By Chris Stirewalt, ,
Published May 21, 2018
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On the roster: If not Mueller, then whom? - Can Ryan clear the path for McCarthy? - What to watch in Tuesday’s primaries - Blankenship back in bid to play spoiler - Squealer detained
IF NOT MUELLER, THEN WHOM?
It’s like when someone sense “no offense” or “I’m not racist, but…” or “bless his heart,” it immediately negates any unkind or hurtful sentiments uttered.
President Trump on Sunday hereby demanded a probe into “whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration.”
He got results within hours as the Justice Department said that, yep, the origins of the probe into Trump’s campaign would be part of a report by the department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz.
We expect imminently Horowitz’s report on the criminal case involving Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, and her mishandling of state secrets. But queued up behind that one is the report on the probe into Russian meddling on Trump’s behalf and any possible coordination between the Kremlin and the campaign. If, as Trump and his defenders ardently suggest, former President Barack Obama ordered the FBI to spy on the campaign of a leading presidential contender of the opposing party, it will show up in Horowitz’s next opus.
(Do you think that the other inspectors general in town are totally jealous of Horowitz? The guys over at Defense and Agriculture are churning out reports to no acclaim, but Horowitz gets to drop findings of fact like Beyoncé drops albums.)
We take no position on what Horowitz will find, just as we take no position on what Special Counsel Robert Mueller will find. We will read their conclusions before we reach our own. Spending time looking for public clues about secret investigations is the journalistic equivalent of yanking on candlesticks and book spines looking for the secret door in the castle’s study. If you just know there’s something there, you’ll keep yanking. We find it more useful to not pretend we know what hasn’t been revealed.
Our billet is in the world of politics, so we further know that for many millions of Americans it will no matter what Mueller finds out about Trump or what Horowitz finds out about Mueller. Their partisan loyalties will demand that information unhelpful to their tribe be discounted, and so they will.
And that’s a big part of what Trump and his defenders are doing right now. It matters just as much to create an impression among the most loyal members of Trump’s tribe that anything Mueller finds will be born with congenital defects so severe that the entire product must be dismissed. By elevating the power and perfidy of the “Deep State” in the minds of followers, Trump inoculates himself against charges both true and untrue.
Similarly, there will be millions of Americans who wouldn’t believe anything Mueller found that was short of iron-clad proof that Trump is a Kremlin operative bent on the destruction of America from within. Like the kooks and racists who refused any obviously conclusive evidence that Obama was born in Hawaii, the devotees of the pee-pee tape etc. have already decided what’s true and won’t be dissuaded from it.
As a practical point, though, we wonder what the House Republicans and outside pro-Trump groups (both grassroots and AstroTurf) militating against Mueller propose should be done.
Should Mueller just toss his investigation, which, according to one of Trump’s lawyers, could be done before Labor Day if Trump agrees to an interview? We’re not talking here about the almost erotic fantasizing from partisan cranks in which Mueller is taken off in leg irons or Trump is arrested, depending on one’s political fetishes. Rather, what would happen in the real world?
Yes, Trump could start firing deputy attorney generals until he found someone who would sack Mueller. But then what? Would the agency just throw the files in the jumbo shredder and chalk it up to experience? Not hardly. Someone would have to finish the work and produce a report, and they would be doing so under astonishing scrutiny. If Mueller has found something significant, it’s coming out, one way or another. And if he hasn’t found anything significant, that finding would be terribly compromised by the president’s own involvement.
It’s one thing to feed the fantasies of devoted supporters who dream of revenge against their perceived persecutors, but another thing to actually bring the matter to a close. And what Trump and the citizenry both need right now very badly is some closure. It’s been 559 days since the 2016 election. There’s just got to be something more fruitful and purposeful to discuss by now.
