Fox News Halftime Report

Relatively deadly

Chris Stirewalt

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On the roster: Relatively deadly - Dems sweat Georgia special election - GOP considers cancelling August recess - Is he or isn’t he? Division on Trump and Russia probe - Is this your current address?

RELATIVELY DEADLY
One of the most comforting – and therefore most common – conceits of the defeated is that the other guys only won because they played dirty.

This view not only relieves us of responsibility, but it actually makes our loss a marker of virtue, and, in situations of sufficient gravity, martyrs. “Sure, I coulda won, if I wanted to cheat like those bums.”

Such self-consolations usually produce limited harm. We might not rightly identify our own shortcomings and thereby fail to mature or improve, e.g.: Just because the Patriots had floppy footballs doesn’t mean that the Steelers’ secondary was up to scratch. 

But that’s a problem with every kind of excuse making.

The conceit of virtuous defeat, however, also holds within it one of the greatest ethical perils of them all: moral relativism, e.g.: If the Patriots deflate their footballs then the Steelers would be entitled to place a bounty on injuring Tom Brady.

If we set limits on our own conduct based on our perceptions of the conduct and motives of others, things can get pretty bad pretty quickly. If we justify our actions based on the conduct of our foes, of whom we are naturally given to assume the worst, even long-held and near universal mores can quickly fall away.

And as is the case with its cousin martyrdom, reflexive moral relativism intensifies with the gravity of the issue at hand. Imagine that the issue was the very survival of yourself and your family. Imagine your entire civilization or faith was at stake.

It was fitting that one of the amusements of social media in 2016 was the moral conundrum: “Would you kill baby Hitler?” The premise is that if you were transported back to 1890, would you kill the adorable, blameless, year-old little Adolf.

The ethical test hinges on the idea, of course, that the murder of an innocent baby would save the lives of tens of millions in the Holocaust and World War II. It’s like “The Terminator,” but for the good guys.

What made the question interesting is the same thing that made last year’s election so terrible. With both sides convinced that the very future of the republic, nay, the human race, was at stake, otherwise decent people excused and even engaged in abominable behavior.

The binary nature of American politics often creates cascades of relativistic morality, but 2016 was the Niagara Falls of downward definitions of deviancy. Worse still, we are still falling.

There was a sniff of moral superiority among some conservatives over what appears to have been the attempted assassination of a group of Republican lawmakers at the hands of the definitive wild-eyed liberal.

Critics on the right said the attempted murders were of a piece with the increasing intolerance of the American left: shouting down dissenting voices, protests turned riots and artistic depictions of the assassination of the president.

And conservatives have a very good point to make. If you really believed that Republicans were intentionally killing tens of millions by cutting health insurance subsidies or that the president was in league with our Russian foes to topple the government from within, would taking a life really be so extreme?

Unhinged rhetoric may feel cathartic to otherwise rational people, but it sounds rational to the unhinged.

And then, the weekend brought us the next depredations: The murders of Muslim worshipers leaving Ramadan services in London and Virginia.

Surely if those on the right are correct to talk about how rhetoric can lead to attempted murder from the left, then those on the left certainly have a fair point to make here. We don’t know enough to reach definitive conclusions on motives, but surely the sheer volume of dehumanizing anti-Muslim sentiment is worth a look.

Also over the weekend, supporters of the president took it upon themselves to try to stop performances of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” in which the title role is portrayed an aspiring dictator made to look like the current American chief executive.

The reason given for the uncivil and intolerant behavior by the protesters is that it is time for the right to adopt the methods of the left. If liberal protesters are going to shout down opposing voices, then conservatives must do the same or face annihilation.

These are people who believe that the very existence of their culture is dangling by a thread, the same kind of sentiment that might, for instance, prompt someone to try to take the lives of opposing lawmakers or adherents of a faith said to be bent on the subjugation of the West from within. Why not pluck some bad Skittles out of the bowl?

Again, what sounds satisfyingly extreme to the otherwise rational might sound rational to the extremist.

