Solving the confidence crisis

On the roster: Solving the confidence crisis - Time Out: Mapping the ‘war on Christmas’ - Obama tries to jam Trump with legacy moves - Trump's media backers act as enforcers on Hill - The judge may Grimace

Whatever the policy prescriptions Donald Trump brings to the presidency, his basic task is unambiguous: restore the shattered faith of Americans in their system.

A poll today from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News is a dire diagnosis of a real sickness with Americans’ confidence in key institutions.

Just 19 percent of respondents expressed much confidence in the federal government. Only the military, and to much lesser extents, the Supreme Court, the CIA and the FBI, stand out as federal institutions in which Americans still believe.

And can you blame then?

The game in politics for at least a generation has been to profit by attacking not the ideas of your rivals themselves, but the very institutions on which we rest our republic.

Our just-concluded election was a year-long testimonial to institutional failures. Some of it was cynical hyperbole. But much of it was rooted in reality.

The century so far has been pretty tough sledding for those who want to believe that America’s government is still capable of doing things well. Starting with the Iraq war and carrying through this infernal election, the system hasn’t exactly been sticking the landing.

Confidence in government relies on two broad categories: first, integrity and second, competency.

As the sun sets on the Obama era, President Obama can at least say that his administration has not been dogged by allegations of corruption.

There have been some, but those were mostly related to ideological issues not personal corruption. The doctored talking points about Benghazi, the squelching of the investigation into sanctioned gunrunning in the Southwest, the notorious spin job on the Iran nuclear deal and the gravy ladled out on green energy firms like Solyndra may have enraged critics, but Obama’s two terms have been mostly free from self-dealing, payola and sexual impropriety.

On the border between corruption and incompetency stands the president’s famous pledge about your doctor and your health insurance: “If you like it you can keep it.” It was a lie, but it was part of a broader failure.

The failures of ObamaCare, which will not long survive his departure from the oval office, are the most notorious of his presidency. But there have been others, too.

His 2009 stimulus was hugely damaging to Obama’s credibility. As the economy limped on, voters understandably lost confidence in Obama’s claims that he and his government could engineer a more robust recovery.

The same goes for Obama’s “pen and phone” action on things like immigration and global warming – both classic cases of over promising and under delivering.

A motif emerges for Obama: Once promising radical changes and big results, the dynamic young president ends up defending his legacy as a cautious caretaker who prevented worse problems.

Obama mostly succeeded at avoiding corruption but failed key tests on the question of competency. As a result, he is leaving office with relatively high approval ratings but with low confidence in the government he led.

As Trump contemplates his path to restoring confidence, he must consider those twin pillars: corruption and competency.

On the competency front, Trump is making strong strides by mostly focusing on result-oriented, if sometimes unconventional, choices for key posts. The pragmatism reflected in many of the picks could be a sign of things to come.

As they would say in Williamson: “Reckon we’re getting ready to find out.”

But it’s on the other side of the ledger where we see warning signs.

Trump’s team is so far struggling with the first consideration as they seem unable to find a way to effectively divorce the Trump family’s business life with their public service.

Failing to do so in a convincing way would be an enormous confidence killer in the long term.

“It will not be denied, that power is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it.” James Madison, Federalist 48

FiveThirtyEight: “‘Tis the season for some to take offense when a store clerk says ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘merry Christmas,’ or when a coffee chain converts to plain red cups for the holiday…It is easy to imagine saying ‘merry Christmas’ as another cudgel in the culture wars between Christians and the irreligious. The actual story, however, is much more nuanced. Public Religion Research Institute asked a nationally representative sample of Americans whether retailers should greet their customers with ‘happy holidays’ or ‘season’s greetings’ — rather than ‘merry Christmas’ — ‘out of respect for people of different faiths.’ Although a slim majority of those with a preference want retailers to say ‘happy holidays’ or ‘season’s greetings,’ we found that preference depends on your level of tension with the culture where you live.”

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In series of late-term maneuvers  President Obama is trying to cement portions of his legacy before the incoming Trump administration takes the reins. The moves, in many cases at odds with the policy positions of his successor, are bound to face challenges…

Bans drilling ban in large swaths of Atlantic and Arctic – WaPo: “Obama used a little-known law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect large portions of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic and a string of canyons in the Atlantic stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia. In addition to a five-year moratorium already in place in the Atlantic, removing the canyons from drilling puts much of the eastern seaboard off limits to oil exploration even if companies develop plans to operate around them… Officials said the withdrawals under Section 12-A of the 1953 act used by presidents dating to Dwight Eisenhower cannot be undone by an incoming president. It is not clear if a Republican-controlled Congress can rescind Obama’s action.”

Congress may try to block latest coal crackdown - Politico: “Obama administration’s years-in-the-making rule to protect streams from mountaintop removal coal mining is on track to go into effect a day before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, meaning Congress will have to step in to kill it quickly…[Trump’s] pick to be Interior secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), is an ardent coal backer and has called for Congress to block the rule. Zinke would be in charge of unwinding the rule, but that process could take years through normal administrative channels. A quicker route runs through Congress, where Republicans are assembling a hit-list of recently passed rules they can block with little recourse from Democrats.”

