Would you even care if he was guilty?

By Chris Stirewalt

Published August 04, 2017

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On the roster: Would you even care if he was guilty? - Sessions announces hunt for leakers - No clear path on ObamaCare as Congress leaves town -Ten hut! Kelly brings military discipline - That’s what they want you to think

WOULD YOU EVEN CARE IF HE WAS GUILTY?
The stock market is up, unemployment is down and the economy seems to be picking up some steam. The streets are mostly safe, the nation is mostly secure and the world is mostly at peace. 

So does it matter to you whether or not the president is a crook? The answer for a lot of Americans may be no.

With the revelation that a grand jury is looking at evidence against members of President Trump’s 2016 campaign team, we move closer still to the possibility that someone could be in very big trouble. 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his squad are moving fast, and the likelihood that some charges will be brought can no longer be ignored. It is not hard to imagine a moment in the very near future where some associate of the president is in the dock, charged with misdeeds relating to Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

But, again, we ask: Would it matter to you? 

Democrats are now in something of the same position as Bob Dole was in 1996 when he demanded of reporters about then-President Bill Clinton, “Where’s the outrage?”

Americans overwhelmingly believe that Russia meddled in the election – an action that in less ambiguous times would constitute an act of war. And an almost equally large number believe that Trump was to some degree complicit. But despite the day-by-day revelations, about a third of the country sticks with Trump.

The most recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 57 percent of respondents believe Trump was abusing the powers of office, 62 percent said he was not being honest and 58 percent said they thought he was interfering with the investigation. 

But let’s dig a little deeper. While Trump’s job approval rating is at a new all-time low, he is still in the good graces of 76 percent of Republicans. That’s not so hot with one’s own party, a category in which presidents typically like to see numbers in the 80’s or 90’s. But still, 76 percent ain’t nothing.

That number matches up almost perfectly to the percentage of Republicans who believe Trump is not interfering. Heck, 30 percent of Republicans said they didn’t even think Russia interfered in the first place; and 70 percent of GOP respondents said they didn’t think Trump had done anything wrong at all. 

That’s a pretty massive disconnect. Independent voters overwhelmingly agree Russia interfered and Trump did wrong. While they are divided on the question of whether it constituted a criminal action or simply an unethical one, about 60 percent of unaffiliated voters say Trump did a bad thing vis-à-vis Russia. 

You can attribute this disconnect to blind followership, “alternate facts,” or mind-boggling double talk from the administration. But there may be something else at work here: Many of Trump’s supporters wouldn’t care, even if they knew it was true. 

One of the reasons the president has fallen back into the habit of demanding criminal prosecution of his vanquished 2016 foe is to force his supporters to climb back down the decision tree and ask themselves again whether they would rather have Hillary Clinton as president. 

This is a version of what Trump did throughout the campaign. He would tacitly admit his ethical shortcomings but then cast them as positives – “tough,” “the smartest,” “a killer” – and then would go on to a harangue about the tar-thick corruption of the House of Clinton. 

When Bill Clinton’s accusers were front and center at the second presidential debate, which was held in the wake of revelations of Trump’s previous banter about sexual assault, the women were props in Trump’s show. The message: “I’m no prince, but this guy’s a worse slime.”

Given the degree to which Republicans for generations have come to loathe the Clintons, who always seemed to be getting away with the worst of their misconduct, it was a pretty convincing argument in a binary election.

As the borscht gets deeper for the Trump administration on matters Russian, it is understandable that Trump wishes to revisit the choice of 2016.

The approach is less effective now, of course, because we know that Hillary Clinton won’t become president, no matter what. There will be no do-over on the election, and she couldn’t even win her own party’s nomination if she ran again (again!) in three years. If Trump stops being president, it will be the gentleman from Indiana who succeeds him, not the lady from New York. 

For core supporters, though, it still does the trick – albeit in a different way. 

As we hear Trump devotees wail that colluding with a hostile foreign power isn’t a crime or cavil that Mueller & Co. might find other crimes unrelated to Russian disruption, what we are really hearing is their acceptance of wrongdoing. This is the big: “So what?”

The underlying argument is that she probably did something even worse, so if he lied, cheated and maybe even stole the election. For after all, he would have been only beating Democrats at their own game. 

Even though this view represents a minority of a minority, it is still pretty strong evidence of an unwell national civic culture. It is also like money in the bank for Trump. 

