Is 2018 really all about Russia?

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On the roster: Is 2018 really all about Russia? - All eyes on Roby in Alabama runoff - Dem House challengers outraise Senate candidates - House to vote on ICE resolution Wednesday - Ain’t nothing like the real thing 

IS 2018 REALLY ALL ABOUT RUSSIA?
David Foster Wallace told the joke about the two young fish out for a swim. They happen upon an old fish who says “Morning boys! How’s the water today?” 

A moment later one young fish turns to the other and says “What’s water?”

We share that one from time to time because much of the work in politics is managing to be aware of what really surrounds us — to know what we’re really swimming in. 

So when it comes to the 2018 election, is Russia the water or a shiny lure jigging through it?

Republicans have tended to generally underestimate the significance of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and specifically as it relates to how voters will behave this fall. Ostriches gonna ostrich.  

Democrats have tended to overestimate the matter, but only in fits and spurts. One day it’s all “let’s really talk about health care because impeachment is too much” and the next day it’s “IMPEACH!!!!!”

Now if that day happens to be the one in which the president delivers a singularly craven performance in front of Russia’s ruler, one can understand why there might be some difference in tone. 

But the inconstancy in Democratic alarm levels isn’t reserved just for big moments like President Trump’s Finnish face plant. Democratic leaders have alternately raised the possibility that the sitting president is an actual Kremlin stooge and then suggested they’d really rather talk about Medicaid funding. If they think our government is really being led by a Russian operative, maybe stay on topic, folks. The inconstancy, therefore, suggests insincerity. 

The president and his most ardent water carriers of the Hill are guilty of the same thing in the other direction. If Team Trump really believed that our Justice Department was the den of treasonous vipers it describes they wouldn’t be so prone to distraction and misdirection. Cynicism abounds. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t the truly deranged among us. 

Poor John Brennan. One supposes he feels some guilt for not preventing the Russian hack as CIA director. But his response to President Trump’s selfish bungling in Helsinki is the kind of hyperbole that makes it easier for the White House to resist real criticism. 

Or how about the crew in the House Freedom Caucus? They seem to have been backed down at the end, but these guys were going to introduce articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein the day after Trump’s ignominy. When it comes to running interference for the White House, some days are better than others. 

Whatever the excesses of the victims of Russia Derangement Syndrome on both sides, though, there’s no question that the issue will be a motivator for both sets of base voters. If we have to choose, though, we’d come down on the side that the energy and unity the issue provides for Democrats is greater in force and purpose than it is for Republicans. 

But what about persuadable voters?

There are the reverberations from the base voters — concerns among moderates about either a messy impeachment or a president who might not be on the level as it relates to our chief foreign foe. 

More significant, though, is the degree to which no story can break through the usual rime of news coverage the way Russia does. Even Trump, master media manipulator, doesn’t understand the megaton load of this subject. 

And in their approach to try to discredit the investigation rather than minimize it, the White House has only increased the size of the payload. 

There have been times for both sides that for days on end there is only Russia, stretched out like Siberia from the Urals to the Pacific. And we can be sure that for at least the next two months, there will be many more revelations. 

But in the end it will be the results of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that will decide whether the Russia story is the water the 2018 election is swimming in or just all wet. 

But for now, at least, Russia is the inescapable medium. 

THE RULEBOOK: SUBJECT TO CHANGE
“Constitutions of civil government are not to be framed upon a calculation of existing exigencies, but upon a combination of these with the probable exigencies of ages, according to the natural and tried course of human affairs.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 34

