Fox News Halftime Report

Trump's costly conniptions

Chris Stirewalt

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On the roster: Trump’s costly conniptions - Trump, McConnell feud could blow up GOP agenda - Q Poll: Voters blame Trump for racial turmoil - Audible: Mad doggedly diplomatic - That’s a lot of catnip

TRUMP’S COSTLY CONNIPTIONS 
We have all heard stories like that of Nick Stafford of Cedar Bluff, Va., whose version of sticking it to the man came via wheelbarrow. 

Earlier this year, Stafford renewed the American tradition of taxpayer protest via loose change by delivering 298,745 pennies to a DMV office to cover his outstanding sales tax bill for the purchase of two new vehicles. 

As Stafford told his local newspaper about his long-running struggle with the commonwealth, “If they were going to inconvenience me, I was going to inconvenience them.” 

One imagines, though, that Stafford’s inconvenience was significantly greater than that of the employees of the Department of Motor Vehicles. He’s the one who spent more than $1,000 on four wheelbarrows and hired hands to compile the pennies and he’s also the one who had to do the hauling. 

The clerks get paid the same whether you pay by check, credit card or farm implement. 

Stafford and other such penny-ante protestors come to mind as we consider the presidency of Donald Trump. Like them, he usually ends up doing what is demanded of him, but only after elaborate, often personally harmful and dramatic gestures.

Like Stafford, Trump ends up paying the bill, just not in the way that anyone would have liked. 

Consider Trump’s decision to approve a small troop surge for Afghanistan. After a year talking about a new American foreign policy that rejects old doctrines in favor of an “America first” policy, Trump signed on the dotted line and agreed to maintain the policies of his predecessors in what is now America’s longest war. 

Why? Because his military and diplomatic advisors told him what Trump’s predecessors had heard: That if Afghanistan collapses completely, American troops will be forced to return again someday, but in larger numbers and at greater loss of life. 

Here we see the model of Trump as a relatively conventional president disguised as a wild-eyed populist insurgent. 

It is hard to think of much that Trump has done in terms of concrete action that wouldn’t have been conceivable in another Republican administration. Trump has talked a great deal about fighting Washington and draining a certain murky body of water, but, in truth, finds himself governing, after a fashion, more and more conventionally. 

There are other examples in foreign policy, including his decision to maintain the Iran nuclear deal, signing new sanctions against Russia into law and re-committing to the mutual defense pact of NATO.

On the domestic front, we’re getting ready to find out if the same thing holds true. 

As a civic leader, we have already seen repeated examples of belated and begrudging compliance: to denounce the neo-Nazis, to hold the press conference, to fire the offending aide, etc. On violent racism alone, Trump tried about four tones before finally saying the mandatory thing, obliterating any potential benefits along the way.

But, up to this point, Trump hasn’t faced any real policy ultimatums here at home – aside from his decision to keep paying ObamaCare subsidies to beneficiaries, despite threats to cut them off. His agenda has been mostly frustrated, but he has also been able to stall.

But the bills are coming due this month as Trump will face a series of deadlines on borrowing and spending, as well as what to do about ObamaCare benefits for 2018. He is quite likely to face at least one ultimatum from Congress, which looks increasingly likely to ignore the president on the issues and proceed on its own.

This sets up a moment at the end of next month when, under pressure from top aides as well as business and financial leaders, Trump is forced to sign a pile of legislation passed in contravention of his stated demands. He’ll make it clear it doesn’t make him happy, that he’s not to blame and he’ll do it in a damaging way, but he will sign on the line. 

It is tempting to think that at some point Trump would come to see the connection between his acting out and his policy misses – that he is really the one being inconvenienced here. 

But the president so far has shown no evidence that he’s ever going to give up the wheelbarrow in favor of the debit card.

THE RULEBOOK: CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE 
“Those who have been accustomed to contemplate the circumstances which produce and constitute national wealth, must be satisfied that there is no common standard or barometer by which the degrees of it can be ascertained.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 21

TIME OUT: CALL HIM GUMMY
Atlantic: “The skull came from the Wando River, which today runs past Charleston, South Carolina to the ocean. Thirty million years ago, it was all under the sea. Ancient dolphins and whales swam over what would become Charleston’s cobblestone streets. … The skull—unusually wide and unusually squat—made its way to … the College of Charleston’s Mace Brown Museum of Natural History. By the time the paleontologist Robert Boessenecker came to it, he says ‘It was already known as something new and very strange.’ … Its snout was too short. Its body was likely only a few feet long. And it had no teeth, no tooth sockets even. … As Boessenecker and his colleagues measured the partial skull, they realized it is related to modern odontocetes, also known as toothed whales—a name that’s obviously a bit misleading. … The team studying the South Carolina skull named it Inermorostrum xenops.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -17.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.2 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.]

TRUMP, MCCONNELL FEUD COULD BLOW UP GOP AGENDA 
NYT: “The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks … In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match. During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation. … Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.”

Trump prepared to fight for wall funding - Politico: “President Donald Trump’s vow Tuesday to close down the government if he doesn’t get money for the border wall mirrors private comments he has made to advisers in recent days – and could cause significant rifts within his own party if he follows through. … Trump has told his advisers he will not accept a deal on other issues without money for the wall ‘and it has to be real money,’ said one senior White House official. Trump has told senior White House officials and advisers he would be willing to go to whatever means necessary to get money for the wall, a contentious claim even among his advisers.” 

Trump pushes Senate for filibuster removal - WashEx: “Frustrated by Senate Republicans’ inability to advance legislation, President Trump on Tuesday called for an end to the 60-vote threshold that is needed to break a filibuster in the upper chamber. … The president’s renewed call for a major change to Senate rules comes weeks after the GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare collapsed in the upper chamber due to a lack of support for several measures.”

