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On the roster: Tammany Hall, U.S.A. - I’ll Tell You What: Double doink - Steyer rules out 2020 run - Audible: That’ll show ‘em… - Hard to believe after what we ate over the holidays
TAMMANY HALL, U.S.A.
If you really care about the theater surrounding the partial government shutdown you’re probably not reading us anyway. But just in case, the news from today is… nothing.
No progress was made. Moral superiority was claimed by both sides and the squabbling factions claimed their own petty victories. But still, many billions of dollars’ worth of paychecks, billions more in contracts, home loans and other basic government functions will go unmet over the risibly small sum of $3.1 billion.
While we wait for the grubby gladiatorial combat to reach some kind of conclusion, it might be helpful to consider why things are like this and what the incentives are for so poorly governing so great a nation.
We have talked many times about how weakening cultural and social institutions in America are directly related to the rise of partisanship of an imbecilic kind. As families, congregations, social clubs, associations, neighborhoods, schools and other institutions that imbue life with purpose, meaning and connectedness have faltered, Americans have increasingly sought meaning and belongingness in politics and government.
Organizations like Tammany Hall were like this, once upon a time. In that case, it was a political machine to harness the power of Irish immigrants in New York, but it was also a lifestyle. William “Boss” Tweed was a benevolent despot who ruled over an institution that was social, economic, cultural and jurisprudential in addition to being a means to wring every drop of political patronage and payola out of the corrupt system.
Millions of Americans now live in a virtual version of Tammany Hall in which political and ideological views are less important than membership in their clan.
We like to think about politics as the expression of the will of the people, but we have a great deal of evidence that things are actually working the other way. There’s lots of research to show that voters are changing their views on issues to better align with their tribes than pushing to have their own voices heard.
In 2016, researchers found enormous shifts in views on race and gender among white liberals during the 2016 election. Similarly, we saw Republican views on those subjects and others, including abuses of executive power, international trade and others change to accommodate their party’s leader.
Some of this is normal herd mentality stuff. In a well-connected, large population such as ours we would expect to see plenty of bunching up as voters try to follow trends. But that connectedness both exacerbates and exploits our weak social institutions. People who do not feel connected to those around them or to benevolent institutions larger than themselves are more easily manipulated, especially when mobs form in real time on your smartphone screen.
Gallup this week offers a startling insight on just how intense this herd instinct has become.
A generation ago the largest percentage of Americans identified themselves as moderates, 43 percent in 1992. That was considerably higher than the still large 36 percent of self-described conservatives and way bigger than the 17 percent who said they were liberals. Now, Gallup finds conservatives and moderates tied at 35 percent and liberals at 26 percent.
Within the two parties, though, the results are even more striking, especially among Democrats. Now 51 percent of Democrats identify as liberals, the first time a majority in that party has said so.
The climb as been less steep for Republicans, but even more polarized. Twenty years ago 58 percent of Republicans said they were conservatives and 33 percent said they were moderates. Now it’s 73 percent and 22 percent respectively.
There are still lots more self-described moderate Democrats than there are moderate Republicans, but the two parties are headed for the same place.
Maybe not surprisingly, the percentage of independents who identify themselves as either conservative or liberal has been on a downward trend for some time. Part of that relates to the party that’s in power since independents tend to recoil from whatever the dominant political atmosphere is, but it’s worth noting.
The herding phenomenon that we discussed earlier causes people to prize membership over their own views. It’s not that Republican policies are more conservative now than they were a decade ago. The meaning of the word is changing. But voters’ attachment to labels like “conservative” and “liberal” as shibboleths intensifies.
There are some voters gullible enough to believe that $3.1 billion for border security is either necessary to avoid the destruction of the United States as we know it or an immoral expenditure which would forever ignoble the nation’s name.
But we suspect there’s far more cynicism than gullibility at play. This is about winning and losing. Republicans who are cheering on the shutdown would cheer just as hard if it was $3 trillion or $3. Forcing Democrats to knuckle under is the idea.
Same goes for Democrats who won’t budge from their original offer. They want to defeat the avatar of the other team. The money doesn’t matter, as would be obvious to anyone in a government running $1 trillion deficits.
So here we sit with a shutdown over a symbolic sum and partisans more interested in humiliating each other than solving a very simple problem.
It may look stupid, but when you consider what’s going on with the American electorate it makes sense. And it also makes it plan that there is much more of this to come.
Boss Tweed would be proud.
