Let’s play ‘literally or seriously’


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On the roster: Let’s play ‘literally or seriously’ - Trump struggling in Iowa, tied in Georgia, up in Texas - Dems reverse on in-person voting - Trump jeered as he pays respects to Ginsburg - Bro...

LET’S PLAY ‘LITERALLY OR SERIOUSLY’
Welcome to another edition of “Literally or Seriously,” the game show in which contestants try to turn the utterances of President Trump into something useful for their team.

On today’s episode, it’s a classic Trump splurp. The president, asked if he would “win, lose or draw” commit to a “peaceful transferal of power” after the election, went on a typically Trumpian riff about bad ballots, crooked Democrats, etc. – his boilerplate scaremongering.

But he began, as he often does, with the all-purpose Trump verbal shield: “We’ll see what happens.”

Now, in a *literal* sense, Trump was exactly right. You would not commit to a peaceful “transferal” of power if you won an election. As Trump said, he expects to win and that, “there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.”

The reporter was Brian Karem of Playboy, one of the administration’s favorite foils for these Punch and Judy press briefings. For some perspective on his perspective, here’s an excerpt from Karem’s most recent piece (don’t worry, we only read the articles): “We are not a democracy. We are not a republic. Our government is run by aging, rich, white overseers who have a stranglehold on the needs of the many to please the wealthy few.”

You may remember Karem for this fine moment of buffoonery when he and Sebastian Gorka bellowed at each other like elephant seals in the Rose Garden. It was as if Twitter came to life.

So Trump, who famously once hedged in an interview on denouncing David Duke, was going to Karem not for a frank, open-faced exchange but for a reliably antagonistic question, which he could then use to antagonize in return.

But Karem botched it. He didn’t say ‘if you lose,” and Trump answered him *literally*. A more skilled politician or any of Trump’s predecessors would have known better and would have taken the question *seriously*.

The right answer goes like this: “While we certainly hope to win the support of the American people on Election Day, blah, blah, blah…. But whatever happens, rest assured that there we will remain the envy of the world when it comes to the continuity of our democracy etc.”

But Trump gives no quarter on such matters. He almost never stipulates on any point, except for the fact that he is willing to say or do anything. While he believes that tendency gives him flexibility and reinforces his strongman vibes, at least as often, it kicks off a moment like this one.

Trump’s refusal to give the reporter what he wanted has meant that every Republican official of standing has been forced to utter the words Trump would not allow himself to say. Here’s Sen. Rob Portman with an indicative example: “Throughout America’s history, the peaceful transition of power has been a hallmark of our democracy. This year, both candidates must commit to abiding by the results, no matter the outcome.”

Two sentences. Thirty words. It’s just that easy, folks.

Like when Trump mused on Twitter about the possibility of delaying the election or when he told voters to cast two ballots, being cagey about leaving office after a loss is a damaging waste of time for his re-election effort that plays right into Joe Biden’s long suit. 

It is, of course, not just important as a political matter for people to say these things. Our smooth transfer of executive power – 223 years and counting – really is the envy of the democratic world. Our republic’s strength and longevity depends on the respect of this norm more than any other.

But the norm does not depend on the goodness of the officeholders themselves. We talked Wednesday about how Franklin Roosevelt refused to yield power as George Washington and all of his successors until 1940 had. Who knows how many others would have clung to the presidency if they could have gotten away with it like FDR?

The norm enforcers are the courts, the legislative branch and, most importantly, the military. The idea that Trump would somehow get the armed forces and the courts to back him in refusing to honor election results certified by Congress is preposterous. The president isn’t the one who decides.

Trump’s real problem here, though, is one of context.

The president is working overtime trying to delegitimize the results of the election now underway, at least if the result is unfavorable to him. Trump wants to raise as many doubts as possible about election fraud and cast the greatest shadow on mail-in votes.

The thinking here is pretty transparent. We expect Republicans to outnumber Democrats when it comes to in-person Election Day voting. That’s usually true, but the trend is likely to be intensified amid pandemic concerns and Trump’s trashing of vote-by-mail.

This sets up a scenario where Trump is just ahead when the counting stops late on Nov. 3. But the counting continues on Wednesday and in subsequent days, Trump and his lawyers will go to court seeking to have the absentee ballots – presumably more Democratic than Republican – thrown out. In this scenario, as Trump’s lead evaporates, his supporters (and Republicans in relevant state offices) will already have their talking points drilled into their heads.

Ever incautious, Trump even talked about in relation to his Supreme Court nominee.