As Trump told adoring fans in West Virginia, “They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you want with a fake story.”

We hate to have to keep harkening back to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, but the parallels are too overwhelming to ignore. And in that case, Democrats essentially came to accept that everything they once denied as a right-wing conspiracy was true but that they just didn’t care that it was so. 

Plus, with peace and prosperity reigning across the land, who wanted to yank the president out of office?  The unthinkable became thinkable. 

That’s what Trump needs. As Mueller and his fellow G-men close in on their quarry, the willful blindness of partisans won’t be enough to keep Republicans from turning against Trump in numbers large enough to put his job at risk. 

But if there is a sense that removing or even further isolating the president could jeopardize a growing economy, folks will tend to get a lot more lenient in their thinking. 

That’s why we revisit this thought experiment from time to time. If we imagine that all that has been said and accused is true, would enough Republicans care enough to want Trump out? 

Certainly the passing of time helps the president as voters get accustomed to a new reality that would have shocked them before. But also the condition of the country and its economy matters too.

And since whatever is revealed will almost certainly fall short of the most hysterical claims of Trump’s foes, it may not even take an economic boom to keep at least the overwhelming majority of Republicans on board. 

It will be somewhere between hard and impossible for Trump to be a transformative president with a 33 percent approval rating. His political capital line of credit is far overextended. But it might be enough if the goal is basically to survive.

And that’s why Trump and his fellow Republicans feel extra pressure to pass some kind of economic stimulus soon. Tax cuts may be a matter of survival. 

THE RULEBOOK: BALANCING ACT
“Among the difficulties encountered by the convention, a very important one must have lain in combining the requisite stability and energy in government, with the inviolable attention due to liberty and to the republican form.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 37

TIME OUT: DREAM A LITTLE DREAM 
Happy birthday, Louis Armstrong, born on this day in 1901. We are re-upping the review of Terry Teachout’s magnificent biography of the man who is to jazz as Babe Ruth is to baseball. NYT: “[Armstrong was] an innovator who changed the face of his art form, a fecund and endlessly inventive pioneer whose discovery of his own voice helped remake 20th-century culture. His determination to entertain and the mass popularity he eventually achieved, coupled with his gregarious, open-hearted personality, would obscure the magnitude of his achievement and win him the disdain of many intellectuals and younger colleagues, who dismissed much of what he did after 1929 as middlebrow slumming, and who even mocked him as a kind of Uncle Tom. With ‘Pops,’ his eloquent and important new biography of Armstrong, the critic and cultural historian [Teachout] restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists...”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -19.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 2.4 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

SESSIONS ANNOUNCES HUNT FOR LEAKERS
Fox News: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other top Trump administration officials on Friday lashed out against illegal leaks and issued a stern warning to would-be offenders saying they would be ‘held accountable’ for their actions. ‘No government can be effective when its members cannot speak in confidence’ with other government and foreign leaders, Sessions said, adding that referrals of classified leaks from U.S. intelligence agencies have ‘exploded’ this year. ‘We are taking a stand,’ the attorney general said. ‘This culture of leaks must stop.’ Session said criminals who have leaked classified information are ‘being investigated and will be prosecuted.’ He added that four people have already been charged with leaking classified material and related counts, and investigations have tripled. Last month, a report written by Republicans on the Senate’s homeland security panel warned that the Trump administration faced an ‘alarming’ amount of media leaks that posed a potential threat to national security.”

NO CLEAR PATH ON OBAMACARE AS CONGRESS LEAVES TOWN
 
Politico: “Republicans [left] Washington Thursday for a month of recess with no clear direction on what they’ll do next on Obamacare. Senate leaders want to just drop the issue altogether. Conservatives say they’re still fighting for repeal. Moderates want to launch a bipartisan effort to fix the shaky Obamacare system. The reality is that, after seven years of unity on repealing Obamacare, Republicans are rudderless on how to talk about or address the defining domestic policy issue of nearly the past decade for their party, and they have no clear plans despite holding all the levers of power in Washington. Now, they face a month away from the Capitol, answering to their home-state voters about their lack of progress. ‘I still think something gets through, just because there’s families that are not going to be able to afford their insurance, middle-income families,’ said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.).”