THE RULEBOOK: OF, FOR AND BY THE PEOPLE
“Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their common constituents. Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective States.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 46
TIME OUT: EVENHANDED
Writer Drew Batcher examines one of country music’s most distinctive voices. Paris Review: “The first song I ever loved was ‘On the Other Hand,’ by Randy Travis. … It was on country radio all the time, and because we listened to country radio all the time, I learned the song, as I’d learned countless others, through osmosis. … ‘On the Other Hand’ was different from the other country music I heard at the time. Travis’s deep nasal whine, a mix of range and grog and woebegone, blew through the blur. His voice seemed to summon Hank Williams by way of a bullfrog. He was, among other things, an irresistible parody. I stood in front of the fireplace in the living room. I pinched my nostrils. ‘On one hand, I count the reasons I could stay with you,’ I started, pausing to release my nose-hold and inhale again before continuing, ‘and hold you close to me, all night long.’”
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
Trump job performance
Average approval: 42 percent
Average disapproval: 53.4 percent
Net Score: -11.4 points
Change from one week ago: unchanged
[Average includes: Gallup: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 42% approve - 54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 39% approve - 52% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 43% approve - 54% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve - 52% disapprove.]
I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: DOUBLE DOINK
This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss the President's prime time address, the Democratic response and Dana's recent trip to Africa. Plus, mailbag questions and trivia. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE
STEYER RULES OUT 2020 RUN
LAT: “Billionaire Tom Steyer, after flirting with a presidential bid, has decided he will not seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, according to a published report. The New York Times, quoting from remarks Steyer was prepared to make at a news conference Wednesday in Des Moines, said he would instead redouble his efforts to oust President Trump. ‘Most people come to Iowa around this time to announce a campaign for president,’ Steyer said in the remarks. ‘But I am proud to be here to announce that I will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to remove a president.’ Iowa will be the center of the political galaxy a year from now when voters prepare to cast the first ballots of the 2020 campaign.”
Harris one step closer - Politico: “Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), moving closer to an anticipated presidential announcement, has shuttered her state campaign committee and is donating its roughly $1 million balance to a host of organizations, POLITICO has learned. The decision to close down the nascent ‘Harris for Governor 2026’ committee — which essentially served as an account to park money she raised while serving as the state attorney general, before she was elected senator in 2016 — represents the latest sign that she’s gearing up for a White House run. Harris, a source with knowledge of her plans told POLITICO, will donate the leftover balance to 19 organizations, including $75,000 to the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights; $100,000 to displaced firefighters and a foundation that looks after fallen firefighters; $50,000 to Swords to Plowshares; $50,000 to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition; $100,000 to the Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade; and $75,000 to the National Domestic Workers Alliance.”
Ooops: Book praises now-disgraced aide - Fox News: “Kamala Harris' new book may have gone to the printer just a bit too soon. The U.S. senator's biography, ‘The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,’ which was released Tuesday… But the book also puts Harris in an awkward spot because it praises the ‘leadership’ her now-disgraced former aide, Larry Wallace, who resigned in December over a $400,000 sexual harassment settlement. … The senator’s book features a passage in which she praises Wallace, former director of the Division of Law Enforcement in California, for his ‘leadership’ in coming up with an ‘implicit bias and procedural justice training program.’”
Warren to headline Dem fundraiser in New Hampshire - Concord Monitor: “Elizabeth Warren has long been a friend and supporter of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Now, it appears state party officials are returning the favor by naming the U.S. senator from Massachusetts and all-but-certain presidential candidate as the keynote speaker at its annual McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner, which is one of the two major fundraising events it holds annually. By headlining the dinner, the progressive champion who last week announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, will have the chance to address up to 1,000 Democratic activists, officials, lawmakers and rainmakers in the first-in-the nation primary state. The dinner is expected to also draw a large contingent of national media, and will be televised live on C-SPAN.”
New entrant to crowded field to replace Kansas’ Roberts - The Wichita Eagle: “Republican Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner, one of the youngest statewide elected officials in the country, is entering the race to replace Pat Roberts in the U.S. Senate. LaTurner’s announcement Tuesday comes less than a week after Roberts, 82, said he will retire at the end of his fourth term in 2020. He is the first person to enter the race, although many big names in Kansas politics are considering it. ‘I’m running because I think Kansas wants a conservative fighter in the United States Senate,’ LaTurner said. ‘That’s what I’ve done my whole career, whether I was in the state Senate or serving as the treasurer for the last year and a half, and that’s what I’ll do in the United States Senate.’”
