GOP specializes in self-sabotage

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

On the roster: GOP specializes in self-sabotage - Trump visits Vegas to console, shuns politics - T-Rex: Trump not a moron - Trump backs forgiveness of massive Puerto Rico debt - And if that doesn’t work, ‘Googleonia’

It takes a particular kind of person to respond to a series of successes, including a historic upset against a prodigious foe, by assuming crushing failure comes next.

It takes a Republican.

Nick Ayers, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, was briefing big-money Republican donors at a posh hotel near the White House Tuesday about how and where they should direct their resources for 2018.

He did not know that he was being recorded or that the recording would make its way into the hands of reporters from Politico. But then again, what could be a more appropriate source for a story about Republican self-sabotage and backstabbing than an act of the very same kind?

Much of what Ayers said can be written off as the usual bunkum that political operatives tell donors to keep them scared. Ayers offered dire projections for 2018 – “on track to get shellacked” and “a gigantic loss” – unless, of course, the donations came in.

But donors know this routine. About the only time you can get an operator like Ayers to speak optimistically to donors is if he’s raising money for a candidate 10-points back in the polls. But even in the inverted world of political operatives’ prognostications, something Ayers said stood out. It was about how the big donors should make their big donations.

“Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind [President Trump]?” Ayers wondered. “If – and this sounds crass – we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him.” 

Ayers suggested the purge should be targeted at Republicans in the House and Senate who vote against the bills the president, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, supports. 

He told the donors to warn these members that not only would failure to support the president’s preferred initiatives mean they would cut off their donations, but they would work to fund primary challenges through super-PACs to defeat them.

A little context here is useful. 

Ayers’ boss, a former longtime member of Congress, has been substantially tasked with the duty of enacting the Trump agenda. Pence and Ayers, in fact, had a great deal to say in what the Trump agenda was going to be.

Remember that Trump has complained frequently about the proposals and strategies Pence has been working furiously to sell. The most famous debate was whether to do taxes first and “let ObamaCare implode” or do health insurance first for the fiscal savings.

Now that the failure on health insurance changes has made tax cuts harder rather than easier, Trump has good reason to doubt the political acumen of Team Pence. So too do leaders on the Hill have reason to doubt Pence and Ayers’ ability to keep the White House on track, and that was even before Ayers got caught on tape.

Believe us when we say that members of Congress will not be happy to hear of the White House using the Republican National Committee to call for defeating, you know, Republicans.  

Consider also that Ayers’ call for a purge comes as former senior White House Adviser Steve Bannon is already leading one from outside. This is starting to look like a circular firing squad within a circular firing squad.

Ayers is certainly right that Republicans will have a much tougher time if they go into 2018 without concrete accomplishments to show for it.

But what may matter most here are the assumptions many Republicans are working under to which Ayers gave voice: “Because, look, if we’re going to be in the minority again, we might as well have a minority who are with us as opposed to the minority who helped us become a minority.”

Step back and take that one in for a minute. 

The Republican Party is in a position of greater power at the state and federal levels than any time since the 1920s, and here is a senior figure in a GOP administration talking about the merits of purification through defeat. It would sound crazy if they weren’t Republicans.

A fair rap on Republicans these days is that they don’t know how to govern. But it may be simpler than that. It may be for the party like it is for some miserable people: They just can’t stand success. 

“It may perhaps be replied to this, that whether the States are united or disunited, there would still be an intimate intercourse between them which would answer the same ends… A unity of commercial, as well as political, interests, can only result from a unity of government.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 11

USA Today: “Sixty years ago today, the space race began with the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik — the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. The launch ushered in a wave of new political, military, technological and scientific advancements. ‘While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R space race,’ NASA said. The satellite's four antennas sent back beeps heard on radios around the world. Cruising 500 miles above the globe at 18,000 mph, it completed an orbit every 96 minutes. Though the actual object was just a 184-pound metal sphere with spikes, roughly the size of a beach ball, the idea that the Soviets had beaten the Americans to space was a shock to the world. ‘Sputnik was the 9/11 of the day,’ noted former astronaut Mike Mullane on the 50th anniversary of the launch.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at
comments or questions.

Trump net job-approval rating: -17 points
Change from one week ago: down 3.8 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]


AP: “President Donald Trump met privately with victims of the Las Vegas shooting at a hospital Wednesday after he touched down in a city still reeling from the worst gun massacre in modern U.S. history. Air Force One landed at the airport near the famed Las Vegas strip on a bright, sunny morning just days after a gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel and casino opened fire on people at an outdoor country music festival below. … ‘It’s a very sad thing. We are going to pay our respects and to see the police who have done really a fantastic job in a very short time,’ Trump told reporters before departing the White House. … Trump’s first stop was the University Medical Center, where he was speaking privately with victims of the Sunday night shooting rampage, their families, and medical professionals. On his trip from the airport, the president’s motorcade drove past the Mandalay Bay hotel where the gunman fired down into the concert crowd.”

