The GOP's Pollyanna problem

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On the roster: The GOP’s Pollyanna problem - Time Out: As president, he took a hard line against pork - Dems look to make gerrymandering a midterm issue - A national treasure?

THE GOP’S POLLYANNA PROBLEM
As Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman recently pointed out, more than one out of every six Republican-controlled House districts doesn’t have an incumbent running this year.

Having 43 incumbents not running is not just high, it’s historic – a record for at least the past century.

We mention this just now because it is only belatedly dawning on some Republicans how dire the party’s chances in 2018 are looking – and how Americans living in climate-controlled information bubbles is changing our politics.

It should be no surprise that Republicans are in for a tough year. The party has trailed in national polls all along, sometimes by huge margins. No modern president other than George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11 has seen his party gain seats in a first midterm. The current Republican president is broadly unpopular. Democratic voters have shown in polls and in special elections far greater voter intensity than the GOP. All of the necessary elements are there.

But still there are voices from President Trump on down in the GOP who are dismissive of the idea that Democrats are poised to do well. The president sometimes even talks about a “red wave,” something contrary to every available data point.

Even if you don’t believe that polls are useful, even if you discount historical precedent, even if you consider special election results to be irrelevant, there’s still no evidence that Republicans are heading for a happy November. Maybe it will be worse than expected, maybe it will be better, but it’s still not good. 

All those vacancies alone should be evidence that the folks closest to the voters understand what’s brewing up out there.

We’ve talked here before how it’s important for parties to keep their members optimistic even when the dark clouds are on the horizon. The way waves become tsunamis is when the party in power basically gives up. When dispiritedness takes hold it intensifies the damage as peripheral supporters tune out.

But there’s another danger in a tough year: Playing Pollyanna.

If Republicans aren’t aware of just how tough this fall will be, a few things are likely to happen that could make things much worse for the Red Team.

First, consider the prospects of a potential government shutdown next month. A party that was being honest with itself about a tough year wouldn’t likely even play with such a possibility. But if you’re waiting for the “red wave,” maybe a politically damaging gambit like that one seems plausible.

Second, donors, volunteers and committees have a harder time making strategic decisions. If you’re a Republican seriously thinking about the possibility of House gains this fall, how could you start the painful work of triage? Resources are finite and failing to see the world as it is prevents you from allocating them rightly.

Third, while defeatism is dire for voter turnout, so too can overconfidence. How many Democrats woke up after Election Day 2016 seasick in the knowledge that they spurned the voting booth because they believed that their flawed candidate was a shoo-in? They might not have been willing to add to a landslide, but they would have shown up in a close race. In a year when incumbency is in bad odor, Republicans will need lots of their folks to hold their noses and vote.

It’s fine to say “the only poll that matters is on Election Day” and all that jazz, but overconfidence can be just as deadly as defeatism. 

THE RULEBOOK: GOOD QUESTION
“With what color of propriety could the force necessary for defense be limited by those who cannot limit the force of offense?” – James MadisonFederalist No. 41

TIME OUT: AS PRESIDENT, HE TOOK A HARD LINE AGAINST PORK
Today marks the birthday of America’s 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison – a Republican one termer whose time in office was bookended by the split terms Democrat Grover Cleveland. UVA’s Miller Center: “Although stiff and formal with acquaintances, Benjamin Harrison opened up with his family. During his one term as President, he spent as little time as possible in the office, usually working only until noon. He loved to play with his grandchildren, many of whom had moved into the White House with their parents... The children were allowed to keep as many pets on the grounds as they wanted, including a goat whom they named Old Whiskers. One memorable story told of Harrison chasing the goat down Pennsylvania Avenue with his three grandchildren in tow and top hat in hand while waving his cane. Harrison also tried to escape Washington as often as possible, frequently going on hunting trips in secret. One trip made the national press when he shot a farmer's pig by mistake.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 41.6 percent
Average disapproval: 52.6 percent
Net Score: -11 points
Change from one week ago: up 1.6 points
[Average includes: Monmouth University: 43% approve - 50% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; CNN: 44% approve - 53% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; IBD: 41% approve - 50% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average:
 41.4 percent
Democratic average: 48.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.8 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up 0.2 points
[Average includes: CNN: 52% Dems - 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 51% Dems - 42% GOP; Pew Research Center: 46% Dems - 39% GOP; IBD: 45% Dems - 45% GOP; NPR/PBS/Marist: 47% Dems - 40% GOP.]