“We need nine justices. You need that,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “With the unsolicited millions of ballots that they’re sending, it’s a scam, it’s a hoax, everybody knows that. And the Democrats know it better than anybody else. So you’re going to need nine justices up there, I think it’s going to be very important. Because what they’re doing is a hoax, with the ballots.”

It is important for the Senate to confirm his appointee, Trump says, so that they can rule against Democrats in the result of a contested election.

Oy vey.

Not only does this make life unpleasant for his nominee, who will be asked over and over about Trump’s view of her purpose and will face lots of pressure to recuse herself from any such case, it reinforces Trump’s weakness as an incumbent.

Back in 2000 and 2004 it was Democrats, not Republicans who were obsessed with vote rigging conspiracies, Diebold voting machines and the like. Then, as now, it was not a good look. Worse still, when it comes from a sitting president, it further intensifies the other party’s determination to vote, vote, vote. When Trump says he will win another term in court, he drives more Democrats to try to win a victory beyond the reach of litigation.

Given his months-long effort to undermine public confidence in the election and with Democrats already hyperventilating about the end of democracy (when David Brooks fogs up his glasses about driving Trump from office like the residents of a banana republic, you know it's getting real) Trump has no running room on questions about continuity of power.

Therefore, the judges rule Trump loses this round of “Literally or Seriously.” See you next time…

THE RULEBOOK: LIVE AND LEARN
“If we look into the constitutions of the several States, we find that, notwithstanding the emphatical and, in some instances, the unqualified terms in which this axiom has been laid down, there is not a single instance in which the several departments of power have been kept absolutely separate and distinct.” – James Madison, discussing the distribution of power among different parts of government, Federalist No. 47

TIME OUT: ‘THE ROMANTIC EGOTIST’
The Writers’ Almanac: “Today is the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, born Francis Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota (1896)… Fitzgerald grew up feeling like a ‘poor boy in a rich town,’ in spite of his middle-class upbringing. This impression was only strengthened when he attended Princeton, paid for by an aunt, where he was enthralled by the leisure class, tried out and was cut from the football team, and fell in love with a beautiful young socialite who would marry a wealthy business associate of her father’s. By the time Fitzgerald dropped out of college and entered the Army — wearing a Brooks Brothers-tailored uniform — it was little wonder he called the autobiographical novel he was writing The Romantic Egotist. … And his daughter, ‘Scottie’ Fitzgerald, said about her parents, ‘People who live entirely by the fertility of their imaginations are fascinating, brilliant and often charming, but they should be sat next to at dinner parties, not lived with.’”

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SCOREBOARD
NATIONAL HEAD-TO-HEAD AVERAGE
Trump: 43.4 percent            
Biden: 50.8 percent            
Size of lead: Biden by 7.4 points            
Change from one week ago: Biden 0.2 points, Trump ↓ 0.2 points            
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: Trump 42% - Biden 52%; NBC News/WSJ: Trump 43% - Biden 51%; NPR/PBS News/Marist: Trump 43% - Biden 52%; AP/NORC: Trump 40% - Biden 44%; Fox News: Trump 46% - Biden 51%; Kaiser Family Foundation: Trump 43% - Biden 48%.]

BATTLEGROUND POWER RANKINGS
(270 electoral votes needed to win)
Toss-up: (109 electoral votes): Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Arizona (11), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15), Iowa (6)
Lean R/Likely R: (180 electoral votes)
Lean D/Likely D: (249 electoral votes)
[Full rankings here.]

TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 44.2 percent 
Average disapproval: 53.2 percent 
Net Score: -9 points 
Change from one week ago: ↑ 1 point 
 [Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 45% approve - 53% disapprove; NPR/PBS News/Marist: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve - 56% disapprove; Fox News: 48% approve - 51% disapprove.

GOT A WILD PITCH? READY TO THROW A FASTBALL?
We’ve brought “From the Bleachers” to video on demand thanks to Fox Nation. Each Wednesday and Friday, Producer Brianna McClelland will put Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt to the test with your questions on everything about politics, government and American history – plus whatever else is on your mind. Sign up for the Fox Nation streaming service here and send your best questions to HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM.

