Putin or the Democrats? For some today it's not so easy

**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

On the roster: Putin or the Democrats? For some today it’s not so easy - Time out: Almost Heaven… on a bun - Trump reportedly wanted Russia charges pre-summit - Roby rolls to victory despite past trump criticism - Smells like schnitzel

PUTIN OR THE DEMOCRATS? FOR SOME TODAY IT’S NOT SO EASY
We seldom notice the way that technology changes us. It happens gradually and, as individuals, we tend to be poor observers of our own behavior. 

That goes for politics, too. Think, for example, how the technologies of ultrasound and neo-natal care have shifted the discussion about elective abortions after the first trimester.

But technology also changes the business of politics. Much of the work of campaigns and elections used to be hunches and gut instincts. We’ve only had modern polling past 60 years or so, and for most of that time what surveys could reveal was pretty limited. 

But in the past three decades, the same kinds of market research tools that big companies use to try to sell you fish sticks and Fords became part of politics. As data was changing the way we do everything, it was changing politics, too. 

The dawn of the digital age kicked that all into overdrive. Campaigns used to have to guess at what voters wanted. Now voters go online and by their blabbing and the digital breadcrumbs they leave behind from their searches and page preferences show campaigns who they are and how to best persuade them. 

The ability to both identify and persuade voters has been a substantial factor in what’s moving Americans apart these days. Thanks to being able to chop the electorate into such tiny pieces, candidates are able to put together winning coalitions without having to do much persuading. 

The time when candidates felt obliged to have a broad-spectrum message is fading in favor of building and maintaining a political base. 

Aside from the obvious cultural damage that it does to divide and divide and divide and divide voters, it also has some very unhappy consequences as it comes to the politicians themselves. 

No politician has embraced the concept of base politics with the vigor of Donald Trump. He knows what his voters want and he is determined to give it to them. And if that enrages Democrats and turns off moderates, so much the better. 

Trump’s obsessive base maintenance has helped him in governance at many points. His Supreme Court picks and tax cuts are aimed at keeping faith with the folks who elected him. And whether you like them or not, Trump’s immigration clampdown, trade war and pummeling of our traditional allies is part of that too. It’s not like he kept these things a secret when he was running. 

But Trump’s tunnel vision has led him to the lowest low points of his presidency, including this week. 

Trump’s expressions of moral equivalency between the United States and Russia, feverish conspiracy theorizing and attacks against his fellow Americans on stage with Vladimir Putin must have sounded pitiful to most. 

The country has become inured to Trump’s rhetorical excesses. The constant outrage with which Trump’s outrageous statements were met during the 2016 campaign and at the beginning of his presidency was simply unsustainable, so folks both for him and against him started tuning Trump out. 

But in the moment where the words of a president arguably matter most, Trump’s comments struck home even among those who had become numb to his shock-jock routine.

Presumably, Trump felt free to speak from the heart in Helsinki because what he said reflects the views of some of his most stalwart supporters. It’s certainly not a majority of the country, and it may not even be a majority of Republicans, but among a substantial number of Trump voters, the idea that Hillary Clinton is worse than Putin is completely obvious. 

As we have said many times before, there’s a chunk of the electorate that wouldn’t even care if Trump had colluded with Putin. And if all that happened was that Putin helped Trump win the election, to these folks that says only good things about the Russian strongman. When Putin smirked to Chris Wallace that what was in the emails his agents stole was true and therefore appropriate to release, he was echoing a Trump campaign talking point.  

Those same political hatreds well nurtured by the divisive politics of our time have put us in a point where at least a quarter of Republicans think Putin is an alright guy, according to polls. They no doubt see his interference in the election as a good thing since it was, in their minds, for the correct side. 

Our rotten politics has infected seemingly everything in American life, and that goes for our foreign policy too. Yes, there were American left-wingers who preferred the Soviet Union to the GOP, but vanishingly few would have ever felt comfortable saying so. Now, it’s acceptable among some ring-wing sects to pick the Kremlin over the Democrats. 