And down we plunge…

THE RULEBOOK: SOUND FAMILIAR 
“But [restraining legislative authority] is an evil infinitely less likely to attend us in a united than in a disunited state; nay, it may be safely asserted that it is an evil altogether unlikely to attend us in the latter situation.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 26

TIME OUT: ABSOLUTELY CORRUPTED?
Atlantic: “If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. It can intoxicate. It can corrupt. It can even make Henry Kissinger believe that he’s sexually magnetic. But can it cause brain damage? … The historian Henry Adams was being metaphorical, not medical, when he described power as ‘a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.’ But that’s not far from where Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, ended up after years of lab and field experiments. Subjects under the influence of power, he found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view. Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University, in Ontario, recently described something similar. … Which gives a neurological basis to what Keltner has termed the ‘power paradox’: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -17.4 points
Change from one week ago: +0.8 points

DEMS SWEAT GEORGIA SPECIAL ELECTION
Politico: “Democrats are closer than they ever could have imagined to winning a House seat in the Republican suburbs of Atlanta, and dealing a resounding blow to Donald Trump. But they’re also gripped by anxiety about what happens if they fall short Tuesday. A loss in Georgia’s special election here could leave the party demoralized, with little to show for all the furious organizing, fundraising and spending in a handful of congressional special elections in the early months of the Trump administration. As a result, Democrats are now straining to throw everything they have at Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District to push Jon Ossoff over the top against Republican Karen Handel, aiming to prove they can win the suburban districts that may pave the way to a House majority in 2018. … But behind closed doors, operatives and lawmakers expect a withering round of internal second-guessing if they come up short after pumping enough money into the pro-Ossoff effort to make it the most expensive congressional race ever.”

Ossoff, Handel condemn TV ad that ties Democrats to Scalise shooting - AJC:“Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel strongly condemned an attack ad that surfaced Sunday accusing the ‘unhinged left’ of endorsing violence against Republicans days before the nationally-watched race to represent Georgia’s 6th District is decided. The ad, funded by a little-known group called the Principled PAC, opens with sounds of gunshots and footage of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise being wheeled away on a stretcher after he and other members of the Republican congressional baseball team were ambushed by a lone gunman while practicing in a Washington suburb. … A spokeswoman for Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, called the video ‘disturbing and disgusting’ in a statement that stopped short of asking for the ad to be removed.”

Stakes high in S.C. 5th congressional district race - Charleston Post Courier: “A pair of wealthy businessmen have spent weeks hawking different perspectives of the president's policies to voters across the 11 northern and central South Carolina counties that make up the state's 5th congressional district. Voters there will make their choice Tuesday. … [Ralph Norman], a longtime member of the S.C. Legislature, emerged from a crowded Republican field by running a campaign imitating the ultra-conservative, anti-tax policy positions of Mick Mulvaney, who left the congressional seat to become Trump's budget chief. … Democrat Archie Parnell, a former attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and business manager with Goldman Sachs, made his best pitch Thursday to members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart at the Logan's Roadhouse in Sumter…”

Where the cash is coming from in Ga. and S.C. special elections - Roll Call: “… a vicious political battle is underway for Georgia’s 6th District. Groups hoping to influence the election have spent nine times more money attacking the candidates than they have running positive ads… The parties’ congressional arms have led the scorched-earth battle, each dropping roughly $5 million in the district since the primary. … Meanwhile, in South Carolina… isn’t seen as the same kind of fertile ground for Democrats to pick up a GOP-leaning seat. … Norman has outperformed Parnell in fundraising by about 70 percent, though neither has brought in anything close to the amounts raised in Georgia. Also different than the Georgia race: Most of the money donated to Norman and Parnell has come from within their home state.”

Is moderation making a comeback? -
 Maybe so, says Josh KraushaarNational Journal: “At a time when ideo­lo­gic­al po­lar­iz­a­tion is near all-time highs, two of this year’s most vis­ible politi­cians—one Re­pub­lic­an, one Demo­crat—are run­ning prag­mat­ic cam­paigns de­signed to ap­peal to sub­urb­an mod­er­ates. Os­soff has a good chance to win a closely watched spe­cial elec­tion next Tues­day spe­cific­ally be­cause he’s avoided the highly charged anti-Trump rhet­or­ic of na­tion­al Demo­crats.”

GOP CONSIDERS CANCELLING AUGUST RECESS
The Hill: “Alarmed by the stalemate on healthcare reform, lack of progress on tax reform and appropriations bills that are far behind schedule, Republican lawmakers across Congress are increasingly willing to consider cancelling the month-long August recess. Senate Republican negotiators reported that they are not close to a deal on healthcare reform and that scheduling a vote by July 4, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pushed, is likely unrealistic. That impasse has held up work on a budget resolution, which is necessary to move tax reform and the annual appropriations bills. Once Republicans vote on a budget resolution for 2018, it will wipe out the special vehicle they plan to use to pass healthcare reform with a simple majority vote — a vehicle that was set up by the budget resolution for 2017. Lawmakers calculate there are only 45 legislative days until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.”