DEMS LOOK TO MAKE GERRYMANDERING A MIDTERM ISSUE

WaPo: “Michigan Republicans in 2011 had a clear mission: to ensure GOP majorities by drawing partisan election maps. Emails recently discovered in a lawsuit brought in part by a group of Democratic voters, which alleges the maps Republicans drew were unconstitutional, revealed startling details of their attempts to minimize Democratic power in the purple state. … The gambit appears to have worked: Republicans today maintain a tight grasp on virtually all levers of power in the state. Though President Trump carried the Wolverine State by only 0.2 percent in 2016, Michigan Republicans enjoy a 9-to-5 advantage in Congress and a 63-to-47 advantage in the state House. Throughout American history, both parties have routinely used reapportionment to consolidate their power. Republicans made major gains in the tea party wave of 2010 because of backlash to Barack Obama’s first two years in office, which put them in the driver’s seat to draw the maps for the rest of the decade across several swing states. That’s helped the GOP to maintain a solid House majority and control two-thirds of the nation’s state legislative chambers.”

GOP gets personal in Dem oppo attacks -
 Politico: “Dramatized police dispatch calls of a DUI arrest. Allegations of sexual harassment. Court filings reviewing ‘failed’ business investments. Those are attacks leveled against Democratic congressional candidates in a new Republican ad campaign in recent days — part of a growing effort to personalize the midterm elections and disqualify individual Democratic hopefuls early in a bid to save the Republican House majority. National trends are driving the general direction of the 2018 midterms, fueled by strong feelings about health care, taxes, President Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But with so many first-time candidates running on the Democratic side — without the baggage of legislative voting records or controversial positions adopted over a long public career — and the political environment tilting toward them, GOP efforts to keep them out of the House may hinge on specific personal critiques, vetting them publicly for the first time. That’s how Congressional Leadership Fund, the Republican super PAC, is starting its campaign against Democrat Sean Casten in Illinois, blasting him for ‘mismanagement, fraud, greed’ at his company in a TV ad released Wednesday.”

Alaska primary previews unpredictable general election contest - Fox News: “Alaskans are set to see a three-way race for governor in November. But first, Republicans will have to decide on their candidate in the Aug. 21 primary. Incumbent Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, is running for re-election. And Democrat Mark Begich is unopposed in his primary. Fox News has ranked the general gubernatorial election a tossup. Former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy and former Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell have emerged as the leading Republican candidates for governor. Also running are: Darin ColbryThomas GordonGerald HeikesMerica Hlatcu and Michael Sheldon.”

Will Tuesday’s Wyoming primary repeat history? - AP: “There's plenty of room for surprises Tuesday when Wyoming voters choose from a crowded field of gubernatorial candidates... The last time so many competitive candidates were on the ballot was in 2010, and that outcome shows just how hard-to-predict — yet critically important — primaries are in this deep-red state. That year, former U.S. attorney for Wyoming Matt Mead won the Republican primary with 28.6 percent of the vote, less than a point ahead of State Auditor Rita Meyer's 27.9 percent. Former state legislator Ron Micheli nuzzled in third with 26.3 percent. Mead dominated that year's general election and easily won re-election in 2014. So in no small sense the fate of Wyoming's executive branch over the past two terms came down to a very close, three-way primary finish. With at least four highly competitive Republicans running this year, a repeat of 2010 may be in the works.”