TRUMP STRUGGLING IN IOWA, TIED IN GEORGIA, UP IN TEXAS
NYT: “President Trump is on the defensive in three red states he carried in 2016, narrowly trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Iowa and battling to stay ahead of him in Georgia and Texas, as Mr. Trump continues to face a wall of opposition from women that has also endangered his party’s control of the Senate, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College. Mr. Trump’s vulnerability even in conservative-leaning states underscores just how precarious his political position is, less than six weeks before Election Day. While he and Mr. Biden are competing aggressively for traditional swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, the poll suggests that Mr. Biden has assembled a coalition formidable enough to jeopardize Mr. Trump even in historically Republican parts of the South and Midwest. … In Iowa, where Mr. Biden is ahead of Mr. Trump, 45 percent to 42 percent… In Georgia, where the two candidates are tied at 45 percent… Mr. Trump’s large advantage among men in Texas is enough to give him a small advantage there, 46 percent to 43 percent.”

Another polls Trump with Iowa edge, but trouble for Ernst - Monmouth University: “There have been small shifts in the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Iowa according to the Monmouth University Poll. While these changes are not statistically significant, the current results suggest that Donald Trump may be solidifying support in what remains a tight race with Joe Biden. At the same time, it appears the Democratic challenger could be pulling ahead for the Senate seat. … Among all registered voters in Iowa, Trump is supported by 50% and Biden is supported by 44%. Another 2% say they will vote for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, 1% will vote for another candidate, and 2% are undecided. Trump led Biden by 48% to 45% among registered voters in August. … In the election for U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Joni Ernst (47%) and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield (47%) are locked in a tight battle.”

Ohio deadlock - Quinnipiac University: “In Texas [Trump 50%, Biden 45%] and Ohio [Biden 48%, Trump 47%], two states where President Trump won easily in 2016, the president holds a slight lead in Texas and it's too close to call in Ohio, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters in both states. These are the first surveys from the Quinnipiac University Poll in both Texas and Ohio to use likely voters and results cannot be compared to prior surveys of registered voters. ‘With six weeks to go until Election Day and most minds made up, Ohio could hinge on a sliver of likely voters who signal they may have a change of heart and the four percent who say they are unsure right now who they'll back. At this point, it's a toss-up,’ said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow. ‘It is close but leaning toward Trump in Texas. There are still a slim number of likely voters who are undecided or on the fence about their choice, which could leave just enough wiggle room for either candidate to take Texas' many electoral votes,’ said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.”

DEMS REVERSE ON IN-PERSON VOTING
Axios: “Democrats spent the early months of the coronavirus pandemic urging their base to vote absentee. But as threats of U.S. Postal Service delays, Team Trump litigation and higher ballot rejection rates become clearer, many are pivoting to promote more in-person voting as well. Democrats are exponentially more likely to vote by mail than Republicans this year — and if enough mail-in ballots are lost, rejected on a technicality or undercounted, it could change the outcome of the presidential election or other key races. In Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who's running against Sen. Cory Gardner, told Axios that he's encouraging voters to physically take their mail-in ballots to a dropbox and to do so ‘early, really early.’ Paulette Jordan, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Idaho, told Axios that she's encouraging voters to take their filled out mail ballots in person to the county courthouse.”

Struggling with Catholic voters, Trump tries a new tack - Politico: “To salvage his flagging reelection bid this summer, President Donald Trump made a tactical decision to go all in on his base. His campaign appearances, policy announcements and attacks against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden were suddenly aimed squarely at evangelical and Catholic voters, core voting blocs whose eroding support threatened to jeopardize his shot at a second term. He turned coronavirus-related church closures into a new battle on the culture war front, accused his opponent of being ‘against God,’ and welcomed hundreds of religious conservatives to the White House to witness the decadent rollout of new peace treaties with Israel. Yet his poll numbers continued to tumble. Among white Catholic voters, a survey this week showed Trump’s lead over Biden narrowing to just five percentage points — an alarming development for the candidate who carried this group by a 23-point margin in 2016.”

Trump voters aren’t shy, but polls may still miss them - FiveThirtyEight: “In other words, the likely reason we’re still talking about shy Trump voters is because the polls could still be missing some Trump voters — it’s just not because they’re shy. One of the main takeaways from 2016 was that many state-level polls underrepresented the number of white voters without a four-year college degree in the electorate, a group that overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2016. As a result, some pollsters have since weighted their surveys by education, but not all have. It remains a critical cleavage that pollsters still need to address. Weighting for education is complicated, though; namely, highly educated Americans are more likely to answer a poll than less educated Americans, and in an era of increasingly lower response rates, this could be a problem as underlying samples may be more educated than the actual population. The upshot is that even if a pollster is weighting its respondents to match the educational breakdown of a state’s population, it still may not be reaching enough voters with lower education levels. This could in turn affect the poll’s findings for the presidential race because the educational divide is now one of the most important predictors of party support besides race.”