Democrats use Trump ‘mean’ comment to tar GOP - Politico: “Democrats are seeking to capitalize on President Donald Trump calling the Republican health care bill ‘mean’ ahead of the Senate's vote to repeal Obamacare, seeing it as a pivotal moment in an issue that could drive the 2018 midterm elections. The comments from Trump, made privately to senators last week, were largely overshadowed by a mass shooting at a Congressional baseball practice and new developments in the special counsel's investigation into Trump and his associates. But a senior Democratic aide said the party plans to revive the ‘mean’ comment part of floor speeches, press conferences and social media, and consultants said they craved the image of Trump celebrating in the Rose Garden with House members over a ‘mean’ bill that hurt poor Americans.”

IS HE OR ISN’T HE? DIVISION ON TRUMP AND RUSSIA PROBE
AP: “A member of the president's outside legal team says Donald Trump is not under federal investigation, days after Trump appeared to confirm he was with a tweet about being the target of a ‘witch hunt.’ Appearing on a series of morning news programs, attorney Jay Sekulow repeatedly stressed Sunday that ‘the president has not been and is not under investigation.’ He said a Friday tweet from Trump was specifically directed at a story in The Washington Post about the expanding probe into Russia's election meddling. As evidence, Sekulow said that Trump has not been notified of any investigation. He also cited the testimony from former FBI Director James Comeybefore the Senate intelligence committee, in which Comey said he had told Trump he was not under investigation in the months leading up to his May 9 firing.”

[Watch this: Sekulow sat down with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday to talk about the investigation.] 

Trump son-in-law shopping for new criminal attorney - WashEx: “White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is reportedly considering hiring a new criminal lawyer because his current lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, has connections to Robert Mueller, the special counsel handing the Russia investigation. ‘After the appointment of our former partner Robert Mueller as special counsel, we advised Mr. Kushner to obtain the independent advice of a lawyer with appropriate experience as to whether he should continue with us as his counsel,’ according to a statement Ms. Gorelick issued Sunday to the New York Times.”

Byeeeeeee…. Kushner to travel to Mideast for peace talks - AP: “A White House official said the senior aide and son-in-law to President Donald Trump will arrive on Wednesday for meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah.”

Trump adds new lawyer to his team - Reuters: “President Donald Trump has added a veteran Washington lawyer to the team… John Dowd, who has represented key figures in a variety white-collar criminal matters and investigations, has joined the president's defense team… Another well-known white-collar Washington lawyer will likely join the team shortly, according to a person familiar with the matter.”

Mueller’s team is growing, too - Politico: “Special counsel Robert Mueller has added 13 attorneys — with more still to come — as his investigation quickly expands beyond potential collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign with Russia to potential obstruction of justice case by the president. Mueller spokesman Peter Carr confirmed in an email Friday the total number of staffers working on the Russia probe, while adding ‘several more in the pipeline.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Trump demands face time with favored Cabinet heads Politico

SupCo to hear case on partisan gerrymandering - WaPo

DNC Chair Tom Perez backs Puerto Rico statehood - The Hill

Afghan war faces flurry of setbacks as new U.S. military policy nears WaPo

AUDIBLE: AND YET… 
“To whoever just subscribed my email accts (family, work, obsolete) to multiple Nickelback promotional & fan newsletters: It's. Not. Funny.” – Sen. Ben Sasse R-Neb., scolding his anonymous pranksters via Twitter. 

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IS THIS YOUR CURRENT ADDRESS?
KIRO7: “Police say employees at an east Tulsa restaurant were able to stop a robbery suspect after he reportedly returned to the restaurant just hours after robbing it. Police say a man robbed a Jack in the Box Saturday morning, implying he had a gun. They say afterward he robbed a nearby Mid-K Beauty Supply around noon, where he allegedly told an employee and her young niece that he wanted cash, had a gun in his pocket and didn't want any trouble. When the man reportedly returned to the Jack in the Box to pick up a job application, employees recognized him and confronted him until officers showed up. No one was injured.”
 
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.