McConnell in no rush to take up gun laws - Politico: “Mitch McConnell did not want to discuss gun control on Tuesday. The Senate majority leader shut down all talk of legislative remedies to gun violence after a man killed 58 people in Las Vegas on Sunday night and injured hundreds more, mirroring the Tuesday morning remarks by his GOP counterpart in the House, Speaker Paul Ryan. McConnell declared this is simply not the time to be talking about legislation targeting firearms. Asked if he could support a bill banning the conversion of semi-automatic guns to automatic guns being written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), McConnell responded: ‘The investigation has not even been completed. I think it's premature to be discussing legislative solutions, if there are any.’ The GOP leader similarly parried when pressed on why Democratic efforts have failed to resonate with voters.”

Leah Libresco: ‘I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.’ - 
WaPo: “We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence. The best ideas left standing were narrowly tailored interventions to protect subtypes of potential victims, not broad attempts to limit the lethality of guns. … As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference. Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them.”

Fox News: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson blasted an NBC News report detailing his supposed rift with President Trump, affirming his ‘commitment’ to the administration and denying that he ever considered resigning. The NBC News report had said Tillerson considered resigning over the summer amid disagreements with the White House. ‘There’s never been a consideration in my mind,’ Tillerson told reporters, in a previously unscheduled statement. The report had said Tillerson even called Trump a ‘moron’ this summer after a meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials. … Tillerson said Wednesday he would not address ‘petty’ stuff like that, but said of the president, ‘He’s smart.’ Trump, en route to Las Vegas to meet with survivors of Sunday’s mass shoot, also hit back Wednesday at the report. ‘NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!’ Trump tweeted.”

Mattis goes against the boss on Iran deal - 
Fox News: “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified Tuesday that the United States should remain in the Iran nuclear deal, as President Trump weighs whether to renew the controversial agreement ahead of an Oct. 15 deadline. … But Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford both indicated support for the agreement during a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mattis was pressed by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, on whether he thought there was a ‘national security interest’ to remain in the Iran deal. ‘Yes, sir. I do,’ Mattis said.”

Cotton pushes back - Fox News: “Hours after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. should remain in the Iran nuclear deal, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., called on the Trump administration to decertify the 2015 accord. Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told an audience at the Council of Foreign Relations that President Donald Trump was correct in calling the deal ‘a direct national security threat.’ ‘Put simply, this deal only makes sense if you assume, contrary to all experience, that Iran will evolve into a peaceful, law-abiding regime in ten years,’ Cotton said.”

How Trump could decertify the deal in order to save it - Politico: “Donald Trump’s national security team has unanimously recommended that he decertify the Iran nuclear deal — but that he stop short of pushing Congress to reimpose sanctions on Tehran that could unravel the agreement. Trump’s team plans to work with Congress and European allies to apply new pressure on the Iranian regime, according to a strategy developed in an Iran policy review led by national security adviser H.R. McMaster. But the strategy assumes the nuclear deal will remain intact for now.”

Trump wants to get out from under reporting rule - AP: “The future of the Iran nuclear deal may hinge on a face-saving fix for President Donald Trump so he doesn’t have to recertify the Islamic republic’s compliance every 90 days, according to U.S. officials. … Officials say what Trump hates most, however, is a provision in a 2015 U.S. law — known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act — that requires him to tell Congress every three months if Iran is meeting promises to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for broad international relief from oil, trade and financial sanctions.”

NYT: “For more than a year, Puerto Rico has clashed with investors who hold slivers of its $73 billion debt, and who have pushed the United States territory to pay up. On Tuesday, during his visit to the hurricane-struck island, President Trump raised a prospect that could cheer the island’s residents but send shudders through Wall Street: Maybe the debt can simply go away. In an interview with Fox News, Mr. Trump said his administration would help Puerto Rico wipe out the debt… He did not offer specifics. ‘We’re going to do something. We’re going to get it back on its feet,’ the president said. ‘We have to look at their whole debt structure,’ he told Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News correspondent, on ‘Hannity.’ ‘You know, they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we’re going to have to wipe that out. You can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that.’”

Budget boss Mulvaney: ‘I wouldn't take it word-for-word with that’ -
WashEx:“Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on Wednesday talked down the idea that the federal government might bail out Puerto Rico out of its $74 billion debt crisis, after President Trump seemed to open the door to that idea on Tuesday. ‘I wouldn't take it word-for-word with that,’ Mulvaney said on CNN Wednesday morning of Trump's comments. … Mulvaney said he took Trump's comments to mean that Puerto Rico will have to address its huge debt problem, and noted that the U.S. has created a commission to manage the island's finances. ‘The president knows that in order for Puerto Rico long-term to fix itself, it's going to have to deal with that debt situation,’ Mulvaney said.”