Senate blocks Trump from making recess appointments over break - The Hill: “The Senate blocked President Trump from being able to make recess appointments on Thursday as lawmakers leave Washington for their summer break. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), doing wrap up for the entire Senate, locked in nine ‘pro-forma’ sessions — brief meetings that normally last roughly a minute. The move, which requires the agreement of every senator, means the Senate will be in session every three business days throughout the August recess. The Senate left D.C. on Thursday evening with most lawmakers not expected to return to Washington until after Labor Day.”

TEN HUT! KELLY BRINGS MILITARY DISCIPLINE 
NYT: “Mr. [John Kelly] cuts off rambling advisers midsentence. He listens in on conversations between cabinet secretaries and the president. He has booted lingering staff members out of high-level meetings, and ordered the doors of the Oval Office closed to discourage strays. He fired Anthony Scaramucci, the bombastic New Yorker who was briefly the communications director, and has demanded that even Mr. Trump’s family, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, check with him if they want face time with the president. … Whether Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general, will succeed in imposing military discipline on the faction-ridden White House remains in doubt; Mr. Trump has never been known to follow anybody’s direction, in Trump Tower or the White House. But Mr. Trump has never encountered anyone quite like Mr. Kelly, a combat veteran whose forceful management style and volatile temper are a match for the president’s.”

Kelly gives McMaster cover in West Wing battles - Politico: “National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who has waged a pitched battle with other senior staff for control over policy and personnel on the National Security Council, is taking advantage of the shield offered by the arrival of his old military colleague John Kelly as White House chief of staff. Kelly told McMaster this week that he wanted him to remain as national security adviser, said two senior White House aides, and has encouraged him to make any staffing changes he deems necessary. McMaster took that as a green light this week to oust top intelligence aide Ezra Cohen-Watnick — a Michael Flynn hire who has a warm relationship with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law — after months of trying.”

WEST VIRGINIA GOV ISN’T THE ONLY DEM TRUMP HAS WON 
WaPo: “While it is highly unusual for a sitting governor to change political parties while in office — as West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (D) announced he would do during a rally with President Trump on Thursday night — the process of crossing over was familiar to many in the crowd that night. … Trump’s core base of support includes a substantial number of Democrats and former Democrats, along with people who hadn’t been motivated to vote in years, and a key to his electoral victory was winning dozens of rural, industrial counties in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio that previously voted for Obama. Republican and Democratic strategists have been carefully studying this group, trying to determine whether the transition is a permanent one.”

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ DEFENDS AIDE AT CENTER OF SCANDAL  
[Fla.] Sun Sentinel: “Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz defiantly stands by her decision to keep an information technology aide on her payroll for six months after he was banned from the House network and fired by other members of Congress. ‘I believe that I did the right thing, and I would do it again,’ Wasserman Schultz said Thursday in an exclusive interview with the Sun Sentinel. ‘There are times when you can’t be afraid to stand alone, and you have to stand up for what’s right. It would have been easier for me to just fire him,’ she said. The Weston Democrat did fire Imran Awan last week after he was arrested on bank fraud charges at an airport while trying to leave the country. As the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Wasserman Schultz is the most prominent Democrat who employed Awan. Her decision to keep employing Awan has been under fire from her Democratic primary challenger, Republicans and multiple conservative websites. They’ve suggested Wasserman Schultz is hiding something and the Awan matter is much more serious than she’s letting on.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Kushner asks large tech firms to help upgrade federal agencies - The Hill 

U.S. Economy Added 209,000 Jobs in July - WSJ

Interior watchdog launches ‘preliminary investigation’ into Zinke calls 
The Hill

Spicer turns down Dancing with the Stars offer
 - TMZ

Secret Service moves out of Trump Tower due to lease dispute - NY Mag

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
Chris Wallace
 is joined by Sen. Thom Tillis R-N.C., this Sunday to discuss Mueller’s Russia probe. 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. ET.

AUDIBLE: YOU COULD EVEN PUT HIM IN A BASKET
“As a matter of fact, I have said over and over again, I think he's the most deplorable person I've ever met in my life.” – Rep.
Maxine Waters D-Calif., said in an interview with MSNBC. 

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“It seems to me that back in the Nixon era, Congress got a ruling from the Supreme Court that the Executive Branch had to spend what Congress appropriated even if the Executive Branch had asked for less. Of course I could be totally wrong.” – Bob Pruden, Owingsville, Ky.