Cramer warming to the task in North Dakota -
 Politico: “Major GOP groups have written him off. His Democratic opponent has more than twice as much cash in the bank, was interviewed for a job in the Trump administration, and has paid more than a half-dozen visits to the White House. But Rep. Kevin Cramer just might get elected to the Senate, anyway. Despite the poor electoral environment for conservatives, the political talents of incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Cramer’s own flaws, top Republicans routinely rank him as one of their best prospects to seize a Democratic-held Senate seat in 2018. And the reason is simple: North Dakota remains Trump country, and Cramer’s unflinching support for the president might be a more popular play with voters than Heitkamp’s vow to rein him in when she feels she has to.Though Cramer entered the race only after cajoling from President Donald Trump, the 57-year-old career politician is now plainly relishing the fight against Heitkamp. The first-term Democrat won her Senate race in 2012 by less than 1 percentage point on the strength of her retail campaign skills, independent streak and plain spokenness.”

Ward defends bus tour with ‘Pizzagate’ figure - The Hill: “Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward (R) is defending her upcoming bus tour with, among others, far-right activist Mike Cernovich, a well-known provocateur associated with the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory. When MSNBC host Kasie Hunt pressed Ward over Cernovich's controversial views on Sunday night, the Senate hopeful said she doesn't know much about them. ‘I don't really know what Mike Cernovich's views are,’ Ward said. ‘I know he's got an audience and we want to serve everyone.’ ‘I want to serve Republicans, I want to serve conservatives, I want to serve independents, I want to serve people who aren’t political at all and I want to serve those Democrats who are rejecting the radical left,’ she continued. Cernovich spent months peddling the debunked ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory…”

Scott seeks Latino voters with Spanish-language ads - WaPo: “Florida Gov. Rick Scott steals time every day as he campaigns for the Senate to practice a skill his old friend President Trump once dismissed as a bad Republican habit — speaking in Spanish. ‘Mi práctica en español todos los días es muy importante para mi,’ he said proudly in early August, as he took a few minutes to talk in the backroom of Casa Cuba, a club for anti-Castro expatriates, where he had just delivered a bilingual statement on Latin American policy. Back in 2015, Trump frowned upon this sort of politicking, telling voters that ‘this is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.’ … But Trump has not objected this year as Republicans like Scott in tight races with large Latino voting blocks carefully try to distance themselves from his nativist rhetoric and polarizing tactics. Unlike Trump’s 2016 electoral college map, which depended heavily on working-class whites in the Midwest, the midterm elections will run through many parts of the country where Hispanics make up double-digit shares of the voting electorate.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Poll: Voters lack confidence in White House staff - Monmouth University

Full memo Kavanaugh wrote to attorneys about questioning Clinton is released - WaPo

Chelsea Clinton
‘definitely maybe’ considering own political career - The Hill

As Trump continues war with Mueller, earlier cooperation poses new dangers - NYT

Senate turns to spending packages -
 Roll Call

AUDIBLE: ‘THERE YOU HAVE IT’   
“We realize that [Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera] is an unusual candidate. Last year, she told the Miami Herald — and several Spanish-language media outlets — that she believes in extra-terrestrials. She says when she was 7, she was taken aboard a spaceship and, throughout her life, she has communicated telepathically with the beings, which remind her of the concrete Christ in Brazil. There you have it.” – The Miami Herald Editorial Board endorsing Rodriguez Aguilera, a Republican candidate running for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in Florida.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris, I listen to the podcast and receive the Halftime Report.  I even enjoy the Microwave Corn method of cooking (I truly do).  I was listening to the podcast and I have to admit I didn’t like the broad brush you paint people who support Manafort against the charges brought by Special Counsel Mueller.   I do believe the Obama Administration and the Clinton campaign weaponized the CIA, FBI and DOJ.  I believe the Special Counsel’s investigation is continuing this weaponizing. No crime has occurred just speculation that one might have occurred.  You aren’t supposed to investigate until you find something. More specifically, Manafort was investigated for this matter by Rod Rosenstein in 2008 (per Judge Napolitano). The only reason Mueller reinvestigated him was that he worked three months Trump.  That would be like you being investigated because Dana married a foreigner and didn’t pay her taxes on Jaspers’ Books!  LOL.  You shouldn’t lose your home, your children’s college fund because someone else’s problems. There are some of us who view this so called weaponization of the law could be a horrible precedent for the country. Why would anyone volunteer for a campaign to only be bankrupted because someone in the Justice Department doesn’t like the winner? Very Dangerous!  I hope for some Jury Nullification to shut this crimeless investigation down.” – Patrick Burchins, Atlanta