White House will request $29 billion more in disaster relief - Politico: “The Trump administration is expected to request about $29 billion in disaster assistance on Wednesday, according to three sources familiar with the matter. The administration is expected to ask Congress to deliver nearly $13 billion in funding for recovery from hurricanes that struck Puerto Rico and other parts of the United States, $16 billion in flood insurance relief, and more than $500 million for wildfires, the source said. Congress is expected to consider the package in mid- to late-October.”

NYT: “Republican leaders are backing away from a proposal to fully repeal an expensive tax break used by more than 40 million tax filers to deduct state and local taxes amid pushback from fellow lawmakers whose residents rely on the popular provision. The state and local tax deduction is estimated to cost $1.3 trillion over the next decade and its repeal is central to paying for a sweeping tax rewrite unveiled last week by Republican lawmakers and administration officials. But elimination of the provision has emerged as a flash point in the nascent debate over the plan, with Republicans in high-tax states worried about backlash from residents who could see their tax bills rise. The White House and Republican lawmakers are considering alternatives to an outright repeal, including allowing taxpayers to choose between deducting their mortgage interest or state and local taxes, a limit on the deduction or a special tax break for middle-class families…”

Blue Dog Dems share their principles on tax reform - The Hill: “The Blue Dog Coalition of centrist Democrats released a set of tax-reform principles on Wednesday as the group seeks to be able to negotiate with Republicans on the issue. The 18-member group laid out seven main priorities, three of which the Republican tax framework meets. The Blue Dogs largely agree with Republicans on elements of a tax overhaul for businesses, but differ from the GOP on the process and revenue targets. … The principles demonstrate areas where moderate Democrats have common ground with Republicans on taxes but also that challenges remain for the GOP if they want Democrats to back a future bill. Some of the Blue Dog tax priorities match those of Democrats across-the-board, such as revenue neutrality and a focus on the middle class.”

WaPo: “The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday largely endorsed the findings of the intelligence community that Russia sought to sway the 2016 U.S. elections through a hacking and influence campaign, and they called for a ‘more aggressive, whole-of-government approach’ to ensure future elections aren’t similarly compromised. ‘There is consensus among members and staff that we trust the conclusions of the ICA,’ Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the committee’s chairman, said at Wednesday news conference, referring to the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was behind hackings of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign director John Podesta’s email account, and had attempted to exploit public opinion by sowing false information, much of it through fake social media accounts. … Burr and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s vice chairman, said the committee has interviewed more than 100 people and reviewed more than 100,000 documents…”

Kushner, Ivanka moved personal email to Trump Organization computers - USA Today: “President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump re-routed their personal email accounts to computers run by the Trump Organization as public scrutiny intensified over their use of private emails to conduct White House business, internet registration records show. The move, made just days after Kushner’s use of a personal email account first became public, came shortly after special counsel Robert Mueller asked the White House to turn over records related to his investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump associates. It also more closely intertwines President Trump’s administration with his constellation of private businesses.”

White House backs away from comments backing amnesty for DREAMers - Reuters

Indiana GOP Senate primary gets a new well-funded entrant - AP

Bipartisan Senate group introduces legislation to shore up coal miners’ pension funds 
Roll Call

Confused by gerrymandering math? Check out this interactive map - NYT

PRESIDENT TRUMP: And a lot of people got to see the real Coast Guard during this incredible trouble… Would you like to say something on behalf of your men and women?

AIR FORCE REPRESENTATIVE: Sir, I’m representing the Air Force.

THE PRESIDENT: No, I know that.

– An exchange in his visit to Puerto Rico between President Trump and a representative of the Air Force.


Rep. Sean Duffy R-Wisc., is kicking off a new podcast today which the former lumberjack calls “The Plaidcast.” Aside from flannel-covered humor, Duffy is promising to help listeners and his constituents understand better how Washington works and get to know some of the people behind the stories. The debut episode will be out tonight, featuring Rep. Will Hurd R-Texas, and it will air on iTunes. Despite questionable timing in choosing to premiere against powerhouse podcast “I’ll Tell You What,” Duffy is hoping to develop a serious following. You can subscribe and listen here

“Do you think there ever will be a time when all, well maybe not all, Americans from either the right or left can ever see eye to eye on any subject?  I mean it just seems that the city folks are on one side while the good ole country folks are on the other.  Will there ever be a time there will be peace on earth, good will toward your fellow man/women?” –Anita Miller, Mount Jackson, Va.