Report alleges Obama admin punished climate dissent - 
WashFreeBeacon: “A new congressional investigation has determined that the Obama administration fired a top scientist and intimidated staff at the Department of Energy in order to further its climate change agenda, according to a new report that alleges the administration ordered top officials to obstruct Congress in order to forward this agenda. Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, released a wide-ranging report on Tuesday that shows how senior Obama administration officials retaliated against a leading scientist and plotted ways to block a congressional inquiry surrounding key research into the impact of radiation.”

More Gitmo transfers - 
Fox News: “There is an effort underway to transfer up to 22 Gitmo detainees to other countries by the time President Obama leaves office, two defense officials told Fox News. Obama pledged to close the offshore detention center upon taking office, but as time runs out on his administration that almost certainly will not happen. More than half the men still held there have not been cleared for release and Congress has prohibited moving prisoners to the U.S. for any reason. There are currently 59 remaining detainees, of those, 27 are considered too dangerous to transfer.”

Politico: “Since the election, numerous congressional Republicans have refused to publicly weigh in on any Trump proposal at odds with Republican orthodoxy, from his border wall to his massive infrastructure package. The most common reason, stated repeatedly but always privately: They're afraid of being attacked by Breitbart or other big-name Trump supporters… Republican Hill staffers have wrestled in recent months with how to respond to inquiries from Breitbart or other pro-Trump bloggers. Engage them or ignore them? One GOP aide told POLITICO members are “damned if you do, damned if you don't." Another said it’s having a ‘chilling effect’ on GOP lawmakers.”

[David Drucker describes how plan for a new Trump political group is setting off alarms at the RNC – WashEx]

“I would have done even better in the election, if that is possible, if the winner was based on popular vote - but would campaign differently” – Tweet this morning from President-elect Donald Trump.

Final tally: Clinton wins popular vote by nearly 3 million - The Hill

After terror attacks, Trump huddles with security team - AP

Gingrich: Trump backing off “drain the swamp” talk
 - NPR

Trump team explores “half blind Trusts” for conflicts of interest -

Trump sons distance themselves from access fundraiser
 - CBS News

 “If we are to answer instructor Rapp’s question (five minutes) it seems rather simple for middle school! (Just poking, of course) but, your discussion of the Clinton exit was excellent. As much as one may dislike Hillary, you still have to feel a bit sad for her. Who could have expected a non-candidate to jump up from nowhere and defeat a name known in every corner of the nation, TWICE???” Sam Bradley, Las Cruces, NM

[Ed. note: Robert Burns, as always, instructs us well here: "The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!" Or as they'd say on Short Creek, "If you want to give God a laugh, make plans." And certainly, Clinton's woebegone eight years evokes sympathy as we all know the experience of being denied those things we want the most. But I would also submit that part of her story is about wanting something too much. Her hunger for power not only led her to serious errors in judgement but also shone through to voters. We're funny about the people we choose to lead us. We want them to pursue their chosen posts with fervor, but somehow manage to not appear to want it too much.]

“...I can see how Twitter would be a great way to aggregate such journalism. Care to share your Top Ten tweeters (or whatever number you feel is appropriate), or must I try to divine them by analyzing your re-tweets Please keep up the good work. Yours is among a very small number of emails to which I actually look forward each day.” George Upper, Greensboro, N.C.

[Ed. note: If we have even dulled the pain of opening your inbox, we will count 2016 as a rousing success. As for divulging my favorite journalists on Twitter: not a chance! I'm not putting myself on anybody's naughty list this close to Christmas. But I can't stop you from looking to see whom I follow @ChrisStirewalt.]

“Hi, Chris…you are a welcome addition to the political scene, even if Dana has you beat all hollow for looks. Much has been made of the swing of governors and statehouses to the ‘pubs over the past 8 years…is there a similar analysis available for the political leanings of county governments across the country? (If the states are the laboratories of democracy, does that make county governments the petri dish?)” - Jim Wofford, Upperville, Va.

[Ed. note: Would you even perhaps say that they are where political cultures develop... The simple answer to your question is no, as far as we can tell. There are a couple of challenges here. First, Americans live under so many different kinds of local governance. Some cities are counties. There are boroughs, townships, villages, unincorporated places, etc. Second, many places have nonpartisan elections for local offices, often to good results. The trend, in fact, seems to be toward nonpartisanship. And as for Dana: on the count of looks, the matter is in no dispute. She is as lovely as could be, inside and out. But where she's really got me beat is at untying the knottiest knots. I've come to rely on her insight and powers of deduction. About all I've got on her is that I actually know at which temperature a steak should be prepared.]

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

AP: “A suburban Chicago man is suing McDonald’s restaurants in two Illinois counties, arguing cheeseburger ‘Extra Value Meals’ are actually more expensive than when the items are purchased separately. James Gertie of Des Plaines tells The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald that bundling two cheeseburgers, medium french fries and a drink at $5.90 is 41 cents more than when individual items are purchased. Gertie, a bus driver, says his lawsuit filed this month is about principle, not 41 cents. He seeks class-action status for a consumer fraud and deceptive practices lawsuit against McDonald’s operator Karis Management Co. The complaint seeks an injunction to keep McDonald’s from pricing value meals higher than items purchased.”

“This is so egregious it is perfectly revealing of the fact that Obama as he leaves the White House he’s trying to nail everything to the floor so it can’t be moved. Of course it can be moved…” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” Watch here.

 Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News Halftime Report in you inbox every day? Sign up here.