THE RULEBOOK: HE’S NOT WRONG
“It is not difficult to conceive that this characteristic right of freedom may, in certain turbulent and factious seasons, be violated, in respect to a particular class of citizens, by a victorious and overbearing majority…” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 60
TIME OUT: IT’S GOTTA BE THE SHOES
Smithsonian: “In the decades that followed, the leisurely privilege of the upper class saw a gradual democratization. The advent of basketball in 1891, for example, had students and YMCA members quickly hooked. Chuck Taylor, a semi-professional basketball player himself, cornered early court shoe demand for decades with his canvas and rubber All Stars, which he personally hawked at high schools around the country. Basketball eventually took hold both with professional athletes in world-class arenas and with adolescents on inner-city blacktops. The allure of athletics reached even farther as running began to trend in the 1970s and Farrah Fawcett-inspired aerobics took off, solidifying the idea that anyone could be an athlete.”
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Trump job performance
Average approval: 41.4 percent
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent
Net Score: -12.2 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.2 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 43% approve - 52% disapprove; CBS News: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; CNN: 44% approve - 51% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; Pew Research Center: 42% approve - 54% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 41.8 percent
Democratic average: 48.4 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points
Change from one week ago: no change
[Average includes: CNN: 47% Dems - 44% GOP; CBS News: 50% Dems - 41% GOP; Pew Research Center: 48% Dems - 43% GOP; Monmouth University: 49% Dems - 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems - 40% GOP.]
CAN RYAN CLEAR THE PATH FOR MCCARTHY?
Weekly Standard: “Top Republicans in Congress and the White House have in recent days entertained a plan to push House Speaker Paul Ryan out of his post over the summer, in an effort to clear the way for his presumed successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to assume the speakership. A source involved in the conversations and who has discussed the idea with President Donald Trump told [the Weekly Standard] that Trump believes there is merit to the plan, but has not formed a final position. … Proponents say that the benefits are twofold. It would trigger a vote to replace Ryan, giving McCarthy an opening to become speaker of the House… But it would also force Democrats to cast votes for – or against – Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi… Under the plan, Ryan would step down from his post as speaker prematurely but would remain a member of Congress until his term ends in January 2019. The prospect of Ryan’s right-hand man amping up the pressure for him to leave sooner portends a significant shift in the power dynamics of the chamber.”
Outside groups plumping for Jordan - Axios: “More than 40 prominent figures in the conservative movement plan to send an open letter to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), urging the Freedom Caucus member to declare himself a candidate for Speaker ‘at once’ to replace Paul Ryan. Axios has obtained a letter — circulated by Ginni Thomas, longtime leader in the conservative movement and spouse of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — stating that current House Republican leadership ‘has utterly failed’ and ‘proven that it’s part of the Swamp,’ and that Jordan is the solution. Richard Viguerie, Chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, and Jenny Beth Martin, Chairman of the Tea Party Patriots, are among the more than 40 people who have also signed on.”
Mystery donor gave pro-Ryan group $25 million - Politico: “American Action Network, the nonprofit group closely aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, raised a record $41.9 million amid the GOP push to repeal Obamacare and restructure the tax code — more than half of which came from one donor, according to a tax filing obtained by POLITICO. The money raised includes $24.6 million from a single anonymous donor, according to AAN’s 2017 tax return, which covers July 2016 to June 2017 and was filed this week. As a ‘social welfare’ group organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, AAN can raise money in unlimited amounts, but it is not required to disclose its donors, unlike a super PAC.”
WHAT TO WATCH IN TUESDAY’S PRIMARIES
FiveThirtyEight: “What do Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas have in common? Well, depending on whom you ask, they’re all Southern states. But more to the point: They’re the four states up to bat this week in the protracted ballgame that is primary election season. (For reference, we’re barely in the third inning.) These are all fairly red states, but nevertheless there are plenty of opportunities for Democrats to pick up seats (mostly in the House), and the party has some close primaries packed with candidates looking to take advantage. Meanwhile, Republicans will pick their standard-bearers in a handful of key races where the incumbent is stepping off the stage. As always, we’ll contextualize these primaries by using FiveThirtyEight partisan lean — how much more Republican or Democratic a jurisdiction is than the country overall — to give you an idea of how competitive each general election will be, as well as whether the parties are choosing the candidates with the best chance to win in November.”