North Carolina House race marred by fraud may not be resolved until the fall - FiveThirtyEight: “There’s going to be plenty of time for the field to develop: With the new delays in the investigation and the potential need for three rounds of voting (a primary, a runoff and a general), it’s now possible that the 9th District’s representative to the 116th Congress won’t be chosen until November 2019.”
Rosenstein to leave DOJ after Sessions’ successor confirmed - Fox News
Whitaker on the hot seat with Dems in charge - WaPo
Russian in Trump Tower meeting charged in money laundering probe - NYT
Acting Defense secretary under scrutiny on ethics - Politico
Deficit climbs again - NYT
Republicans rolled in bid to block Virginia redistricting - U.S. News and World
Democrats troll GOP with vote on pre-existing conditions - Roll Call
AUDIBLE: THAT’LL SHOW ‘EM…
“[My departure will last] until and unless the commonwealth is ready for my views on things, and that’s not right now, clearly.” – Failed 2018 Virginia Senate candidate Corey Stewart announcing that he would not seek another term as chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Prince William County and would leave politics for “the foreseeable future.”
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Hi Chris … I think I have come up with a way for President Trump to end this shutdown and get his wall. It doesn't take much to figure this out so here it goes. I believe that if President Trump would cut a deal with Mexico to build a portion of the wall on the Mexican side of the border, with them donating the land, he could fulfill his promise to have them pay for it, and eliminate the process in our country of imminent domain and the cost of procuring land near the Rio Grande that landowners don't want to lose to secure parts of the border that are difficult to protect. This would eliminate some of the argument that the Democrats have used to prevent this process from moving forward. Then I would suggest that the President declare a National Emergency to continue the pay for the furloughed government employees while they await the House of Representatives funding process, even though they are still shutdown, and since they are always paid retroactively, it is no skin off of our government coffers, and would serve as a sign that he is actually concerned more about our citizens. This whole process would put an end to the Democrats argument and make President Trump look the leader that we all know he is!” – Mike McDonald, Dubuque, Iowa
[Ed. note: Hoooo boy! You said a mouthful, Mr. McDonald. First, one practical consideration: Mexico does not want to build a wall on its side of the border. It’s a poor country that does not wish to spend billions of dollars on a project that its leaders think unnecessary. Mexico’s focus is on addressing the population and migrant boom south of its own southern border. Central America is to Mexico today as Mexico was to the United States 30 years ago. So no, they won’t play along. The other consideration is legal and philosophical. Congress has managed to let itself off the hook for many of its constitutionally mandated duties but I think it is still too much even for them to have the president start openly flouting budgetary laws and the Article I responsibility of the Congress over spending. I think even a substantial number of Republicans would deny the chief executive such kingly authorities as those. It’s true for this president as it is for every president: Dealing with Congress stinks. That does, however, happen to be the most important part of our republican system.]
“Chris, Continue to enjoy your newsletter. While everyone agrees Congress should not be getting paid during a shutdown, I think a better idea is to hit them where it really hurts. As part of the shutdown agreement, President Trump should insist that Congress include a new law that would prohibit members of Congress from holding any fundraisers or soliciting or accepting any campaign contributions for any federal or state office beginning October 1 of each year and continuing until all appropriation bills are signed into law for the entire government for the entire fiscal year. Short term extensions would not count. Never going to happen, but we’d never have a government shutdown lasting more than 2 days again.” – Steve Arthur, Woodland Park, Colo.
[Ed. note: Shutdown or no shutdown, you may be on to something, Mr. Arthur!]
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HARD TO BELIEVE AFTER WHAT WE ATE OVER THE HOLIDAYS
NPR: “While Americans consumed nearly 37 pounds per capita in 2017, it was not enough to reduce the country's 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The glut, which at 900,000 cubic yards is the largest in U.S. history, means that there is enough cheese sitting in cold storage to wrap around the U.S. Capitol. … Over the past 10 years, milk production has increased by 13 percent because of high prices. But what dairy farmers failed to realize was that Americans are drinking less milk. …Americans drank just 149 pounds of milk per capita in 2017, down from 247 pounds in 1975. Suppliers turn that extra milk into cheese because it is less perishable and stays fresh for longer periods. But Americans are turning their noses up at those processed cheese slices and string cheese — varieties that are a main driver of the U.S. cheese market — in favor of more refined options.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“The role of that encounter is for me as a journalist, as an observer, as an outsider and as a critic to try and get a sense of how his mind works, so I can more accurately understand him and what he does. So it’s not my role to go in there and say ‘You’re a romantic, sir.’” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) talking Politico in November of 2013 about his meeting with then-President Barack Obama.
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.