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On the roster: Trump unsteady with base as Mueller storm sets in - Key takeaways from new Russia charges - Let’s make a deal: House GOP up for anything on taxes - Gillespie a no show at Trump group’s rally - The dangers of going for the last Rolo


The defining chapter of President Trump’s term began today. Is he ready?

We do not mean his legal strategies or even his communications effort in confronting the specific charges against Trump’s former campaign staffers from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Instead, the real concern for Trump is whether he has enough political support to weather what promises to be a punishing ordeal for him and his administration.

The hope among Republicans had been that they would be farther along in their agenda before this inevitable moment arrived. Trump and his party imagined that policy victories would provide a shock-absorbing cushion of popularity support for the president before Mueller inserted the scalpel.

That’s understandable thinking, especially for people who are deeply committed to their agenda. When all you have are tax cuts and ObamaCare repeal, everything looks like a nail.

But the agenda is gaining traction, so why do a spate of recent polls show Trump at his lowest-ever ratings as president?

Consider the most recent Fox News poll which finds Trump down 12 points in a month among one of his core constituencies: white, male voters without college degrees.

The president is doing about as well or better than he ever has among self-identified Republicans, carding 83 percent support among GOPers, not far from where he was a year ago when he won the presidency.

And there’s much for them to be happy about.

Talk of tax cuts is everywhere, the administration is jackhammering ObamaCare into oblivion, Trump is a more ferocious culture warrior than ever and, with new internal controls, the White House has taken a turn for the normal.

But it wasn’t Republicans who made the difference for Trump. In fact, he did worse with members of his own party than other recent nominees.

Those aforementioned working-class white voters, especially independents, were the ones who took Trump over the top in the Upper Midwest. Among independent voters, Trump is 16 points off of his Election Day 2016 pace.

We would suggest that Trump’s recent swoon is exactly for the same reasons that had Republicans feeling quite chipper prior to today. Why would economically insecure voters be happy to hear about Trump cutting off payments to middle-class ObamaCare beneficiaries while simultaneously evangelizing for a huge corporate tax cut?

The poll bears it out. Working-class white voters and independents both gave Trump low marks for his handling of taxes (42 percent and 34 percent, respectively) and health care (35 percent and 29 percent).

Trump and his fellow Republicans have been in a mud-wrestling match since even before he took office, but despite some harsh words in recent weeks, Trump and the Republican establishment have settled into something like a working relationship on taxes and ObamaCare.

While Trump certainly has to rely on Republicans in Congress and in his cabinet to protect him as Mueller continues his incisions, the grudging support of the leaders of an unpopular political party is not enough. That’s especially true if the price of their assent means that Trump will continue to bleed support among those blue-collar workers who delivered his upset victory.

Many Republicans will stand by Trump through this battle as long as they believe it will advance their partisans interests and no further. What Trump really needs is to still be seen as the champion of those forgotten voters with whom he connected last year.

Slashing business taxes and cutting welfare benefits seems like an unlikely way to win back voters drawn to Trump’s promise of economic nationalism and nation building here at home.

Key takeaways from new Russia charges - Lawfare: “The first big takeaway from this morning’s flurry of charging and plea documents with respect to Paul Manafort Jr., Richard Gates III, and George Papadopoulos is this: The President of the United States had as his campaign chairman a man who had allegedly served for years as an unregistered foreign agent for a puppet government of Vladimir Putin, a man who was allegedly laundering remarkable sums of money even while running the now-president’s campaign, a man who allegedly lied about all of this to the FBI and the Justice Department. The second big takeaway is even starker: A member of President Trump’s campaign team now admits that he was working with people he knew to be tied to the Russian government to ‘arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government officials’ and to obtain ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of hacked emails—and that he lied about these activities to the FBI. He briefed President Trump on at least some them.”

Papadopoulos fell for claim that Russian was Putin’s niece - Daily Beast: “Days after becoming a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign in 2016, George Papadopoulos started meeting with a woman he believed to be Vladimir ‘Putin’s niece,’ according to a newly unsealed indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller. … Maybe, the woman said, she could even get the two men to meet face-to- face. … Bu t the woman was not, in fact, Putin’s relative. Papadopoulos had, in a sense, been catfished—and then lied about catfishing to federal investigators.”

Targeting Manafort sign of ‘divide and conquer’ strategy - Vox: “[Sean Illing] recently reached out to Renato Mariotti, who served as a federal prosecutor from 2007 to 2016 and who is now a candidate for Illinois Attorney General, and asked him what we can infer from Mueller’s aggressive approach to this case. He told me that Mueller is employing what he calls a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, meaning he’s looking to exploit conflicts between people under investigation in order to turn them against one another. That Mueller’s team is homing in on Manafort, he adds, suggest two things: that they have the strongest case against him and that they believe he has incriminating information about other people under investigation.”

