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On the roster: NRA crackup widens way for background check bill - I’ll Tell You What: Like Martin and Lewis - Bernie gets shucked in Iowa - Yang qualifies for next debate - You lookin’ at me? 

Gun rights activists are more than a little worried.

After decades of success in not just preventing new gun control legislation in the wake of mass killings but even rolling back existing measures, the movement is on a perilous perch. 

Our government had fallen into a predictable cycle in the wake of high-profile mass murders: Gun control activists would propose new restrictions, Congress and the president would promise action and then, once a decorous period of time had passed, the measures would be rubbished. 

The fact that gun-rights proponents were able to prevent any legislative response to the 2012 massacre of young school children in Newtown, Conn. – when there was both a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in the Senate – is an astonishing feat.

There’s strong public support for measures like the one backed by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., to require background checks be conducted on private firearms transfers. That support is intensified by the anguish Americans feel over the senseless murders and a desire to do something, even if it wouldn’t have prevented the killings. Anything just to feel a little less powerless.

Now, though, there are some cracks.

In the wake of the murder of 58 Las Vegas concertgoers in 2017, the Republican president pushed through restrictions on a tool to modify rifles to fire more rapidly. Then in an even more remarkable move, bipartisan legislation passed Congress to reform the National Instant Criminal Background Check System used to vet would-be firearms purchasers.

These were small things compared to the lavish demands of those in the gun-control community but they were notable for having taken place during a period of unified Republican control in Washington. 

One can attribute these things to shifting public opinion, to which large-scale efforts by anti-gun groups may have played a part. But there is more at work here. 

On Tuesday, the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, spoke with Trump and reportedly warned the president against Trump’s recently expressed support for legislation like the bill proposed by Toomey and Manchin. It worked two years ago. Will it work again? 

It was a busy day for LaPierre, who is simultaneously contending with the crackup of his own organization and an ongoing effort to toss him out. 

The NRA, once the Death Star of political pressure groups, has for months been beset by infighting, allegations of misconduct and mixed messaging. The most recent is a charge from the group’s longtime advertising agency that LaPierre sought to spend millions in donor funds on a mansion for himself. 

This comes after a decade of unprecedented expansion by the NRA, which cast aside its traditional advocacy role in favor of becoming a one-stop shop for conservatives with its own TV network and broad-spectrum opposition to Democrats on a host of issues. 

The NRA remains a prodigious power in Washington because of its millions of members, but as an institution itself, it’s looking more than a little wobbly. 

One of the biggest changes in American politics over the last 20 years has been the diminution of the two major parties by ill-conceived and poorly executed campaign finance reform efforts and the rise of outside groups, including the NRA, Planned Parenthood, Super PACs, the Koch Network and others, in fulfilling the traditional functions the parties once served. 

We have discussed before some of the consequences including a lack of vetting of candidates, an increase in negative partisanship and unaccountability in political spending. But there’s also what we’re seeing now with the NRA, Planned Parenthood and others. 

When so much power and money ends up in the hands of relatively small, insular and largely unaccountable organizations they certainly have more latitude to operate. But they also can rot from the inside out before the larger political world is aware. 

We are skeptical about the prospects for real legislative accomplishments in the wake of last weekend’s mass murders, whether on firearms, mental health or anything else. But we also are no doubt closer to such possibilities than we were before. 

Part of that certainly relates to public sentiment, but some of it is a function of the outsourcing of party functions. 

“But however inclined we might be to insist upon an unbounded complaisance in the Executive to the inclinations of the people, we can with no propriety contend for a like complaisance to the humors of the legislature.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 71

Smithsonian: “It would be easy to mistake the painting Harvest Time for an uncomplicated image of Midwestern bliss, a picture of ease and plenty after a hard day’s work. It is an unassuming portrayal of a picnic in rural Kansas, with a group of farm workers gathered congenially around a table, drinking beer and laughing. … In fact, Harvest Time was created with a specific goal: to convince American women to buy beer. It was 1945 and the United States Brewers Foundation, an advocacy group for the beer industry, sought out the artist, Doris Lee, to paint something for an advertising campaign they called ‘Beer Belongs.’ The ads, which ran in popular women’s magazines like McCall’s and Collier’s featured works of art that equated beer drinking with scenes of wholesome American life. The artworks positioned beer as a natural beverage to serve and to drink in the home.”

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Trump job performance
Average approval
: 42.4 percent
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent
Net Score: -11.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 2.8 points 
[Average includes: IBD: 40% approve - 56% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve - 54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve - 54% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve - 51% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 44% approve - 53% disapprove.]

