Can Republicans win without Hillary?

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On the roster: Can Republicans win without Hillary? - House vacancies hit 26-year high - Trump heads to Ohio to revive infrastructure plan - The Judge’s Ruling: Free from death, free in life - Not so wise, Mr. Owl

CAN REPUBLICANS WIN WITHOUT HILLARY?
Did Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election, or did Hillary Clinton lose it? On that question rides a great deal, not the least of which are the Republican Party’s chances to hold the House of Representatives.

As with most things in politics and life, the answer is: a little bit of both. Trump did far better than expected, connecting with voters in a way that the political intelligentia could not imagine.

One of the reasons that MAGA nation is so excited about the big ratings for the revival of the sitcom “Roseanne” is that it is taken as further evidence of the way in which traditionally Democratic, blue collar voters adore Trump. And they are not wrong.

But it would be a mistake to underestimate just how awful a candidate Clinton really was. She has provided ample reminders of her terribleness in the past year. She has intended in a book and in public appearances to re-write the record of her second presidential defeat, but only managed to remind even those who voted for her that she is astonishingly maladroit.

The two least liked, least trusted major party nominees in modern history just happened to be running in the same year and, as it turned out, Clinton was viewed with even greater disdain than her opponent, who benefitted from the absence of a record to have to defend. The devil they knew was actually not preferable to the one they didn’t.

The reason the proportion of causation for Trump’s 2016 victory is so important is that if we knew whether he won or she lost we would know what lasting lessons that election might teach us.

Republicans are hoping that the answer is more that Trump won since that would mean that they could run to hold Congress as promising to deliver on his campaign promises.

Democrats, meanwhile, hope that it was Clinton’s fault and that with her at least mostly out of the picture the political climate can return to something more like what it was before.

And so we turn to our favorite political laboratory of late, Pennsylvania.

A Keystone State survey just out from Franklin and Marshall College reinforces the message of a recent special election in the Pittsburg area. The poll shows that incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. are absolutely demolishing their likely Republican challengers in the fall.

Now, a word of caution here. The Republican challengers are far less well known than the incumbents, a fact which will be changed in the coming months as money and advertisements begin to flow.

But at the outset, Republicans find themselves at the bottom of a hole as deep and as dark as any anthracite mine.

The fact that Conor Lamb won the special election in Pittsburgh amplifies the findings of this poll. The preferred narrative of Democrats is that Trump is so unpopular in places like Pennsylvania now that he is dragging Republicans down. But we would suggest it’s something different.

With the absence of the devil they know, Pennsylvania voters are free to do as they wish, and what they have mostly wished in the past 20 years is to be governed by Democrats.

Take a look at the 2016 exit polls from Pennsylvania. If we only showed you Trump’s low favorability rating and low trustworthiness rating with Pennsylvania voters, you would have assumed he got creamed in the state. But flit your eyes up to the Clinton line and you see how he won his narrow upset.

This helps us understand why, even as we observe Trump’s overall job approval rating to be returning from a recent tumble, we don’t see Republicans fairing that much better in their efforts to hold Congress and governor’s mansions across the country.

This is of course not to say that Trump and the success of his presidency is not an important, maybe even dominant consideration in how 2018 will shake out. But it would do well for both parties to bear in mind that the greatest disruption we saw in 2016 might not have been Trump but Democrats’ selection of their worse nominee in modern American political history.

Likely Missouri Republican Senate nominee Josh Hawley seems to understand this as he zeroes in on Sen. Claire McCaskill’s longtime support for Clinton.

If what we are seeing in Pennsylvania is indicative, count on Republicans doing their best to make Clinton as much a part of 2018 as they can.

THE RULEBOOK: WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN 
“The patriots, who effected that memorable [Glorious Revolution of 1688], were too temperate, too wellinformed, to think of any restraint on the legislative discretion.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 26