TIME OUT: THE BRYCE IS RIGHT?
Atlantic: “In some ways, the present moment looks like a pinnacle for Bryce Harper. Tuesday evening, the 25-year-old Washington Nationals slugger will be starting in the All-Star Game in his home ballpark… Monday night, he made his much-anticipated debut in the Home Run Derby (he long maintained he’d prefer to participate in Washington) and, on the strength of his trademark cloud-cleaving swing, won in style. … But there’s trouble below the surface. … According to Baseball Reference’s ‘wins above replacement’ (or WAR) metric, which weighs a player’s contributions in every facet of the game, Harper hasn’t added a single victory to the Nationals’ ledger this season. … But Harper’s slump also resonates throughout the game at large. It’s no secret that baseball has fallen behind basketball and football in nationwide popularity, particularly among younger generations. And Harper represents the sport’s best approximation of a post–Derek Jeter superstar… So the immediate question—just how good is Bryce Harper, really?—is followed by another one: How good does baseball need him to be?”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
42.2 percent 
Average disapproval: 
51.8 percent 
Net Score:
 -9.6 points
Change from one week ago: 
up 1.8 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 43% approve - 52% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve - 51% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; IBD: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; CNBC: 41% approve - 47% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 
40.4 percent
Democratic average: 48.2 percent
Advantage: 
Democrats plus 7.8 points
Change from one week ago: 
Democratic advantage up 0.6 points 
[Average includes: Fox News: 48% Dems - 40% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 50% Dems - 41% GOP; IBD: 48% Dems - 40% GOP; USA Today/Suffolk University: 45% Dems - 39% GOP; CNN: 50% Dems - 42% GOP.]

ALL EYES ON ROBY IN ALABAMA RUNOFF

AP: “An Alabama Republican congresswoman who once distanced herself from President Donald Trump over his ‘Access Hollywood’ comments is now relying on his endorsement as she fights off a surprisingly strong GOP challenger. Rep. Martha Roby is facing Democrat-turned-Trump Republican Bobby Bright on Tuesday, trying not to become the third congressional Republican to lose her job this primary season. From the outside, the race shouldn’t be close. Roby is a four-term incumbent in deep-red Alabama. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have endorsed her. And her Republican opponent supported Nancy Pelosi when he served as a Democrat in Congress. But as is often the case in the Trump era, the conventional rules of politics do not apply. Roby’s survival depends on whether voters are sufficiently convinced she’s on board with Trump’s agenda after criticizing him in 2016 when he was caught bragging about sexually predatory behavior in the infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape.”

Poll shows Rohrabacher in tight race with challenger - Monmouth University: “The race for California’s 48th Congressional District between Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher and Democratic challenger Harley Rouda is virtually tied according to the Monmouth University Poll. Although Republicans have a natural registration advantage in this Orange County district, higher Democratic enthusiasm and divided voter opinion on Rohrabacher are making this a competitive race. Democrats are slightly more satisfied than Republicans with the person who emerged from the June primary as their party’s nominee. Rouda registers 46% support and Rohrabacher has the backing of 43% among all potential voters – that is voters who have participated in an election since 2010 or have newly registered to vote (a group that represents about 89% of all registered voters in the district). The state of the race does not change much when applying two different likely voter models.” 

Rep. Khanna: The ‘Democratic disrupter’ - National Review: “Rep. Ro Khanna represents Silicon Valley, so it stands to figure that in his first term he is becoming known as a Democratic disrupter. Khanna, 41, an uber-ambitious freshman, former tech lawyer, and Obama administration veteran, has received plaudits from his colleagues for his audacious jobs legislation and enterprising foreign policy ideas and has coauthored op-eds with everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Rep. John Lewis. He has also been raising eyebrows all over Capitol Hill by committing the cardinal sin of American politics: Endorsing primary challengers over his own Democratic colleagues. Khanna himself earned his seat on his third primary attempt against entrenched incumbents. But his endorsement of Ferguson, Missouri activist Cori Bush in the race against Rep. William Lacy Clay only months into his first term was different.”

Ocasio-Cortez starts controversy with comments on Israeli ‘occupation’ -
 Fox News: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic socialist who became a rising political star after her victory in New York’s congressional primary last month, referred to Israel’s ‘occupation’ of Palestine in an interview before admitting that she is “not the expert” on the subject. During an interview on PBS’s ‘Firing Line’ on Friday the congressional candidate raised eyebrows when she said, ‘I also think that what people are starting to see-- at least in the occupation of Palestine-- is just an increasing crisis of humanitarian condition and that to me is just where I tend to come from on this issue.’ … The Washington Examiner ran an opinion piece titled, ‘Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Talks About the ‘Occupation of Palestine’ but She Doesn’t Know What That Means.’ ‘Even with her degree in international relations, the lack of knowledge beyond buzzwords should not be surprising,’ the magazine wrote.”