[Ed. note: Far from it, Mr. Pruden. I did not want to get tangled up in too many legal considerations, but yes there would certainly be law on the side of Congress to compel administrative agencies to discharge their duties in keeping with the law. Plus, not all agencies are created equal. Outfits like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are part of the Executive Branch, yes, but they are fulfilling specific mandates from Congress. The move in the 1960’s and definitely throughout the Nixon years was to have Congress outsource lawmaking responsibilities to administrative agencies – professional regulators – rather than making rules themselves. In that way, these agencies are acting as proxies for Congress, even as their leaders are selected by the president.]

“I understand that polls are just ‘snap-shots’ and your ‘SCOREBOARD’ is an attempt to smooth out polls in the hopes of clarification. However I have two observations for you to muse and possibly comment on. First, how come it is deemed to be ‘Trump's net job-approval rating’ when his ‘average approval ratings’ are factored in to determine his score? The score then seems to be neither a job-approval nor an (overall) approval rating. Perhaps the SCOREBOARD should use the line ‘Trump's net rating’, followed by the explanation as how the rating was determined? Secondly, shouldn't the average of the ‘five most recent, methodologically sound public polls’ also include the average of the + or - factor those polls proffer?” – Geno Bokosky, Fountain Valley, Calif.

[Ed. note: Great question, Mr. Bokosky. There is no practical difference between job approval and personal approval. We would, however, recognize the difference between approval and favorability. You might like a person as an individual and have good feelings about them but still think they’re performing poorly. Approval inherently relates to an individual’s assessment of a person’s performance if it is asked in the context of their duties. As for offering an average of margins of error, it just won’t wash. A poll’s result is the midpoint in a range of probability, so producing a statistical mean of those numbers wouldn’t tell us anything.] 

“Chris, your report is ‘must read’ for me every day.  It's also obvious you have some pretty intelligent people making comments - and are as disturbed by the insanity in Congress as I.  I dug up two comments that I think are relevant. Plato said ‘Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.’ Albert Einstein wrote, ‘All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small any influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field.’ Until 1955 all new congressmen were presented with a copy of The Jefferson Bible, which as you know, was chock full of words of wisdom - maybe something like that should be required reading again!” – Ernie Weaver, North Port, Fla.

[Ed. note: I don’t know whether people are worse now or simply more brazen. It’s probably both and the latter probably fuels the former. And if you’ve ever read the financial disclosure forms of politicians, you know how broadly the term “required” can be interpreted. I would add one more aphorism to the fine pair you offer: Americans get about the government they deserve. Our system is failing, it’s true. But the responsibility for that rests in the hands of the voters who seem willing to accept less quality, great deviance and always more dishonesty from their leaders. You can lead a citizen to decency, but you can’t make him vote. Thanks for the kind words and I affiliate myself completely with your comments about our readers. You guys are the best.] 

“‘Out of context’? Really? OK, enlighten me, what is the correct context in which a president says the White House is a dump…” – Ace McInturff, Sequim, Wash.

[Ed. note: It’s not context, it’s just a joke. Verbal irony aka sarcasm takes many different forms, but one of the most common is factiousness – irony with an edge. If I say “I just loooove the Chicago Cubs,” anyone who knows me (and probably even some who don’t) would understand at once that I mean exactly the opposite. You know a cousin of this kind of humor that has grown quite popular on social media. If I snap a picture of me lolling by the pool with palm trees swaying behind and post “another brutal day at the office” you know that I am actually taunting everybody stuck inside on a beautiful day. Is it possible that Trump really thinks the White House is a dump? Sure. But, to be fair, he does seem fairly in awe of it, and so, I am willing to give him the assumption of a good-natured joke/brag to some of his fawning members.] 

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

THAT’S WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK
Reuters: “The original recordings of the first humans landing on the moon 40 years ago were erased and re-used, but newly restored copies of the original broadcast look even better, NASA officials said on Thursday. NASA released the first glimpses of a complete digital make-over of the original landing footage that clarifies the blurry and grainy images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon. The full set of recordings, being cleaned up by Burbank, California-based Lowry Digital, will be released in September. The preview is available at
www.nasa.gov. NASA admitted in 2006 that no one could find the original video recordings of the July 20, 1969, landing.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Look, the problem with special prosecutors is you assemble a team of, as you say, the best of the best in search of a crime. Normally you have a crime and then the prosecutor's go out and try to prove it. With a special prosecutor, you start with Whitewater and you end up with a blue dress. That's a long journey.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

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.

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