What Trump discovered, though, is that his base is not as big as he thinks it is. The painful walk back you watched Tuesday, much like the one he tried to execute last summer in the face of another base maintenance debacle concerning the white nationalists in Charlottesville, reflected that realization.

What some Republicans like about Trump – the things you saw in Finland – most Republicans only tolerate for the sake of obtaining their preferred policy outcomes. And Monday was too much for the normies. 

But what got Trump to the point that he felt free to speak so freely in front of Putin is the fact that in our sliced and diced electorate, the passionate support of a chunk of the electorate is more valuable than having broad support. 

THE RULEBOOK: AIR SUPPLY 
“But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 10

TIME OUT: ALMOST HEAVEN… ON A BUN 
Happy National Hot Dog Day, dear readers. While we strenuously object to the proliferation of fake holidays, we will not pass up this excuse to tell America the truth about frankfurters. We know that from Coney Island to Chicago to Chavez Ravine there are many local favorites for what constitutes hot dog bliss. But we think it’s time to tell you the truth: West Virginia hot dogs are the best. To make the ideal West Virginia hot dog, start with not a jumbo beef frank, but a humble weenie with a little snap to its casing and a light spice in its filling. Cook it on a griddle and nestle it in a pillowy soft bun. Apply yellow mustard, raw white onion chopped finer than baby’s breath and then the sauce. It would be wrong to call it “chili” since it has no beans or even tomatoes. Truth be told, it is just finely ground hamburger cooked with ample chili spices – not too spicy, not too sweet. Now, for those of you who like sauerkraut on your hot dogs, make sure you’re sitting down when you read this: Top it all with a layer of cool, creamy, crunchy and sweet coleslaw. There are still a few joints serving these up the right way in West Virginia, but you can easily make them at home. To celebrate America’s third finest contribution to world cuisine, try one for yourself. 
 
Flag on the play? -
 Email us at
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

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.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: WORDS ARE HARD 

This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss President Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the firestorm that followed. Plus, Dana just can't find time to eat properly as Chris tries to solve a classic movie mystery. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE 

TRUMP REPORTEDLY WANTED RUSSIA CHARGES PRE-SUMMIT 
Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead to announce new Russian election-hacking indictments before his meeting with Vladimir Putin rather than after -- in the hopes it would strengthen his hand in the talks, according to accounts from people familiar with the decision. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to Trump last week and offered him the choice: before or after the Putin summit on Monday in Helsinki? Trump chose before, ultimately putting the issue into the spotlight just 72 hours before the high-stakes meeting, the people said. In the end, Trump faced a torrent of bipartisan criticism for suggesting he was leaning toward accepting the Russian president’s denial that his government was behind hacking during the 2016 presidential election, even though Trump had hoped the indictment of 12 Russians on charges of meddling would give him the upper hand, one of the people said.”

According to Trump Russia will ‘help’ with NoKo - Reuters: “President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that Russia would help with North Korea and offered an enthusiastic update on the U.S. process of negotiating with the antagonistic Asian nation over nuclear weapons. ‘Russia has agreed to help with North Korea, where relationships with us are very good and the process is moving along,’ said Trump on Twitter. ‘There is no rush, the sanctions remain! Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!’ At the same time the tweet was published the RIA news agency reported that a summit between the leaders of Russia and North Korea is ‘on the agenda.’”

Pompeo to testify before Senate on summit - The Hill: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week, where he's expected to face a grilling over the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump. Pompeo will publicly testify before the committee on July 25, a GOP aide confirmed to The Hill. His testimony will come a week after Trump sparked intense, bipartisan backlash in Washington when he appeared next to Putin at a joint press conference in Helsinki, Finland, and denied that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election.”

ROBY ROLLS TO VICTORY DESPITE PAST TRUMP CRITICISM 
Montgomery Advertiser: “Despite a five-candidate primary which forced her into a runoff, Rep. Martha Roby on Tuesday silenced critics with a decisive victory over former Rep. Bobby Bright for the Republican nomination in Alabama's 2nd congressional district. Roby won another shot at her fifth term Tuesday, bringing home 48,277 votes to Bright's 22,767. The Associated Press called the race less than two hours after polls closed. A seasoned politician whose first taste of campaigning came at age 26 in a Montgomery city council race, Roby approached the GOP primary and subsequent campaigning in a business-as-usual manner. But Roby has been fighting for her political life after weathering accusations of disloyalty, and she took the dais at her watch party with a tone of impassioned gratefulness and a clear exhale.”