Q POLL: VOTERS BLAME TRUMP FOR RACIAL TURMOIL

Quinnipiac University: “President Donald Trump is doing more to divide the country, 62 percent of voters say, while 31 percent say he is doing more to unite the country, his worst score on this question, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.  President Trump gets a negative 35 - 59 percent overall job approval rating, down from a negative 39 - 57 percent rating in an August 17 survey by the independent Quinnipiac University. Every party, gender, education, age and racial group disapproves except Republicans, who approve 77 - 14 percent; white voters with no college, approving 52 - 40 percent, and white men, who approve by a narrow 50 - 46 percent. American voters disapprove 60 - 32 percent of Trump's response to the events in Charlottesville. President Trump's decisions and behavior have encouraged white supremacist groups, 59 percent of voters say, as 3 percent say he has discouraged these groups…”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Head of Kremlin-tied research firm spent hours being questioned by Senate staffers Fox News

Congress looks to boost agent pay amid huge Secret Service costs for Trump family WashEx 

2020 casting call? Govs Kasich and Hickenlooper set to testify on ObamaCare 
Roll Call

Cuts in foreign aid complicate Kushner’s Middle East peace initiative - AP

Members of White House council on infrastructure security resign - The Hill

#Hero - Harry Enten: ‘Fake polls are a real problem’ FiveThirtyEight

Read this - Megan McArdle: ‘We live in fear of the online mobs’ - Bloomberg

Hillary Clinton leaks excerpt of new book, calls Trump a creep Variety 

Melania Trump
 thanks Chelsea Clinton for defending Trump’s son Barron - The Hill

AUDIBLE: MAD DOGGEDLY DIPLOMATIC 
“I think these guys are more Marshall-like than Patton-like.” – Former CIA Director James Woolsey, talking to the WaPo about the enormous influence wielded over President Trump by three current or former generals, Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I enjoy reading your report every weekday and know you’re away for a week, but I had to write you anyway because I’m disturbed by what just happened in Charlottesville. I’d really like your opinion on why the outcry is only against the alt-right, the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis, and the KKK when, it seems to me that Antifa and Black Lives Matter are also to blame. Even Fox News doesn’t criticize the left. It seems that Trump’s first reaction was more balanced than anybody else’s.” – Lily Zahrt, Mill Valley, Calif.

[Ed. note: Ms. Zahrt, I’m afraid you’ll have to stand in for a number of your fellows who wrote in on this subject during my time away. First, let me say that I haven’t done anything in a long time so good or helpful as an extended break from Washington and doing so with people I love and in the place I love best, West Virginia. It was particularly instructive to be away from Washington and semi-detached when this controversy erupted. To your essential question about the laying of blame for Charlottesville, we should be clear and precise about what we are discussing. If we are talking about the increasing number of ugly demonstrations and confrontations across the country then, yes, it is reasonable to take a position that the racists and anti-racists who clash both bear blame for the confrontations. But what we’re talking about here is the apparent murder of one woman in an act of what seems to be political violence. In that case, the blame falls first to the murderer. After that, the blame falls to the individuals who staged the racist protest. I suppose you could say that the anti-racist counter-protestors should come in for some criticism because of aggressive tactics endorsed by some in their ranks that escalate such situations. But it is important for us to always try to remember the first thing. And in the case of Charlottesville, the first thing is that a woman was murdered because of her political and social views. Whether people want to dress up in Che Guevara t-shirts or flounce about with swastikas and tiki torches is their business. But when people start dying in these clashes, we cross the threshold between what is socially undesirable to what is legally and morally unacceptable. I’m glad to be back and feel well refreshed by my mountain sojourn. As always, I am proud to have readers as thoughtful and attentive as you.    

“Seems to me not being able to deduct local and state taxes from federal tax return. Was part of what the revolutionary war was about, double taxation.” – Dale Steinert, Kerrville, Texas

[Ed. note: There are no doubt many who would agree with you on the principle of double taxation, Mr. Steinert. But I don’t know that you can say that your cause is the same as the Founders’. I would even go so far as to say that those individuals who claim the cause of the American Revolution being “taxation without representation” missed the point, too. The cause of the revolution was that the British subjects of the 13 colonies were not represented AT ALL. Not only were they taxed without having a voice in determining how those taxes were spent but economic, social and military policies that had direct implications for their lives were passed by Parliament and enacted by the Crown without any input from the burgeoning, bustling American colonies. Particularly among Marxist historians, it’s popular to describe our revolution as a “tax revolt.” Taxes were an important part of what was happening, which stands to reason. After all, to paraphrase Daniel Webster, the power to tax is the power to destroy. Americans cared a great deal about taxation, but they also cared about the right to a trial by a jury of their peers, their right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures of their property, about military conscription, the right to assemble, the right to speak freely and, more than anything else, to be treated as human beings made by God and endowed by Him with rights that transcend the whims of any government.]

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THAT’S A LOT OF CATNIP 
NY Post: “A Bronx widow left $300,000 to her two cats in her will, along with instructions that the funds be used to make sure the felines, Troy and Tiger, would ‘never be caged’ and always be lovingly cared for. … ‘He deserves it,’ said Dahlia Grizzle, the former home health aide to the late Ellen Frey-Wouters, and now Tiger’s caretaker. … Frey-Wouters, a Netherlands native who worked for the United Nations, died in 2015 at age 88. Her husband, a Brooklyn College professor, passed away in 1989, and the couple’s only child died in infancy. … Troy lives with Rita Pohila, another one of Frey-Wouters’ former home health aides. Pohila … declined to discuss Troy with The Post — invoking the shy feline’s ‘privacy’ rights. When the cats die, the balance of their trust fund will go to Frey-Wouters’ only living family member, a sister in the Netherlands.”

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.