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Back together again! This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss some road stories and the battle between the Joe Biden wing of the Democratic Party and the Elizabeth Warren wing. Plus, Chris answers some regional trivia. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

Monmouth University: “Former Vice President Joe Biden maintains a lead in the Hawkeye State, but Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is hot on his heels while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has slipped down the leaderboard. … Biden continues to lead the Democratic field with 28% support among voters who are likely to attend the Iowa caucuses in February 2020. … However, Warren is now closing the gap at 19% support, up from 7% four months ago. Support for Sanders has gone in the opposite direction, now at 9% compared with 16% in April. California Sen. Kamala Harris clocks in at 11% (up from 7%) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has 8% (similar to his 9% in April). Other candidates who register at least 2% in the poll include Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (3%), former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer(3%), New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (2%), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang (2%).”

Harris pumps up Hawkeye State spending - Politico: “Kamala Harris on Thursday became the first major Democratic presidential candidate to hit the airwaves in Iowa, releasing a new commercial introducing herself to the early-voting state while weaving in a message framed around her kitchen-table agenda. Harris’ 60-second ad comes amid a rush of activity in the state. The California senator is in the midst of a five-day bus tour across the state, which includes stops at the state fair and a party fundraising dinner attended by most of the presidential field. A Harris campaign official said the ad buy will be in the high six figures, and that they expected it to run for several weeks. This year’s massive candidate field seems to have led the leading campaigns to slow-play their paid media. In 2007, then-candidate Barack Obama began airing a pair of introductory ads in Iowa in June.”

NYT: “The entrepreneur and former tech executive Andrew Yang became the ninth Democratic presidential candidate to qualify for the next debates on Thursday after a new poll of Iowa voters showed him earning 2 percent support. Mr. Yang had already met the Democratic National Committee’s other debate-qualification threshold by having drawn donations from more than 130,000 individual donors. The Monmouth University Poll of likely 2020 Iowa Democratic caucusgoers released Thursday was the fourth qualifying poll to show him with 2 percent support. According to a Times analysis of fund-raising and polling data, he joins former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Senator Kamala Harris of California, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who have already qualified to take part in the September debates, scheduled to be held in Houston.”

Gabbard’s stunts may cost her House seat - Politico: “Tulsi Gabbard’s slashing debate performance is giving her presidential campaign a badly-needed pulse — and stoking a flurry of speculation about what her end game is. Gabbard delivered a piercing, if inaccurate, appraisal of Kamala Harris’ law enforcement record — then turned it into a misleading, yet effective, online ad push. Adding to the intrigue, she had a hushed sideline conversation with Joe Biden … after the debate. It’s all triggered a parlor game back in Hawaii, where the four-term congresswoman is at risk of losing a primary for her House seat as she’s stuck at 1 percent in the crowded race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Among the theories: That she’s angling for vice president or a Cabinet post; that she's weighing a third-party run; or, perhaps, that she's looking to land a contract as a TV talking head while plotting her next move.”

Sean Trende: Yes, the GOP should worry about Texas - Real Clear Politics: “We might write off 2018 to the bad GOP year and [Ted Cruz’s] unpopularity. But that requires ignoring some substantial evidence to the contrary. One has to ignore that John McCain won the state by double digits in a 2008 environment that was probably even worse for the GOP than 2018, while John Cornyn won re-election against a hyped Democratic opponent handily. Most importantly, one has to ignore the nature of political coalitions in the Age of Trump. Trump has generally improved GOP fortunes in rural American and in the towns, and in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, all of which has generally helped the Republican Party.  But there is little doubt that the GOP has suffered substantial losses in the suburban areas that once formed the backbone of the party while doing little to advance its cause in the major cities.”

When it comes to viral campaign videos, be careful what you wish for - NYT: “In some instances, these ads will lead enthusiastic Democrats to waste money on unwinnable races; in others, they may help make a ‘red’ area competitive. But in both cases, their most striking effect is forcing the candidate to appeal simultaneously to voters in a conservative area and to distant online donors, many from liberal enclaves. This is why the videos focus on biographical homages to the local culture (like military service, blue-collar bona fides or, in [M.J. Hegar’s] Senate ad, riding a Harley-Davidson) rather than policy ones (like being generally moderate or into gun rights).”

The Hill: “The head of the House Judiciary Committee appears to be preparing to call members of his panel back to Washington, D.C., from their August recess to oversee a markup of gun violence legislation following two deadly mass shootings, sources tell The Hill. … Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and a faction of other Democrats made their case to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in recent days that the committee should return to D.C. to address additional gun legislation, including an assault weapons ban… Pelosi and her allies initially pushed back against the idea of having the full House to return to consider the gun legislation… But in a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter issued after Monday's call, the speaker voiced support for Nadler's plan…”

Pergram: Something new or same as it ever was? - Fox News: “People often predict a shift in the immediate aftermath of each melee. But after a few weeks, things revert to where they stood before. There’s no Congressional action. Things calm down. Then the massacres start again and the cycle repeats. …  So do El Paso and Dayton change things? Are there palpable if subtle changes on the firearms issue? Or this like the CIA and the Soviet Union? Are the rest of us blind to changes gurgling below the surface? … Is the pattern inculcated so deeply into our psyches that changes are imperceptible because the sequence just repeats after each shooting? Unclear.”