Sánchez announces bid for Dem Caucus chair
 - Politico: “Rep. Joe Crowley has kept an uncharacteristically low profile since his shocking June primary loss as his colleagues have begun openly plotting to succeed him. Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), the No. 5 Democrat behind Crowley, brought that battle to the forefront Tuesday by officially announcing her bid for Democratic Caucus chair. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Sánchez’s opponent for vice-chair in 2016, has also said she’s strongly considering jumping in the race. …Sánchez’s announcement tees the caucus up for a months-long leadership race that likely won’t end until after Thanksgiving.”

Arizona Rep. rips his colleague McSally amid bitter primary - 
Arizona Republic:“Rep. Paul Gosar, a conservative Republican from northwestern Arizona, broke from traditional norms and endorsed former state legislator Kelli Ward for the U.S. Senate over his colleague Rep. Martha McSally. In a statement announcing the endorsement, Gosar questioned McSally’s conservative Republican credentials, a public broadside to the conservative image she has been peddling to primary voters as she seeks the GOP nomination for Arizona’s open Senate seat. ‘We cannot afford another establishment patsy who promises one thing and votes differently,’ Gosar’s statement said. ‘Arizona has suffered for years with a lackluster senate delegation that promised one thing during the election and did another back in D.C. — Kelli is not like that. Her opponent, Martha McSally, is. In my time working with Martha, I found her, though likable personally, to be very inconsistent politically.’”

House Republicans falling behind in midterm fundraising -
 Politico: “An unusually large number of House Republican incumbents were outraised by their Democratic opponents in the past three months, more stark evidence of GOP candidates' money woes, which continue to expand the number of seats susceptible to Democratic takeover. Democrats in 56 House districts surpassed Republican incumbents in second-quarter fundraising, according to a POLITICO analysis of the latest Federal Election Commission filings. Sixteen of those House Republicans finished the quarter with less cash in their campaign accounts than Democratic opponents, while no Democratic members lag their Republican challengers in cash. It’s a financial trend line that has gotten worse for Republican candidates over the past year, even as megadonors pour millions into the House GOP super PAC — a reflection of Democratic intensity that has coursed through the party’s donors and voters since President Donald Trump’s election.”

Cuomo donor gave enough times to drive down average donation amount -
WashTimes: “Always be a man of the people; especially if you can game the system to look like one. At least since Sen. Bernard Sanders turned it into a talking point that the average donation to his 2016 presidential campaign was $27, politicians have touted a small figure as proof they run a grassroots campaign and aren’t the product of a few big donors. According to a report Tuesday in The New York Times, the campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo took it to a new level, taking absurdly small amounts of money from people to make the average donation size smaller. Some of those donors were dedicated though. The Times reported that in the run-up to the reporting deadline, donor Christopher Kim contributed 69 times. But 67 of those donations were of $1 each.”

Dem's campaign manager quits after video shows candidate secretly backing gun ban - Fox News: “The campaign manager of a Democrat seeking a U.S. House seat in upstate New York quit the campaign Tuesday, after a video showed the candidate saying she wouldn't publicly endorse a ban on certain firearms -- for fear that she’d lose the election. Mike Szustak, who since April had run the campaign of candidate Tedra Cobb, told the Watertown Daily Times that he’s no longer part of Cobb's bid to unseat Republican incumbent Elise Stefanik in New York's 21st Congressional District. The departure follows revelations that Cobb won’t publicly state that she favors banning assault rifles. The video was first revealed by the Washington Free Beacon. Fox News also reported on the video.”

