Trump pleases the right on Iran, but what about base?

**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

On the roster: Trump pleases the right on Iran, but what about base? - Hatch to retire, opens path for Romney Senate run - New year, new deadlines for Congress - Uninvited guests are the worst 


The New Year begins with even skeptical Republicans feeling quite pleased with their president. The passage of a $1.5 trillion tax cut aimed mostly as juicing corporate profits and, they hope, investment covered a lot of sins with Donald Trump’s many critics on the right.

He enjoyed greater support among Republicans in Quinnipiac’s year-end poll than he did just after his inauguration

That the tax cut came alongside the temporary avoidance of a year-end fiscal cliff and that the year ended without any large-scale crisis, international or domestic, added heft to the arguments of those who have said that Trump is – or has the capacity to be – an effective conservative leader, just one who tweets, talks and acts like something different.

These supporters are sometimes mocked as the “but Gorsuch” Republicans. Folks who might recoil from Trump’s style, ethical conduct or specific policy pronouncements who still argue that he was and remains worthy of support for his capacity to deliver major victories for the right, chief among them, the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch.

WashEx Commentary Editor Tim Carney used his annual year-end mea culpa to reconsider his 2016 assessment that Trump would end up being worse for conservative causes in the long run than a Hillary Clinton presidency would have been.

Carney wasn’t ready to completely reverse the ruling on the field, but he had certainly become receptive to the idea: “…with Gorsuch on the bench, it’s possible that Trump will prove himself obviously better than Clinton. And that’s not what I expected.”

This newfound appreciation is no surprise to Trump’s longtime stalwarts on the right, like columnist Liz Peek who observes today: “A realistic assessment of Trump’s first year would note a transition to a smoother and more disciplined White House, better coordination with Congressional allies and a more integrated messaging on foreign policy. Soon, people may start to talk of a learning curve, and credit neophyte Trump with a better appreciation of what it takes to be a successful president.”

This is the key rationale for the growing appreciation, or at least acceptance, of Trump on the ideological right. The thinking goes that as Trump acts less like the Bannonian chaos candidate version of himself and more like a typical Republican president – disciplined administration, respectful rapport with Republican leaders in Congress, etc. – the better things will get.

And, hey, when your opponent warns that your election will mean not just national catastrophe but actual Armageddon, you don’t need to do much managing of expectations.

The New Year has brought a new vehicle for the hopes of conservatives in the era of Trump: the unrest in Iran and the prospect of regime change in the Islamist state of 80 million people.

Ben Shapiro, who has been at times one of Trump’s fiercest critics from the right, summed up the sentiment today at National Review:

“The Trump administration seems to have come to this correct conclusion from the wrong direction. Trump campaigned along isolationist lines, imitating the worst excesses of the Ron Paul crowd. But because he perceives himself to be a moral actor in the world, his foreign policy has followed the basic belief system [George Washington] laid forth: Make alliances where possible, but pursue America’s interests above all. That’s why Iranian protesters now have an ally rather than an enemy in the White House. And that’s why America’s foreign policy is more moral under Trump than it was under [Barack Obama].”

Trump’s rapid evolution in the eyes of Shapiro and others from wannabe Paulite kook to moral leader in the tradition of the American Cincinnatus himself seems head-snapping but for this key piece of context: We are always forgiving of another’s inconstancy when it tends in our direction. One man’s flip flop is another man’s maturation in office.

The conservative narrative on Iran, like foreign policy in general, is that Trump is doing the right thing because he has shunned the isolationism he espoused when campaigning. As Trump sounds less like Steve Bannon and more like George W. Bush on these subjects, establishment Republicans go from relief to even optimism.

Whatever Bannon lacks as a political operative, which is much, it cannot be said that he doesn’t have an ear for the concerns for the blue-collar white voters who propelled Trump’s 2016 upset. There’s a reason relative isolationism – “America First” – was such a big part of Trump’s campaign.

In the past year, we watched Republicans grow in comfort and approval with Trump. But we also saw a corresponding slide among those so-called “Trump Democrats” who made the presidency possible.

By October, Trump was already down 12 points among white voters without college degrees. And with independents, which is what many of those Democratic leaners who voted for Trump actually are, it’s even worse.

Trump carried independents 48 percent to 42 percent in 2016. His job approval last month among the same group: just 30 percent.

Conservatives have a great deal to show for the Trump presidency, but they should also bear in mind that his moves in their direction may make him even more unpopular than he already is. And believe us when we say that deepening U.S. involvement in the Middle East would accelerate the trend.

