GOP buries the good news in Pennsylvania race

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

On the roster: GOP buries the good news in Pennsylvania race - Widening Gyre Alert: Trump dumps T-Rex via tweet - Trump assistant ousted over security, gets campaign gig - Congress shies from tariff fight with Trump - Eye on the prize

Republicans keep telling us that we shouldn’t focus on the noise, but rather the substantive accomplishments of this administration and this Congress. 

But taking a look at the special election in Pennsylvania today, one gets a pretty strong sense that they’re just blowing smoke. 

We are going to find out a great deal from today’s vote in Western Pennsylvania. This is a tremendously useful core sample of key voting blocs for November. You have an enthusiasm test for core MAGA nation in places like Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties. But you also have a strongly indicative sample of traditional Republicans in the affluent, educated suburbs of Pittsburgh.

If one district represents the challenge for the parties in the era of Trump, this is it. Can Democrats score with the suburbanites? Can Republicans keep their new nationalistic populists without aliening their traditional base of affluent voters?

While the parties are focused on the race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone for bragging rights, fundraising and narrative shaping, analysts and civilians alike will find interest and value in today’s results, no matter who wins.

Something else we are learning, though, is how the respective national parties are approaching midterms. And somewhat surprisingly, given the Republican’s legislative and policies successes from late last year and early this year, voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th District have heard relatively little about them. 

There is no disputing that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues to be an MVP for House Republicans, but it is still remarkable to see a party that has held both houses of Congress for more than three years still talking like it’s 2010. 

Part of this is owed to the fact that Saccone, as Republicans have quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – said is a seriously subpar candidate. When life gives you lemons you make negative ads with them… 

Saccone has not been bearing up under the pressure. Campaigning with the president’s eldest son Monday night, Saccone said Democrats hate America and God. Not a good look under any circumstances, but hardly the kind of closing argument that we were told to expect from Republican candidates this year. 

The conventional wisdom in Washington was that the key to midterm survival for Republicans is to focus on the booming national economy and the role of the GOP in making it that way. We know that we’re going to get plenty of Pelosi poking, but we have been told over and over again that this midterm is about the economy. 

Instead, in Western Pennsylvania we have heard from Saccone, Donald Trump, Junior and Senior and others that this election is about good old American carnage®. 

As we watch the president cast off the constraints of his many, many establishment Republican handlers and pivot back to the man we knew as a candidate, we now have the race to match. 

Saccone is probably still more likely than not to win given not just the polling but the proclivities of the district, but the panic among Republicans has been unmistakable. While Democrats will look lamer than usual in claiming a “moral victory” if they come up short again this time, the dark and brooding motifs of this campaign are a sure sign of trouble ahead for Republicans. 

Western Pennsylvania happens to be one of the nicest places to live in the whole wide world. Just now, the rhododendrons are preparing to unleash a riot of shocking pink to announce the arrival of spring. They will be joined in their chorus with the daffodils and then the red bud and then, in the final triumph over winter, the dogwood will reign victorious. 

The economy has not been better in a long time. Pittsburgh is one of the most livable cities in America and is a destination for young people, innovators and those who know the value of both a good pierogi and fresh arugula. These are strong, healthy communities and the envy of a nation that is, in its largest cities, increasingly dislocated and alienated. 

So imagine what people who live in this lesser Eden think when they hear how bad everything is. Yes, Western Pennsylvania has its share of troubles, but we doubt that most of the folks there would trade them for any place else, including the shimmering high rises of Manhattan.

And herein we have the challenge for Republicans: How do you tell people in the same breath that your policies are working, but that America is teetering on the brink of failure? If peace and prosperity aren’t good enough to run on, what would be? 

Democrats, meanwhile, have learned their lessons from special election defeats in districts like this in the Trump era. 

Lamb has sounded much like new Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam or new Alabama Sen. Doug Jones. Lamb has not hesitated to agree with Trump on policies he and other Democrats support, like tariffs. He has expressed his enthusiasm for God, family and country in an un-self-conscious way. He has said that will not support Pelosi.