Trump spends the most on political FB ads -
 NYT: “It’s official: President Trump is the single biggest political advertiser on Facebook. Mr. Trump and his political action committee spent $274,000 on ads on the social network since early May, outpacing the second-biggest spender, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health care. Planned Parenthood spent just over $188,000 on Facebook ads over the same period. The ads bought by Mr. Trump and his PAC were also seen the most by Facebook’s users, having been viewed by at least 37 million people since May. That compared with 24 million people who saw the second-most viewed group of political ads, which were also from Planned Parenthood.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
House passes ice resolution - Roll Call

House looks to match Trump’s border wall request - WaPo

Calif. Supreme Court blocks proposal to split state in 3 
KABC

Hmmm… Kamala Harris announces memoir coming in 2019 - San Francisco Chronicle 

Senate Dems call for delay on Trump’s CFPB nominee hearing - The Hill

Trudeau in trouble? Bloomberg

Alaska Democratic congressional candidate doesn't live in state or plan to campaign there - Fox News 

AUDIBLE: SNAP OUT OF IT 
“These guys need to wake up and take a look in the mirror and decide — do they want to be reelected?” – Chris LaCivita, a Republican consultant, talking about House Republicans who have been outraised by Democrats. 

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris, Any update on the prospects of the Missouri Senate race? I know it’s still #primaryseason, but let’s assume it’s Hawley v McCaskill – do you think the result will reflect Trump’s huge win or Sen. Blunt’s 3% squeaker in 2016?” – Jack Whiteman, St. Louis

[Ed. note: Mr. Whiteman you are reading my mind! Missouri is sitting right at the top of my inbox for the next Senate race rating update. I think this one is getting ready to ripen and I promise we will be doing a deeper dive on the subject very soon.]

“My husband and I had about convinced ourselves to support Trump in 2020, even though his behavior is disgusting at times, but seeing the look on his face during that presser was a tell.  I don't know what he is hiding, but this seems to be deal ender.  How many times can he escape to live another day.” – Karen Morrow, Tampa, Fla.

[Ed. note: I would only caution you, Ms. Morrow, to not put yourselves in a box. Had the Democratic nominee in 2020 been, say, Tim Kaine or some other moderate-sounding, ethical person with the requisite experience there are millions of Republicans who might not have voted for Trump. Some would have voted for the Dem, but many others would have felt better about the idea of a protest candidate. The peril that Clinton represented in the eyes of many conservatives was real, and her own ethical quagmires were rank enough to deny the Blue Team the opportunity to really hit Trump where it hurts. Joe Biden likes to say, “Don’t judge me by the Almighty. Judge me by the alternative.” And for all of the remarkable and unsettling things about the 2016 election, one part remains inescapable: Democrats chose their worst nominee in a couple of generations. I’m quite certain that Trump stands a very good chance at getting re-elected despite this most recent meltdown. This is, after all, the same guy who equivocated over the murder of a protestor by a white nationalist and still can claim the support of about four in 10 voters. One of the main reasons Trump stands such a good chance at re-election is that Democrats right now do not look like a party inclined toward moderate outreach toward persuadable voters. It’s doubtful Trump could get as lucky as he was in 2016 with a candidate like Clinton, but never say never.]

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

SMELLS LIKE SCHNITZEL 
London Telegraph: “Staff handed out free deodorants to passengers on Vienna’s notoriously stuffy U6 [subway] line this week, and it appears the initiative was popular: the entire stock of 14,000 deodorant sprays was grabbed in a single day, and plans for a second distribution have had to be shelved. The deodorants were ‘torn out of our hands,’ Daniel Amman, a spokesman for the Wiener Linien public transport company said. But he insisted Viennese commuters were no smellier than those anywhere else. ‘This was primarily intended as a consolation,’ he said. ‘High temperatures can also make one more aware of odours.’ Temperatures of [95 degrees] have been recorded on Vienna’s U6 … well beyond the EU limit of [86 degrees] for transporting cattle.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Long a staple of academia, the totalitarian impulse is spreading. What to do? Defend the dissenters, even if — perhaps, especially if — you disagree with their policy. It is — it was? — the American way.” – Charles Krauthammer writing in the Washington Post, April 10, 2014.  

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.