The Paulite excesses that Shapiro and others lamented may or may not be good policy, but there’s a reason both Trump and Obama both campaigned on ending nation building abroad and promised nation building here at home.

“[The necessity of a government as energetic as the one proposed]… must be evident … for any other can certainly never preserve the Union of so large an empire.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 23 

Halftime Report has a New Years’ resolution of our own: To eat more pimento cheese, preferably of the homemade variety. For the culturally impoverished, pimento cheese is made – generally – of roasted pimento peppers, grated, sharp cheddar cheese, cream cheese and, obviously, mayonnaise. It is known to some as “the pâté of the South” for a ubiquity, versatility and variety matching that of pâté in French cuisine. It is most perfectly enjoyed on a cold sandwich – thin, soft, crust-less white bread and a generous schmear of pimento cheese – served in quarters alongside fried chicken and, if you are lucky , potent homemade sweet and sour pickles. But it is a fantastic dip, burger topping, grilled cheese and, divinely, as an omelet filling alongside country ham. Garden & Gun offers a good starting point for your own explorations. You can spice it up with jalapeños, make it tangier with pickles, get stinky with great gorgonzola – anything that suits you.

Flag on the play? - Email us at
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

Trump net job-approval rating: -20.2 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.6 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

NYT: “Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the longest-serving Senate Republican, plans to announce on Tuesday he will retire at the end of the year, rebuffing the pleas of President Trump to seek an eighth term and paving the way for Mitt Romney to run for the seat. Mr. Hatch intends to announce his decision Tuesday afternoon via a video announcement, according to two Republican officials briefed on the plans. Mr. Hatch, 83, was under heavy pressure from Mr. Trump to seek re-election and block Mr. Romney, who has been harshly critical of the president. But Mr. Hatch, who emerged as one of the president’s most avid loyalists in the Senate, decided to retire after discussing the matter with his family over the holidays. The veteran senator was also facing harsh poll numbers in Utah, where 75 percent of voters indicated in a survey last fall that they did not want him to run again.”

Shuster will not seek re-election - WashEx: “Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, will not seek re-election in November, telling the Washington Examiner that he wants to focus exclusively on working with President Trump to pass a massive infrastructure bill before he retires. The western Pennsylvania Republican, who has held the seat since 2002, said he does not want campaigning or anything else to get in the way of helping Trump get this major piece of legislation passed by Congress in 2018. ‘I thought it was the best decision for me to focus 100 percent on my final year as the chairman of the Transportation Committee, working with the president and other Democrats and Republicans to pass an infrastructure bill, which is much needed to rebuild America,’ Shuster said.”

2018 midterms show vulnerability to hackers - New Yorker: “The first primary of the 2018 midterm elections, in Texas, is barely eight weeks away. It’s time to ask: Will the Russian government deploy ‘active measures’ of the kind it used in 2016? … Part of the explanation is political: the 2018 midterms are shaping up to be extraordinarily competitive. … Nationwide, voters will have similar motivations to turn out in 2018, an election with higher stakes than any midterm in memory. Voters could determine control of both chambers of Congress, and, indirectly, the fate of President Trump. … On a technical level, the American election system is almost as vulnerable as it was in 2016. According to U.S. intelligence, Russian hackers tested the vulnerabilities of registration rolls in twenty-one states, but did not alter the vote tallies.”

Trump urges Scott to run for Florida Senate seat - Politico: “President Donald Trump wrapped up another private lunch Sunday in South Florida with Gov. Rick Scott, but the biggest political item wasn’t on the official New Year's Eve menu at Trump International: Whether Scott will run for U.S. Senate or not in 2018. No one is a bigger booster of the idea than Trump, who rang in the 2017 New Year with private calls to the term-limited Scott and politicos urging him to challenge Florida’s three-term incumbent, Sen. Bill Nelson, the only Democrat elected statewide. … Each time, Trump has urged him on, Scott has demurred. And, if the Senate race came up again at lunch, those who know the governor expect him to stay tight-lipped. It's a nod to his cautious and meticulous approach to politics, as well as his awareness of Trump’s Twitter trigger finger, which could disclose a secret the governor wants to keep under wraps.”