Registration surge for Florida GOP - Politico: “Republicans have closed the traditional voter registration gap with Democrats to an historically small margin in Florida, triggering a wave of Democratic apprehension in the nation’s biggest swing state. Top Florida Democrats and longtime activists have increasingly groused in private that they feel pressure from Joe Biden’s campaign to refrain from door-to-door canvassing or holding voter registration drives due to the potential spread of the coronavirus and fears of muddying his messaging on the pandemic. In the absence of such efforts, a concerted drive by President Donald Trump’s Florida campaign to register voters has helped cut the state’s long-standing Democratic advantage to fewer than 185,000 voters, a gap of just 1.3 percentage points, according to data from the Florida Division of Elections released this week.”

Republicans on N.C. Board of Elections resign after mail-in ballot changes - Fox News: “Both Republicans on the five-person North Carolina State Board of Elections submitted their resignations on Wednesday night, saying they were misled about the ramifications of the board's recent legal settlement making rules governing absentee ballots less restrictive. ‘Regarding the settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans against the State Board of Elections, attorneys from [Attorney General] Josh Stein’s office did not advise us of the fact that a lot of the concessions made in the settlement have already been denied in a prior case by a federal judge and another case by a state court three-judge panel,’ Ken Raymond, who had served on the board since 2018, wrote in his resignation letter. The other Republican on the board, David Black, took issue with new guidance allowing that a ballot with deficient information won’t be considered ‘spoiled,’ and the voter will be sent an affidavit to sign to rectify the problem.”

Biden endorsed by retired top military, national security officials - USA Today: “Nearly 500 generals, admirals and former national security officials from both parties endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, and blasted President Donald Trump as ‘not equal’ to the challenges of the job in a letter released Thursday. The letter, signed by 489 members of the group called the National Security Leaders for Biden, includes former Obama administration Defense Secretaries Ash Carter, Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta, along with former Navy Secretary and NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe, who served under both former Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush. Among the retired senior officers is Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, who until last year was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Trump.”

TRUMP JEERED AS HE PAYS RESPECTS TO GINSBURG
Fox News: “President Trump and first lady Melania Trump paid their respects to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Thursday morning, as Ginsburg lied in repose at the Supreme Court building. Audible boos and jeers could be heard from protesters as the president and first lady made their way to the Supreme Court. Some could be heard shouting, ‘vote him out,’ and ‘honor her wish,’ referring to how Ginsburg reportedly said she wanted a nomination for the next justice to be held until after next year's inauguration. Trump has been respectful of Ginsburg, intentionally holding off on announcing his nomination until after memorial ceremonies have concluded. He also offered words of praise for the liberal icon upon her passing. … After lying in repose at the Supreme Court Wednesday and Thursday, Ginsburg's casket will be transported to the National Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol, where she will lie in state on Friday. A ceremony will be held that morning, but only invited guests will be permitted to attend due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.”

Collins’ back in the SupCo battle spotlight - National Journal: “Two years after another high-court battle thrust [Sen. Susan] Collins into the spotlight, the Maine Republican once again faces the task of appealing to social conservatives and independents turned off by her support for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In order to succeed, Collins needs to hit a home run in Maine’s rural 2nd District, which trends more conservative, while preventing the Democratic nominee, Sara Gideon, from running up her margins too high in the Portland-based 1st District. Collins has trailed most public polling in the weeks leading up to her contest against Democrat Sara Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House. Early voting kicks off Oct. 5, and a Moore Information poll conducted after Ginsburg’s death for the National Republican Senatorial Committee found the candidates tied at 42 percent apiece.”

Dem Senate hopefuls shun court packing - Politico: “A growing number of Democratic candidates in competitive Senate races say they are unlikely to support expanding the court as retribution for President Donald Trump and Republicans’ plan to quickly fill the vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. And that could hamstring Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s potential majority from following through on liberals’ most explosive threats. … [Maine Democrat Sara Gideon’s] skepticism about expanding the Supreme Court is shared by at least five other Democratic Senate challengers. A spokesman for Mark Kelly in Arizona confirmed he opposes adding new justices to the court. Jon Ossoff, who is challenging GOP Sen. David Perdue in Georgia, said Democrats shouldn’t expand the court ‘just because a justice may be confirmed with whom we disagree on policy.’ Al Gross, an independent candidate running with Democrats’ support in Alaska, said on MSNBC Wednesday that he opposed adding new justices.”