TIME OUT: VROOM, VROOM
Atlantic: “On Tuesday, Waymo announced they’d purchase 20,000 sporty, electric self-driving vehicles from Jaguar for the company’s forthcoming ride-hailing service. Waymo, Google’s sister company within Alphabet, held a press conference in New York for the unveiling of the vehicle… But the company embedded a much more significant milestone inside this supposed announcement about a fancy car. With orders now in for more than 20,000 of these vehicles and thousands of minivans that Chrysler announced earlier this year, Waymo will be capable of doing vast numbers of trips per day. They estimate that the Jaguar fleet alone will be capable of doing a million trips each day in 2020. You could quibble with their math … or their overall utilization rate … but if Waymo is even within 50 percent of that number in two years, the United States will have entered an entirely new phase in robotics and technology.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
41.8 percent 
Average disapproval: 52.8 percent 
Net Score: 
-11 points
Change from one week ago: up 2.8 points
[Average includes: CNN: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; Fox News: 45% approve - 52% disapprove; Marist College: 42% approve - 51% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approve - 55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve - 53% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 41.4 percent
Democratic average: 47.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.4 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 3.4 points 
[Average includes: Marist College: 44% Dems - 39% GOP; Fox News: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 49% Dems - 43% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 50% Dems - 40% GOP; George Washington University: 49% Dems - 40% GOP.]

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**we now return you to our regularly scheduled political palaver**

HOUSE VACANCIES HIT 26-YEAR HIGH
Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “In the roughly two and a half months since we last assessed an already-long list of House open seats this cycle — and even in the week since my colleague Geoffrey Skelley took a deep look at the pace of House retirements historically — the number of open House seats has continued to increase. At this point, only 379 of 435 House districts currently have an incumbent running for reelection. That is now the second-lowest total of the post-World War II era, trailing only 1992, when redistricting and other factors prompted a slew of retirements and only 368 of 435 seats featured incumbents running for reelection. This cycle will not match 1992’s historically high level of open seats, but the total likely will grow at least a little. Filing deadlines have passed in many states, but filing remains open or has not yet opened in states containing about 40% of the total number of House seats. And candidates can also leave the ballot after filing has closed.”

Scalise goes on the record with interest in replacing Ryan - Politico: “[Steve Scalise’s] recovery has coincided with his fast-rising stature within the House Republican Conference. … Now the 52-year-old is being talked up as a possible successor to Ryan when the House speaker retires. And the talk bubbled to the surface this week when two GOP lawmakers — Reps. Mark Amodei of Nevada and Mo Brooks of Alabama — vocalized what others have whispered privately for weeks. … ‘I wouldn’t rule it out,’ Scalise said of a bid for speaker if the circumstances were right. ‘Obviously, I’ve shown interest in the past at moving up. I’ve enjoyed being in leadership. I feel like I’ve had a strong influence on some of the things that we’ve done, and I’ve helped put together coalitions to pass a full repeal of Obamacare.’ …  ‘It’s easy to get drawn into the palace intrigue and speculation. But if you do that, you truly will lose focus on what your mission is…’”

Nunes’ challenger raking in the dough - The Hill: “The Democratic candidate seeking to unseat House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has raised over $1 million in campaign funds in the first quarter of the year, according to CNN. Fresno County Deputy District Attorney Andrew Janz said the large influx of campaign funds came as Nunes failed to address the issues affecting his constituents. The Republican has been at the center of a political firestorm in recent months as he led his committee's efforts to probe alleged surveillance abuse at the Justice Department and the FBI. ‘Devin Nunes is in Washington playing games on the House Intelligence Committee,’ Janz told CNN. ‘And while he is doing that the issues back here at home that people care about are being ignored.’”

Cochran replacement will try to warm up chilly White House - WaPo: “White House officials planned to meet Wednesday with Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, who received a frosty reception in the West Wing when she was appointed to the Senate last week. Hyde-Smith was slated to sit down with administration officials including White House political director Bill Stepien, according to three people familiar with the talks. But she was not expected to meet with President Trump. The people describing the talks spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks had not been announced publicly. It was unclear whether the gathering would forge a thaw in the troubled relationship or move the president any closer to endorsing Hyde-Smith, as her supporters would like to see. The uncertain dynamic has complicated the outlook for Republicans in the midterm election, as they seek to defend their 51-49 Senate majority.”

TRUMP HEADS TO OHIO TO REVIVE INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN 
Roll Call: “President Donald Trump will take Air Force One to Ohio — then likely on to his South Florida resort — on Thursday to try breathing life into an infrastructure plan his senior aides now say will take multiple years to bring about. The White House hopes to get some — but not all — of his $1.5 trillion package through Congress and signed into law this year. One senior administration official said Wednesday that White House aides expect a ‘strong push’ to get a ‘big chunk’ of the infrastructure plan to his desk by the end of 2018. ‘We never anticipated this would be a quick or easy process,’ the senior official said. ‘The president is in this for the long haul,’ he added, saying the White House now expects parts of the package will have to wait for legislative action next year. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said recently he intends to move an infrastructure overhaul package in multiple bills. The senior administration official said the White House strongly supports that approach.”