Gun laws dominate final Georgia gubernatorial primary debates - AP: “The candidates met Sunday in separate party-specific debates at WSB-TV studios in Atlanta. Those were the final debates before voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s primaries. Each candidate was pressed about public support for stricter gun control after Friday’s deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. Both Democratic candidates, former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and former state Rep. Stacey Evans, advocated for specific restrictions. They agreed on the need to expand background checks, ban assault weapons and remove guns from homes where domestic violence occurs. The Republican candidates – Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, former state Sen. Hunter Hill, state Sen. Michael Williams and businessman Clay Tippins – all agreed on a single point: No more gun control. They used the chance to position themselves as the biggest supporter of the Second Amendment in the field.”
Dems eye Tuesday’s Texas runoff for signs of things to come - Texas Tribune: “Houston Democratic players are now calling what was once the wildest Democratic primary in the state a word not spoken often in Texas politics: boring. But even as local political junkies are tiring of the national drama surrounding the 7th Congressional District's Democratic primary in west Houston featuring attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and activist Laura Moser, what happens here Tuesday night will have outsized implications for national Democrats' optimism and tactics in their bid to take control of the U.S. House in the fall.”
Kentucky House primary frontrunner goes negative on liberal insurgent - Lexington Herald Leader: “Less than a week before Election Day, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray launched the first negative television ad in the Democratic primary for Kentucky's 6th Congressional District. Gray’s campaign goes after former fighter pilot Amy McGrath in the 30-second ad for having recently moved to the Central Kentucky District.”
BLANKENSHIP BACK IN BID TO PLAY SPOILER
West Virginia MetroNews: “Former coal executive Don Blankenship says he’s turning right back around and running for U.S. Senate again, this time on the Constitution Party ticket. Blankenship, who spent a year in jail on a federal mine conspiracy conviction, finished third in the West Virginia Republican primary earlier this month. The former Massey Energy chief developed a deep distaste for the Republican primary winner, incumbent Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, and has said he wants to block Morrisey’s path to the U.S. Senate. The incumbent in the Senate is Democrat Joe Manchin. A West Virginia law described as a ‘sore loser’ provision would seem to be in the way of Blankenship’s name on the November ballot. But the Blankenship campaign has been discussing a legal argument that could call the wording of the law into question. A spokesman with the Secretary of State’s Office said Monday it would be premature to comment on a Blankenship candidacy…”
Dems fail in bid to block former Detroit health department boss from ballot - Detroit Free Press: “It’s officially official, Abdul El-Sayed is eligible to run for governor. After the Michigan Secretary of State said the Shelby Township Democrat was eligible last week, the Court of Claims ruled Thursday that the lawsuit El-Sayed filed, asking the court to confirm his eligibility was dismissed. Shri Thanedar, one of the three Democratic candidates for governor, and three other Michigan voters filed challenges to El-Sayed’s candidacy because the former Detroit health department director lived in New York from 2013-2015 while he went to school and taught at Columbia University. He changed his Michigan driver’s license to a New York license and voted in New York during that time.”
Hillary to endorse Cuomo over Nixon - NYT: “Mrs. [Hillary Clinton] is expected to break her virtual hiatus from the campaign trail this week, when she will endorse Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York in a contested Democratic primary, her spokesman, Nick Merrill, confirmed — a move sure to enrage liberal activists seeking Mr. Cuomo’s ouster at the hands of Cynthia Nixon, the actress turned progressive insurgent. Mrs. Clinton has also recorded an automated phone call endorsing Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic leader in the Georgia House, who is competing for the party’s nomination for governor on Tuesday.”