What he and his party have come to understand is that the burning furnace of anger toward Trump will not be doused by some moderation in Democratic candidates. Despite the deep divisions on the Democratic side, signs so far are that the Blue Team is willing to keep it together for the sake of a win. 

Make no mistake, 2020 promises to be a hellscape of recriminations, personal attacks and ideological lurches for Democrats, but for now they seem willing to do the politically unthinkable and running on a platform of addition rather than division. 

Few candidates will have the same kind of, ahem, chops that Lamb does, but if this race is reflective of the messages from the two parties going into November, Republicans have trouble on their hands regardless of who wins a soon-to-be eliminated congressional district out where the mountain laurel grows. 

“There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 10

Paris Review: “With its origins in the aftermath of World War II, belief in extraterrestrial visitations has grown into one of the most widespread and persistent of modern mysteries. … In the UK some believe the Ministry of Defense (MoD) operate a ‘secret army against the aliens’ and employ special agents … to silence witnesses and remove hard evidence of UFO visitations. But in 2007, after decades of stonewalling questions about its UFO investigations, the MoD announced that it had decided to proactively release all its surviving files. This was, it said, to counter ‘the maze of rumor and frequently ill-informed speculation’ that surrounded their role in this subject. In recognition of the fact that there was public interest in the content of their archives, thousands of pages of formerly secret documents were scanned and uploaded to the Internet. Only a small amount of information was ‘redacted’ to remove names and addresses of people who had reported sightings…”

Flag on the play? - Email us at
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
39.8 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.4 percent 
Net Score: 
-14.6 points
Change from one week ago: up 3.2 points 
[Average includes: CBS News: 38% approve - 57% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; Marist College: 44% approve - 49% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; Monmouth University: 40% approve - 54% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 37.6 percent
Democratic average: 49 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 11.4 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 0.2 points 
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems - 38% GOP; Monmouth University: 50% Dems - 41% GOP; USA Today/Suffolk: 47% Dems - 32% GOP; CNN: 54% Dems - 38% GOP; Marist College: 46% Dems - 39% GOP.]

Fox News: “Rex Tillerson, the oil executive who served as President Trump's secretary of state until he was fired Tuesday, said In a farewell at the State Department headquarters, the former Exxon chief whose first foray into politics saw him frequently left in the dark by his boss recounted successes in Syria, Afghanistan and other locations, and thanked his diplomatic corps. He made no mention of President Trump. ‘I’ll now return to private life as a private citizen and a proud American,’ said Tillerson, who will stay on until March 31. President Trump on Tuesday unceremoniously fired Tillerson replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The president announced his ousting of Tillerson on Twitter. Tillerson was unaware of the reason for being fired when Trump went public with the news, a State Department spokesman said. … Speaking to reporters before leaving for California, Trump acknowledged he and Tillerson have had disagreements. The president said he and Pompeo have a ‘similar thought process.’”

All eyes on Mattis after key ally’s ouster - Time: “With the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis lost his closest ally in the tumultuous Trump Administration. A retired four-star Marine Corps general, Mattis consulted with Tillerson on a daily basis to resolve foreign policy dilemmas spanning from strife on the Korean Peninsula to the formulation of a new Afghanistan strategy. When Mattis unveiled the U.S. National Defense Strategy earlier this year, he stressed this importance of working with Tillerson to tackle issues and dealing with the White House. ‘It starts with me having breakfast every week with Secretary of State Tillerson,’ Mattis said during the Jan. 19 speech. … Mattis, who’s currently in Afghanistan on travel, has consistently deferred to State and Tillerson on anything to do with North Korea. He did that again this weekend when he told reporters traveling with him that he plans to not discuss North Korea’s willingness for diplomatic talks and possibly abandon their nuclear program.”

Jim Geraghty: ‘Who Would Want to Be Secretary of State?’ - National Review: “I’ll ask a question no one else seems to be asking: If you’re Mike Pompeo, why would you want to be secretary of state? You already have a good working relationship with the president. Pompeo reportedly attends the president’s daily intelligence briefing in person almost every day. If you’re the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, any president is almost always eager to see you; you’ve got news and it’s usually something important. You’re the one with the most information and the best answers; you’re in the White House all the time. You’re trusted and valued. We’ve seen that Trump will decide to have a summit with North Korea and not consult his secretary of state before announcing it. If you’re secretary of state, you’re usually either in Foggy Bottom or overseas. At any given moment, this president can jump on Twitter and announce to the world that you’re wasting your time.”