Illinois gubernatorial candidates give millions to their own campaigns - Chicago Tribune: “Anyone with a TV already knows that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker are both spending a bundle of cash on their campaigns, but records show Pritzker has spent far more in the last few months. Pritzker’s campaign spent $20.1 million in the second quarter of the year, compared to $7.8 million by Rauner’s campaign. And that’s long before the traditional big push that begins after Labor Day. Both candidates should have plenty of money for the final sprint later this year. At the end of June, Pritzker still had $18.3 million in the bank, compared to $31.8 million for Rauner. The campaign finance reports released Monday evening also document where the campaigns are getting their money, but that hasn’t been much of a secret. The governor gave his campaign $50 million back in late 2016, and hedge fund founder Ken Griffin chipped in $20 million last year. Pritzker has given his campaign more than $100 million already.”

Georgia governor endorses Cagle - AJC: “Gov. Nathan Deal endorsed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle on Monday in the race to succeed him, giving the Republican candidate key support from a popular incumbent in his July 24 race against Secretary of State Brian Kemp. The governor called Cagle the best candidate to continue his ‘tradition’ of conservative leadership, making the announcement during a question-and-answer session at the end of an unrelated press conference at the state Capitol. ‘My point of view is not personal. I have known both of these candidates in our Republican runoff, and I think very highly of both of them,’ Deal said. ‘My concern is, let’s not undo, or transform in a negative fashion, the good reforms that we’ve put in place.’”

DEM HOUSE CHALLENGERS OUTRAISE SENATE CANDIDATES

Roll Call: “It used to be normal for fundraising by Senate candidates to dwarf that of House candidates. Not this year. New Jersey’s Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat trying to flip a longtime Republican stronghold, raised nearly $1.9 million during the second quarter of the year. That’s more than at least one Democratic senator facing a competitive re-election and at least five Republicans running for Senate in competitive races this year. Sherrill, a first-time candidate, isn’t the only Democratic House challenger who raised just as much or more than Senate hopefuls this year. At least 11 others have raised nearly $1.1 million or more. By comparison, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III raised just $1.5 million during the same period. And his GOP challenger, who had to spend money in a nasty May primary, raised even less. … But the enormous fundraising totals posted by some House challengers in traditionally red districts — and the fact that they nearly meet or exceed those of a handful of competitive Senate candidates — captures just how much energy there is among Democrats about winning the House in November.”

Schneider, a Blue Dog Dem, votes with GOP more - Roll Call: “Blue Dog Democrats tend to move to the right in election years, which is understandable given that they typically represent swing districts. And lately no district has swung more than Illinois’ 10th, in the affluent suburbs north of Chicago. Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider is currently serving his second, nonconsecutive term, having defeated Republican Robert J. Dold in 2016. … In 2017, Schneider was a relatively loyal Democrat, voting with his party on House votes that split a majority of Democrats from a majority of Republicans… But this year, he’s tied with Texas’ Henry Cueller with the second-lowest CQ party unity score among Democrats as of the end of June…”

HOUSE TO VOTE ON ICE RESOLUTION WEDNESDAY

Roll Call: “House Republicans have abandoned a plan to vote on a Democrat-sponsored bill to terminate the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency after the bill’s authors said they and their colleagues would vote against it. But GOP leaders are still planning to hold a vote on a resolution by Louisiana GOP Rep. Clay Higgins expressing the House’s support for all ICE officers and personnel and denouncing calls to completely abolish the agency. The vote on Higgins’ resolution will occur Wednesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. It will be brought up under an expedited procedure known as suspension of the rules, which requires two-thirds support for passage. The other bill Republicans had been planning a vote on would have terminated ICE within a year of Congress enacting ‘a humane immigration enforcement system’ to be designed by a commission the legislation would establish. The measure was introduced Thursday by Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Mark Pocan and members Pramila Jayapal and Adriano Espaillat.”