Do House Republicans want Trump on the trail for them? Yes, but… - McClatchy: “The question of whether endangered GOP candidates want President Donald Trump to campaign with them sparked dodges, lengthy pauses and a cascade of caveats in interviews with about two dozen GOP House members who are facing varying degrees of competition in races this fall. But the answer several Republicans from tough districts have settled on is, sure — if Trump will campaign on their terms.”
DNC fundraising still in the doldrums - Free Beacon: “The Democratic National Committee's latest fundraising numbers show the party continues to have trouble with fundraising as the 2018 midterm elections approach. April 2018 marked the DNC's worst April of fundraising in a midterm election year since 2006, according to data filed with the Federal Election Commission. While the DNC raised only $7.9 million in April 2018, the Republican National Committee raised $13 million. April's numbers brought the RNC's totals to $43.8 million cash-on-hand and no debt, while the DNC's totals came to $8.7 million cash-on-hand and $5.3 million of debt.”
2020 Scouting Report: Trump looks to beef up ground game - Politico
Trump adds rally to Tennessee trip for Blackburn - Tennessean
Optimism about job market hits 17-year high - Gallup
Obamas ink production deal with Netflix for shows, movies - Fox News
AUDIBLE: KEEP IT REAL
“A little bit of real people doesn’t hurt. A little bit of real life doesn’t hurt. Be on your knees, scrape some dirt. Love the other. Try to dig people. … This is longstanding wisdom from our elders. Take this as wisdom. Take it.” – Gonzo journalist and chronicler of Detroit’s demise Charlie LeDuff in an interview with Matt Labash about LeDuff’s new gig.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“My fear that America is being fractured into two parties where both are totally isolated in their exposure to truth. I’m sure this has always been the case to some degree, but the current era is something new altogether. We have two very distinctly different narratives with no real facts coming into play on either side. If we intend on staying a great nation this has got to be addressed. It’s not safe having large groups of people who have beliefs that are not grounded in any truth. Watch a few YouTube videos of these MAGA nuts and lost liberals if you need a reminder of where we seem to be headed. Scary times.” – Ben Roper, Grand Rapids, Mich.
[Ed. note: It is scary, but I try to make sure that I don’t let it become fearful for me and the ones I love. I do believe that there is what Richard Nixon called a silent majority, but I don’t think it works the way he described. I think that most reasonable people try to avoid politics as much as they are able. It’s corrosive and we know it. That means that the people left in the political trenches tend to be those who thrive in corrosive climates. That drives even more people away from the discussion, which tends to intensify the corrosiveness, and so on and so on. What I tend to think is that when things get bad enough, that usually silent majority engages with the intent of mellowing things out. What you mention, though, is the cause for greatest concern. If there aren’t reliable outlets for news and considered, honest analysis, how could we reason together? The fracturing of the media world has produced many good things, but better discourse is surely not one of them.]
“Dear Chris - I am (not patiently) waiting for the book to be published, the way you express yourself is so engaging! Patiently (sometimes) wait for the Halftime Report each day. Fan of the podcast too!” – Dru Reynolds, Ocean Grove, N.J.
[Ed. note: I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have my manuscript filed! Editing for the next couple of weeks and then we’re off to the races. Look for it mid-September. But you can see more here.]
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HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
Fox News: “North Ridgeville police officers received a call just before 5:30 a.m. Saturday from a man who said a pig was following him while he was walking home from the Amtrak train station in Elyria, located about 30 miles west of Cleveland. The caller added that he ‘didn’t know what to do,’ the department wrote in a Facebook post. Police officers were skeptical to believe the man and thought he was intoxicated and walking home from the bar. … But the officers’ theory was actually wrong. Not only was the man very sober and walking home from the train station (like he said), a pig was actually following him. … One of the officers managed to get the pig into the police cruiser and take it to the city’s dog kennel — that doubled as a pig pen for a few hours. By 8:23 a.m. Saturday, the pig was returned to its owner, whose identity was not revealed, police said.”
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.