[Ed. note: It’s obvious at the very least that we should have taken some time to talk about what Manafort has been indicted for doing. And I can understand the confusion given the way the various investigations and prosecutions have tended to get lumped together, none of the charges against Manafort relate directly to his work with the Trump campaign or the 2016 election. He is charged with tax evasion, money laundering and other related charges for allegedly taking big paydays from foreign entities to influence American politics and policy and then hiding the money – tens of millions of dollars. The charges are real, and they’re quite serious. And while it might be true that Manafort’s high profile earned him extra scrutiny after 2016, at least one of the active investigations pre-dates the 2016 campaign. I think it extremely unlikely that Manafort would have avoided prosecution entirely even if he had kept up his old, low-profile K Street hustle and not gone to work for the Trump campaign. Mueller may be looking to flip Manafort or get leverage on others in his probe by pushing this prosecution, but that’s different than there not being any crime to prosecute. I am saddened by the idea that so many Americans like you hold our federal law enforcement and intelligence organizations in such contempt. If we are already at a point where a sizable chunk of Americans no longer believe that justice can be fairly applied to people in politics, we are approaching a place where the law applies only to those outside of power. If jurors think that Manafort cheated, lied and stole, wanting to see them let him go free to punish the Justice Department would seem to me as partisanship run amok. We watched this movie play out 20 years ago when it was the Clintons against the Justice Department. Not only did that debacle help pave the way for our current crisis, but also helped to diminish confidence in institutions. The men and women of the law enforcement and intelligence communities certainly have room for improvement, but I have been consistently impressed by their dedication to duty and sense of responsibilityThe Clintons managed to convince a sizable number of Americans that it was okay for the president to lie under oath in order to save his political neck and that a president needn’t resign even if he was found to be having sex with a junior staff member in the Oval Office. What will we have lost by the time this current scandal has run its course? I certainly appreciate your readership and listenership, but I would very respectfully suggest that you consider the possibility of some other threats to the rule of law beyond the ones you described.]   

“What scares me the most is that if the Democrats regain control of the House, all of the Hillary scandals, the use of government agencies as political weapons and all the other shenanigans (that I associate mainly with crooked Dems) will be swept under the rug and the light of day will never shine on these things. Particularly, when your ‘beloved media brothers’ are complicit in aiding the cover-ups. What a total mess ‘your’ media has enabled. Where has respect for integrity gone?” – Fenton M. Sanger, Oklahoma City

[Ed. note: I had no idea that Halftime Report was so powerful! If this is “our” media, some changes can be expected forthwith. First, we hereby ban the use of the phrase “the white stuff” by meteorologists to refer to snow, the creeping use of Oxford commas and the laughable “asked not to be identified so he/she could speak freely” business. We will report back with our complete list!] 

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A NATIONAL TREASURE?

The Roanoke Times: “Some snarky citizen is trying to make a point about picking up your dog poo along the Roanoke River Greenway. …for the last few weeks some clandestine operator has been inserting small signs bearing photocopied images of [Nicolas Cage] into uncollected piles of poop. James Settle, secretary of the Wasena Neighborhood Forum, began spotting the signs about three weeks ago on the stretch between the Wasena Bridge and the first low-water bridge, just behind the River House apartments. ‘I have no idea why it’s Nicolas Cage,’ Settle said. But he appreciates the message. … City officials appreciate an anonymous citizen taking up a cause they take seriously, though not necessarily the somewhat avant -garde method. ‘We would prefer that they just reach out to us and let us take care of maintenance like that,’ said Roanoke Parks and Recreation Director Michael Clark. ‘It is comical, but it starts to get on a slippery slope.’ A ‘guerilla campaign’ is cool, but making a point about one kind of litter with another kind of litter seems self-defeating, he said.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“For years, I’ve had to put up with amused puzzlement at my taste in entertainment. (Old joke: How do you do the wave at a chess match? With your eyebrows.) But I remain undaunted.” – Charles Krauthammer writing in the Washington Post, Aug. 11, 2016.
 
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.