As veterans spending dispute continues WH gets involved -
Politico: “Inviting more stopgap spending, the White House has fired off an official warning against congressional efforts to blow through budget limits. Top Trump administration officials sent a letter Monday cautioning lawmakers against raising spending caps to accommodate shifts in funding for a popular veterans health program, though they stopped short of threatening a veto. Many Democrats — and some powerful Senate Republicans — are insisting billions of dollars be spent beyond the limit agreed upon in this year’s grand budget deal. The White House’s public stand draws battle lines in the first major showdown ahead of this fall’s funding deadline, endangering congressional efforts to clear updated spending levels before fiscal 2018 cash runs out Sept. 30.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Meadows, Jordan seek DOJ investigation into RosensteinRoll Call

Charlotte to host 2020 Republican National ConventionCharlotte Observer

U.S. Commerce Department denies request to exempt pipeline company from tariffs WSJ

AUDIBLE: BUT PROBABLY NAH  
“If you want Americans to listen to my opinions could you just wait for a little bit?” – An exasperated Vladimir Putin as the Russian ruler faced the dogged questioning of Chris Wallace in an interview Monday.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris, I am aware that opinions are like a**holes... everyone has one. I was deeply disturbed by your final comment on [Bret Baier’s] show, ‘Somebody has to quit.’ I feel that your commentary in most instances is very fair minded but not this one. I don’t call that comment fair minded.” – Rodney Smith, Wyaconda, Mo.

[Ed. note: I know that a five second burst on television doesn’t afford a person much opportunity for context, but I’m not calling for someone to quit, I just assume that somebody will have to. Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, seems like a likely suspect since President Trump called him out by name. I would be surprised if Coats, long time senator, former ambassador to Germany and 75 years of age, needs hassles like these. Coats’s office put out a statement in the wake of the presser that seemed to make clear that he did not care for his boss’s equivocations. Whether that adds up to his departure today or in the near future, I don’t know. But when you have a failure of this magnitude in any administration, you expect that there will be personnel changes to follow.]

“Chris, I am wondering if, IF, by some slim chance Pres. Trump may know something we do not. Just maybe the indictment of the 12 Russians holds as much water as the whole collusion story of Pres Trump and the Russians. Rosenstein needed some ‘fall guys’ and this sounded like it was feasible. The top people at the FBI should be tried for Treason, and Brennan, too. Keep up the good work!!” – Roberta Castillo, Florida Keys, Fla.

[Ed. note: The problem, Ms. Castillo, is that Trump does believe what the intelligence community and the Justice Department say about the Russians. He knows it’s true and has admitted as much on several occasions. But he’s embarrassed by the fact it casts shadows on his 2016 victory. So when the moment came to pay the piper and admit the truth in front of Putin, Trump choked. That’s not to say that most of us would have done any better. Being president requires enormous self-discipline and a willingness to subjugate one’s own personal interests and desires to the good of the country. It is an office that takes the measure of every man who holds it.]

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AIN’T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING 
USA Today: “A 44-year-old Mesa man was arrested on suspicion of impersonating a police officer after he attempted to pull over Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers on Wednesday, the agency said. Matthew Allen Disbro is accused of equipping his black Dodge Charger with police-style emergency lighting and attempting to pull over the troopers, who were in an unmarked car, along State Route 51 in Phoenix, DPS said. The two troopers were on patrol in a yellow Ford Mustang, an unmarked vehicle generally used to target aggressive drivers, DPS said. The troopers ran a check of Disbro’s license plate, which revealed the car belonged to a private citizen and not a public agency, officials said. Shortly after, Disbro activated his flashing lights and attempted to pull the troopers over, DPS said in a news release. The troopers did not pull over, at which point Disbro drove alongside the troopers and yelled and waved his hand at them, DPS said. The troopers identified themselves by activating their emergency lights and initiated a traffic stop on Disbro…”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“In Tuesday night’s game, our starting pitcher couldn’t get out of the third inning. Gave up four straight hits, six earned runs, and as he came off the mound, actually got a few scattered rounds of applause. Applause! In New York, he’d have been booed mercilessly. In Philly, he’d have found his car on blocks and missing a headlight.” – Charles Krauthammer, writing in The Washington Post, April 23, 2010.

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.