Trump pick to get Garland treatment from Dems - Politico: “President Donald Trump hasn’t announced a Supreme Court nominee yet, but some Democrats have already decided there’s no point in meeting with her, no matter who it is. These Senate Democrats say it’s a no-brainer to shun whoever Trump chooses to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A meeting would be fruitless not just because Trump is likely to pick a hard-line conservative, but because they’re still furious Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stonewalled Merrick Garland in 2016. ‘This is an illegitimate nomination,’ said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who said he had ‘no intention’ of meeting with the nominee. ‘I personally have no desire to pretend it’s acceptable.’ … Sen. Joe Manchin, who has supported two of Trump’s nominees, said he isn’t ready to totally turn his back on the traditional process even though he’s announced his opposition to a pre-election confirmation.”

The Judge’s Ruling: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Constitution - This week Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew P. Napolitano describes how RBG moved the vector of the court’s direction: “[Justice Ginsburg] looked at the Constitution as a moral document that empowered the justices’ interpretations in discerning right from wrong -- and thus, to issue proper moral rulings. This view, the ‘living Constitution,’ teaches that many of the words and phrases in the document are so vague as to enable justices to adapt their meanings to our modern times, which the Framers could not have imagined. This theory teaches that Congress can right any wrong, regulate any behavior and interfere in any event or state of affairs so long as the issue to be addressed is national in scope and there is no expressed prohibition on Congress doing so in the Constitution. To Justice Scalia, the Constitution retrains the court and the government. To Justice Ginsburg, the Constitution unleashes the court and the government.” More here.

LAYOFFS CONTINUE AS RECESSION PROVES STUBBORN
CNBC: “The number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits were slightly higher than expected last week as the labor market continues its sluggish recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 19 came in at 870,000, adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. Economists polled by Dow Jones expected first-time claims at 850,000, down slightly from the previous week’s 860,000. Without the adjustment, about 825,000 people filed last week, up from the previous week’s 796,000. More than 6 million people a week filed during the peak of the layoffs in the spring, when Congress approved $600 a week in supplemental benefits. The supplemental benefits expired this summer. … New York and Georgia saw the biggest week-over-week increases in initial claims, the department said. Claims in New York jumped by more than 9,000 last week and first-time filers in Georgia rose by more than 6,000.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Facebook's Oversight Board to launch mid-October - Reuters

AUDIBLE: PAGING MIKE ROWE
“The Netanyahus are the only ones who bring actual suitcases of dirty laundry for us to clean.” – A U.S. official speaking anonymously with the WaPo. Laundry is a perk for visiting leaders, free of charge, by the U.S. staff. Though it’s available to all foreign leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the few who brings dirty laundry with him on visits.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Good essay. Unfortunately politicians of both stripes have become lazy and generally useless. It’s why both sides of the aisle don’t like Trump as he forces them to take stands on issues when sticking the head in the sand is the usual approach. Term limits and lack of pensions and perks is the answer but will never happen no matter which party is in power. And the offer of a round of golf still stands.” – Michael Johnson, Fairfield Glade, Tenn.

[Ed. note: The golf sounds good! Your vision of the future… not so much. But I get it. When we watch the cynical, self-interested politics of today, it’s hard to imagine how we get back to some kind of restoration of balance in our system. I would submit, though, that it is self-interest that may take us there. In fact, the rebirth of judicial restraint on the right and the left is a strongly encouraging sign that the shift may be on. If judges, acting in their own self-interest, decline to do the work that Congress won’t do lawmakers may be forced to start doing their job. It’s no sure thing, but there is reason for hope.]

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

BRO...
WABC: “A man cave can be a great addition to any home, but apparently not at work. MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny released an investigative report finding at least three employees had used a storage room at Metro-North Railroad's Grand Central Terminal as their own personal ‘man cave.’ The Office of the MTA Inspector General found the room, complete with a futon couch, a large flat-screen television with a streaming device, air conditioning, refrigerator, microwave, workout equipment, hide-a-way beds, and more. … The ‘man cave’ was an interior room behind a locked door within a storage room containing what investigators were told were ‘sensitive supplies’ beneath Track 114. They say it was even outfitted with customized wooden boxes that could be deployed to quickly disguise some of the room's larger items, such as the futon and the flat screen TV. During the investigation, Grand Central management told the investigators that they did not even know the storage room existed, let alone that it contained an unauthorized break room.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“The United States is not a small nation. Neither is Japan. Or France. These nations may suffer defeats. They may even be occupied. But they cannot disappear.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) discussing the size of Israel in The Weekly Standard on May 11, 1998.

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.