Federal disability claims included in spending bill - WaPo: “Tucked inside the sweeping $1.3 trillion spending bill passed late last week by Congress was an item that has not been in a budget for nearly a decade: a funding increase for the Social Security Administration, an agency bedeviled by staff shortages that have contributed to a crushing backlog of disability claims stretching past 1 million. The omnibus appropriations bill increased funding to the federal agency by $480 million, bringing its overall administrative budget to more than $12 billion. Roughly $100 million of the increased allocation will target the disability hearing backlog, in which claimants on average wait around 600 days for a judge to decide whether they will receive benefits including health insurance and a monthly payment. The funding comes amid a hardening stance across the nation toward recipients of public benefits.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Stormy Daniels'
motion to depose Trump, Cohen denied - Fox News

Mitch Daniels: ‘Someone is watching you’ - WaPo

Susan Rice appointed to Netflix board of directors Fox News

David Shulkin: ‘Privatizing the V.A. will hurt veterans - NYT

Meet Ronny Jackson, the doctor poised to take over V.A. - WaPo

Molly Ball: ‘Jeff Sessions is winning for Donald Trump. If only he can keep his job’ -Time

Scott Walker surrenders in bid to avoid special election - Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 

Iowa Democrat rejected from ballot drops bid - Des Moines Register

THE JUDGE’S RULING: FREE FROM DEATH, FREE IN LIFE
Ahead of Easter weekend, Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano discusses the connection between personal freedom and rising from the dead: “Freedom is the ability of every person to exercise free will without a government permission slip or watchdog. Free will is a natural characteristic we share in common with God. He created us in His image and likeness. As He is perfectly free, so are we. When the government takes away free will, whether by fiat or by majority vote, it steals a gift we received from God; it violates the natural law; it prevents us from having and utilizing the means to seek the truth. … We know, from events 2,000 years ago that Christians commemorate this week, that freedom is the essential means to discover and unite with the truth.” More here.

AUDIBLE: THAT’S A COMPLIMENT FROM CHAOS  
“I heard you’re actually the Devil incarnate and I wanted to meet you.” – Defense Secretary James Mattis upon meeting National Security Adviser designate John Bolton at the White House today.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“In his opinion written for the majority in District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice Scalia clearly and definitively discussed and explained the relationship between the prefatory clause ‘well regulated Militia’ and the operative clause ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.’ Therefore, there is no ‘tension,’ as you put it, between the two clauses to be debated.  Presumably, that is why Justice Stevens (who wrote for the dissent in Heller) now suggests that the Second Amendment be repealed rather than suggesting that another amendment be passed to ‘clarify’ the Second Amendment.” – C.M. Polk, Aberdeen, Md.

[Ed. note: I don’t the former justice is at all interested in clarification. Rather, I think he’s interested in elimination. Similarly, I don’t believe that you see any tension between the clauses and that the “shall not be infringed” component trumps all. What I am arguing has nothing to do with judicial scholarship, but rather with the inability of citizens to exercise their single greatest power: To amend the Constitution to reflect their desires. About the time when courts began treating the charter as “living” in the sense that the words in the text were subject to historical relativism, the American electorate stopped exercising the real living component of the document. Did people stop amending the Constitution in the 1970s because the courts were doing it for them or did the courts start changing the Constitution because the people lost the facility to do so? The proportions between those two dynamics are debatable, but I think the relationship is real. I want Americans to get back to using the Constitution as it was intended, and when you’re having a debate over a constitutionally protected freedom I think we should be talking about the real matter at hand, not how to circumvent the charter through political or judicial maneuvering.]

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NOT SO WISE, MR. OWL
UPI: “An attempt to use a trained owl as a ring bearer at a British couple's wedding led to disaster when the bird knocked a groomsman out of his chair. Photographer Stacey Oliver recorded video as the owl flew from the back of the ceremony at Peckforton Castle in Tarporley, England, to one of the groom's three best men, who stood by the alter waiting to receive the rings. The best man appears to have trouble getting the rings from the owl's talon, causing another of the best men, who is seated nearby, to point at the bird and draw its attention. The owl crashes into the seated man, knocking him to the ground. Oliver said Jeni Arrowsmith and Mark Wood's wedding was made unforgettable by the incident. … [Oliver] said it took some time for the registrar to regain control of the crowd. ‘I was chuckling that much inside that my stomach was hurting,’ Oliver said.”

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.