The Judge’s Ruling: Guns, personal liberty and the Constitution - This week Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano explains why calls to take legally-owned guns away from gun owners is not the right answer: “It would be exquisitely unfair, profoundly unconstitutional and historically un-American for the rights of law-abiding folks … to be impaired in the name of public safety. It would also be irrational. A person willing to kill innocents and be killed by the police while doing so surely would have no qualms about violating a state or federal law that prohibited the general ownership of the weapon he was about to use. With all of this as background, and the country anguishing over the mass deaths of innocents, the feds and the states face a choice between a knee-jerk but popular restriction of some form of gun ownership and the rational and sound realization that more guns in the hands of those properly trained means less crime and more safety.” More here.

Trump may spring celebrity crook Blago from prison Fox News

Trump heads to the Hamptons to headline fundraisers Friday - WaPo

Trump expresses regret for his treatment of his alcoholic older brother, the late Fred Trump Jr. - WaPo

“You really think the other side is the moral equivalent of Adolf Hitler? We killed 4.3 million Germans getting at Hitler.” – Kevin Williamson writing at National Review

“So glad you mentioned the AP Stylebook when you responded to Ms. Morrow in Wednesday's newsletter. Most people outside of media have no idea what it is. Not sure if talking about it here would help explain why AP members like New York Times, NBC, CNN, etc. decide which terms to identify some people and groups or use other specific terms while other media choose not to use it much at all. Thoughts?” – Mark Hoffman, Des Moines, Iowa

[Ed. note: I have thoughts, Mr. Hoffman. Many thoughts. Brianna and I do rely on the Stylebook and Webster’s Dictionary as authoritative, but not controlling authorities. Common sense in service of every writer’s most crucial object – to be understood – must always be the North Star. Plus, they don’t know how to spell “holy crokano” nor do they know that “crawfish” is a verb as well as a noun. If you really like this stuff, let me also recommend a couple of books to you: “Garner’s Modern American Usage” by the sage of Canyon, Texas, Bryan Garner and “The Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson.]    

“I wrote to you before with a proposal that all campaign donations must be made anonymously so the politicians are not aware of their specific financiers. Silly me, I made the proposal as a way to stop politicians from favoring donors (if all donor identities are shielded, the politician’s dilemma is ‘who am I beholden to?’), but I did not realize the purpose of anonymity would be to protect donors from politicians compiling an ‘Enemy’s List,’ ala Joaquin Castro. Does anyone doubt that politicians should have much less information about those engaging in free, political speech than more?” – Michael Friend, Atlanta

[Ed. note: I hear you, Mr. Friend. The idea of a congressmen urging retribution against donors to his political opponents is beneath the dignity of his office by a long shot. But that’s what happens when stop treating the other side with respect. If every Democrat is a socialist bent on destroying the republic and every Republican is a racist determined to prevent the free exercise of democracy than what wouldn’t one do to stop the bad guys. David French coined the term “nut picking” for the penchant on both sides to find the most outrageous individual views or behaviors within any political movement and then damn the rest of the group for his or her behavior. The antidote is what Bret Stephens said about our dear, departed colleague Charles Krauthammer: “Since I’m not aware of any precise antonym to the term ‘straw man,’ I hereby nominate the noun “krauthammer” to serve the function, defined in two ways: (1) as the strongest possible counterargument to your opinion; (2) a person of deep substance and complete integrity.” The answer can’t be to conduct more of our public business in private. Rather, we must hold each other and ourselves to account for our failures to live up to such a standard.]       

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CNET: “Seagulls are notorious for strolling right up to people and stealing their lunches. But the good news is you might be able to battle this avian crime wave with a simple tool: your eyes. Researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK wanted to know if staring at seagulls might dissuade them from abducting your dinner, so they headed to coastal towns in Cornwall. The team put a bag of chips (that's fries for us U.S. folks) on the ground and monitored how long it took the gulls to approach the food. ‘On average, gulls took 21 seconds longer to approach the food with a human staring at them,’ the university said in a release on Tuesday. … The study had a small sample size, so your gull-staring mileage may vary. It's worth a shot, though. If you want to protect your food and still enjoy your time at the seaside, then it may just be a matter of playing stare down with the local birds.”

“The search for logic in anti-Americanism is fruitless. It is in the air the world breathes. Its roots are envy and self-loathing – by peoples who, yearning for modernity but having failed at it, find their one satisfaction in despising modernity’s great exemplar.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing for Time magazine on Nov. 9, 2003.

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.