitter over the weekend, and they soon with viral with over 115,000 retweets. ‘Patsy was quiet the whole time and actually kept licking my arm,’ Hennick told BuzzFeed. Hennick’s grandmother was thrilled with the surprise, despite thinking it was an actual baby at first.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland 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.