[Ed. note: We shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking that there was once a golden age of harmony and shared national priorities. Our expectations have been distorted by the experiences of the Second World War and the broad bipartisan accord that endured for the two decades that followed. We tend to forget that in the 15 years after 1965, things fell apart in a very big way. I generally think that there is a rhythm to these things. Cultures fall apart and then, if they are lucky, start to come together again. Societies are not unlike the human beings of which they are comprised. We tend to engage in harmful conduct until the point that we can no longer endure the consequences. The most successful of us tend to combine low thresholds for physical and psychic discomfort with the ability to act affirmatively to remedy these problems. Some people gain 5 pounds and give up the cookies and hit the gym. Others need to suffer more and longer before they become ready to make a change, but by then the changes are harder to make. But sometimes consequences, like a stark prognosis from a doctor or the loss of a job or a relationship, make people ready to turn things around. In still other cases, it’s only the abyss. I believe that America will return to itself as the consequences pile up and people will lose patience with the self-destructive petty hatreds that now tend to dominate our national discourse. I believe that because I am an American and I have seen the heart and character of my countrymen.]  

“Finding a way to incorporate psychological commitment data into firearms purchase background checks might be a place to start. What precisely do you mean? Involuntary commitment is already grounds for denial of a sale, and is SUPPOSED to be in NICS data. There is a problem with states and localities not submitting the data, and we've seen the results in such incidents as the Virginia Tech shooter, who was prohibited from purchasing/owning a firearm for precisely those reasons, but the court failed to submit the data, and he was able to legally purchase and pass a background check.  The NRA has backed moves to strengthen enforcement of reporting requirements, but it has gone nowhere.” – Michael NorthBryan, Ohio

[Ed. note: I think that sounds like a great place to start. If Republicans want to show their sincerity in addressing these attacks, they have to put forward proposals. Streamlining that process and enhancing penalties for failures to comply would be a great show of good faith.] 

“From this distance we too are shocked, saddened and appalled at the events in Las Vegas. Equally, many are stunned at the inability of such a fine people to see past the limitations imposed by adherence to the Second Amendment. The framers of the constitution could surely have had no idea how weapons would evolve and the uses to which they would be put. Equally (and please correct me on this) wasn't the aim to give citizens the opportunity to form regulated militia? And, isn’t that idea just a little bit redundant? The founders, writing after the War of Independence, sought protections from Government and potential threats. I hear highly intelligent people arguing that, without the right to own guns, only the bad guys would have them. … I'd be interested to hear you expand a little on the origins of this amendment and how it's possible to live peacefully in 2017, whilst adhering to the dictates of something written in the 18th century.” – Greg Cary, KyogleNSWAustralia 

[Ed. note: The Framers wanted to explicitly protect the existing rights of Americans to have firearms not just to form a militia to repel foreign powers, but also to fight against a tyrannical federal government in case the Constitution failed. Here’s what the father of our Bill of Rights, James Madison, wrote in Federalist No. 46:  

“Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it. Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors.”

The idea here was that if the people were disarmed, it would be too easy for a corrupted federal government in command of a large standing army to oppress the people. Madison in the passage above was explaining why people shouldn’t fear the establishment of a strong central government because, he argued, the people of the states would rise up against it in greater numbers than any stranding army the government could create. The inclusion of the explicit right in the subsequent Bill of Rights was to affirm that pre-existing understanding that America would be populated with well-armed citizens. 

Your own country experienced neither the pain nor promise of revolution, but for most Americans, expunging the Second Amendment would indeed “insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power.”   

Freedom often results in anguish, and seeing the way one American slaughtered his innocent fellow citizens is definitely one of those moments. The freedom to pursue wealth, similarly, sometimes ruins lives crushed by rapacious capitalism. The freedom to do as we please often results in wasted lives, ruined by self-indulgence. As with all of these things, Americans look for ways to strike a balance between the rights of individuals. As the saying goes, your freedom ends where mine begins. The freedom of one individual’s right to bear arms doesn’t extend without limit, but America will not abolish the right to own firearms anytime soon. Their continued presence reflects the wary but enduring pact between the government and the governed

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

Miami Herald: “E-commerce supergiant Amazon wants to build a new company headquarters, and dozens of cities are doing anything they can to woo the new corporate center… Some have offered favorable building rights. Others have sent cute YouTube videos and messages. Some have pitched their diverse workforce of engineers and technology professionals. One city has taken something of a different tack. It says it will just build an entire new town and name it Amazon, Ga. The city of Stonecrest, about a half-hour east of Atlanta, voted 4-2 Monday to de-annex 345 acres of city land if Amazon picks the area for its second corporate headquarters. … ‘How could you not want your 21st century headquarters to be located in a city named Amazon?’ [Mayor Jason Lary] called it ‘the most unique incentive’ a city has offered the tech giant so far.”

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.