NYT: “John McEntee, who has served as President Trump’s personal assistant since Mr. Trump won the presidency, was forced out of his position and escorted from the White House on Monday after his security clearance was revoked, officials with knowledge of the incident said. But Mr. McEntee will remain in the president’s orbit despite his abrupt departure from the White House. Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign announced Tuesday that Mr. McEntee has been named Senior Adviser for Campaign Operations, putting him in a position to remain as a close aide during the next several years.”

Politico: “Republicans have been freaking out about President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs all month. But don’t expect them to do anything about it just yet. GOP leaders are shying away from a direct confrontation with Trump over trade, and signaled Monday that they won’t try to pass legislation to override a president of their own party. They are instead hoping they can get the president to water down the tariffs as much as they can. Ultimately, they’re loath to risk a brutal showdown, even over an issue that’s provoked more GOP outrage toward Trump than any other one of his policies or controversies. So even though several senators are introducing proposals to stop Trump’s 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum, key Republicans are in no mood for a high-profile fight with Trump. …Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has so far expressed no interest in taking Trump on via legislation, according to senators and aides.”

Ahead of spending deadline, Dems aren’t pushing for a fight - WaPo: “Now, with Congress less than two weeks from a funding deadline, Democrats are showing little willingness to corner Republicans on those issues. Their lack of appetite to provoke another showdown represents a shift after two previous fights resulted in brief government shutdowns and risks alienating the party’s liberal base crucial in midterm elections. But several events have sapped the party’s resolve. Moderate Democrats flinched after a three-day January shutdown fought over immigration; court decisions have left Trump’s cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in legal limbo; and many Democrats are quietly eager to pass the next spending bill and lock in more money for key agencies. … Congressional leaders are now hashing out a $1.3 trillion ‘omnibus’ spending package ahead of a March 23 deadline. … party leaders are brushing off suggestions of a fresh showdown.”

Trump to visit California to examine border wall prototype AP

House Intelligence winds down Russia meddling probe - Fox News

Trump blocks Broadcom’s $117B bid for Qualcomm
 - Fox Business

House expected to vote on right-to-try pharmaceutical bill Tuesday - Politico

“We are gonna blow him up and take him down… I’m gonna pound him, we’re gonna beat him. And I’m excited to do it.” – Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner discussing his run against Democrat J.B. Pritker.

“Some of us don't have the mental strength or desire to worry on a daily basis about things we don't have much control over. I applaud those who do. … BTW, do they still teach Orwell and Huxley in school? Doesn't seem like it.” – Mike Moreno, Pleasanton, Calif.

[Ed. note: I think it depends on the school, but the room for authors in the canon gets less and less, especially for dudes from a century ago. I am fortunate, because my kids go to a wonderful school that teaches the real blood and guts of Western civilization. I know if they are talking about Augustine of Hippo and Antonio Vivaldi in the fourth grade, these kids have a fighting chance. It is certainly a conservative school, but not in a political sense. It conserves and cherishes those things that have been proven good and useful these past 10,000 years. We cannot know how to process the present or prepare for the future if we are ignorant of the past. One of our greatest faults as a species is to imagine that we are brand new in our thinking and our desires. As a man said in a different context, “though much is taken, much abides.”]

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

UPI: “A California animal shelter shared video of a hapless ‘gumball bandit’ who ran into several snags while trying to steal the shelter's gumball machine. The City of Sacramento's Front Street Animal Shelter posted a video to Facebook showing a man crawling into the facility through a small window he broke at the bottom of a door and attempting to stuff the large gumball machine through the same hole. The man ends up breaking the glass surrounding the gumball compartment and spilling candy all over the floor… The ‘gumball bandit’ ultimately goes out into the shelter's yard and throws the machine over a barbed-wire fence. The shelter noted the man went through a lot of trouble to steal the machine, ostensibly for its load of quarters, while failing to notice a box of cash donations on the counter a few feet away.”

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.