Iowa voters show change of heart toward the president - WaPo: “Iowa, the epicenter of the Republicans’ 2014 and 2016 surge, is not an obvious place for a Democratic comeback. Unemployment, sinking under 4 percent when Donald Trump won the state, has fallen to 3 percent. Iowa’s Republican delegation to Washington voted for the tax cut bill with no qualms or protests. Iowans can also subtract their federal income taxes from their state income taxes, a bonus enjoyed in only five other states. Despite it all, Iowa has seemingly soured on the president and his party. The end-of-year Iowa Poll, an industry standard conducted by Des Moines-based Selzer and Co., found Trump with just 35 percent approval in the state. Only 34 percent of Iowans said they would back Republicans for Congress in 2018, and 61 percent said they were turned off by politics altogether.”

California could create problems for GOP in 2018 - WSJ: “California is the nation’s most populous state, home to 53 seats in the House of Representatives, reservoir of 55 Electoral College votes—and a growing political problem for Republicans as the 2018 midterm election year dawns. GOP fortunes have been declining for the last two decades in California, a trend that may be accelerating. The recently passed tax-cut bill, with its limits on deductibility of state and local taxes and mortgage interest, seemed almost designed to strike at high-tax states with pricey real estate such…”

WaPo: “Congress faces a jam-packed to-do list this month with deadlines looming on difficult issues — including how to fund the government and avoid a shutdown, stabilizing the nation’s health insurance program for poor children, and whether to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Fresh off a party-line vote in favor of legislation overhauling the tax code, the negotiations will test whether Congress and the White House still have the potential to craft any form of bipartisan agreement. If so, several of the year’s most contested issues might be resolved with months to spare before the 2018 midterm campaign heats up. If not, the government could soon be on the verge of a shutdown, with pressing questions regarding health care, immigration and other policies left unresolved. Also on the agenda are emergency relief for regions upended by last year’s natural disasters, a key national security program and the fate of an agreement to stabilize health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act.”

Big 4 meeting Wednesday to hash out a deal - Politico: “Democratic and Republican congressional leaders will meet Wednesday with top White House officials as they attempt to hammer out a deal to avert a government shutdown and resolve an impasse on immigration. The meeting, confirmed by two sources familiar with the planning, was initially expected to include President Donald Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, but a White House spokesman said legislative affairs director Marc Short and budget director Mick Mulvaney would represent the president. The meeting comes as President Donald Trump attempts to squeeze Democrats to force action on one of his most iconic, divisive policy proposals: a wall on the southern U.S. border. Trump has signaled in recent days that he would support a measure to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors in exchange for wall funding…”

Trump attacks Dems for ‘doing nothing’ on DACA - Fox News: “President Trump predicted Tuesday that Hispanics will soon turn on Democrats and start ‘falling in love’ with Republicans and his presidency, claiming his political rivals are ‘doing nothing’ to address the future of the Obama-era DACA program. Trump is the one who ended that program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It shielded from deportation thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the country as children. However, Trump delayed the implementation of his own directive, giving Congress time to come up with a legislative alternative. Trump tweeted Tuesday that Democrats are missing their chance. ‘Democrats are doing nothing for DACA - just interested in politics. DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start ‘falling in love’ with Republicans and their President! We are about RESULTS,’ Trump wrote.”

Businesses prep for Trump tax cuts - NYT: “A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation — and may finally raise wages significantly. While business leaders are eager for the tax cuts that take effect this year, the newfound confidence was initially inspired by the Trump administration’s regulatory pullback, not so much because deregulation is saving companies money but because the administration has instilled a faith in business executives that new regulations are not coming. … The applause from top executives has been largely reserved for the administration’s economic policy agenda.”

Warren’s low-key moves have positioned her for 2020 run if she chooses Politico

White House aides are anxious about keeping 2017 momentum into the new year - Politico

Trump slams Huma Abedin’s handling of classified info, calls on DOJ to act - Fox News

“I may be leaving the Senate, but I’m not giving up my voice.” – Soon-to-be former Sen. Al Franken D-Minn., in Minneapolis last week during his first public appearance since the allegations. His replacement, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, will be sworn in tomorrow.

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

Fox News: “Police outside Rochester, N.Y., couldn’t help but laugh while they attempted to apprehend an alleged cookie-eating, trespassing squirrel from a woman’s home. The Brockport Police Department … said two of its officers were responding to the home ofa woman who claimed a squirrel ‘had broken into the house’ and was ‘reportedly eating cookies in the kitchen.’ … Police entered the house to the sounds of blasting music from the radio, which the homeowner claimed the squirrel had turned on. Moments later, the thieving critter jumped down from a hiding spot near the ceiling and hurtled toward the approaching officer, crashing into things along the way. The officer fell back as he was hit with a handful of squirrel and turned to retreat with his partner. … Police said the ‘uninvited guest’ eventually was caught and released unharmed.”

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.