What did Manafort spend all that money on? - Weekly Standard: “The indictment of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates is filled with interesting tidbits about their businesses and lifestyles. … What did Manafort spend his money on? ‘Vendor B’ is a ‘Home Automation, Lighting and Home Entertainment Company in Florida.’ Manafort wired them $1,319,218 over the course of two years. ‘Vendor C’ is an ‘Antique Rug Store in Alexandria, Virginia.’ Manafort wired them eight payments totally $934,350 over the course of two years. (And then wired another $100,000 to a ‘Vendor D’ who was ‘related to Vendor C.’”

Trump camp fundraises off of indictment - USA Today: “Less than two hours after President Trump’s former campaign manager was indicted Monday, the Trump re-election campaign decided to send out a fundraising email. The email, entitled ‘Still Standing’ and from presidential son Eric Trump, describes the ‘opposition’ to the administration. ‘The mainstream media continues to play politics, creating division and turning the American people against one another,’ the email reads. ‘But as a loyal supporter of our movement, I know you know the truth.’ The email asks for supporters to contribute $1 before the end of the month.”

Top Clinton lobbyist Tony Podesta leaves firm because of Mueller probe - Politico: “Democratic power lobbyist Tony Podesta, founder of the Podesta Group, is stepping down from the lobbying shop that bears his name after coming under investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Podesta announced his decision during a firm-wide meeting Monday morning and is alerting clients of his impending departure. Podesta is handing over full operational and financial control to longtime firm CEO Kimberley Fritts, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting. Fritts and a senior group of the Podesta team will be launching a new firm in the next one or two days.”

Republicans want more answers about Trump dossier - Fox News: “Congressional Republicans on Sunday called for Democrats John Podesta and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to provide further answers about their party paying for a dossier on President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, after telling Senate investigators last month that they had no knowledge of such payments. … South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, suggested on ‘Fox News Sunday’ that the DNC paying a law firm for so-called opposition research connected to the dossier was tantamount to money laundering.”

Pelosi presses for yet another Hill inquiry - AP: “The top Democrat in the House is pressing for an ‘outside, fully independent investigation’ to expose Russia’s meddling in the election and the involvement of Trump officials. That’s the word from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. In a statement Monday shortly after indictments were unsealed against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associated, Pelosi said that even with the accelerating special counsel probe and congressional investigations, another inquiry was warranted. Pelosi said that defending the integrity of the country’s democracy ‘demands that Congress look forward to counter Russian aggression and prevent future meddling with our elections.’”

Facebook on the spot to explain Russia narrative - Politico: “Facebook, Twitter and Google are preparing for hearings this week at which lawmakers are expected to grill the companies about the broad reach that foreign actors achieved through fake accounts and deliberate misinformation, a topic that encompasses far more than the 3,000 paid political ads that Facebook disclosed last month.”

French: Not the beginning of the end, the end of the beginning - National Review: “This is not the beginning of the end of the Trump/Russia investigation; it’s the end of the beginning. It’s also a reminder that after countless news reports, an indictment, and a guilty plea we are still like the proverbial blind men feeling the elephant. But when you combine the Papadopoulos indictment with previous reports of the 2016 meeting between purported Russian government representatives and Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, then it appears clear that Russians seemed determined to at least lead Trump-campaign officials to believe that they had negative information on Clinton.”
How it’s playing: Arrests make big splash in local outlets 
“Speaker Paul Ryan says Manafort, Gates indictments won’t ‘derail’ GOP agenda” -Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Manafort and Gates face decades in prison, millions in fines” - Columbus Dispatch

“Trump’s ex-campaign manager indicted on charges of money laundering, conspiracy against U.S.” - Dallas Morning News

“Former Trump campaign chair Manafort surrenders to FBI” - Kansas City Star

[Ed. note: Talk about timing! The Fox News Channel rolls out its new primetime lineup tonight on one of the biggest news days in memory (which is really saying something for 2017). Tune in at 10 p.m. ET for the debut of “The Ingraham Angle” with Laura Ingraham. Then at 11 p.m. ET, it’s “Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream.” I’ll be on hand for Shannon’s launch as we separate fact from fiction and map out the political implications. And if you’ve noticed that we’ve been calling “Halftime” later in the day lately, that’s why: The days are getting longer to cover all this history-making news. Congratulations, ladies! We know you will do us all proud. ]
“We are not to conclude too hastily, however, that faction did not, in a certain degree, agitate the particular [Greek] cities; much less that a due subordination and harmony reigned in the general system.” – Alexander Hamilton and James MadisonFederalist No. 18

Smithsonian: “With the help of Google Earth, researchers examining the deserts of Saudi Arabia have found around 400 unreported stone structures in the Arabian Desert, likely built by nomadic tribes thousands of years ago. As Owen Jarus at Live Science reports, the structures are called ‘gates’ since, from an aerial view at least, they share a likeness with field gates. Most of them were found in clusters in Harrat Khaybar, a region in west-central Saudia Arabia known for its now-extinct volcanic domes. … Jarus reports that the gates appear to be the oldest stone structures on the landscape, and may date as far back as 7,000 years. …It’s possible that in the past the area wasn’t quite as inhospitable as it is today. In fact, in recent years researchers have found evidence for ‘Green Arabia’ a theory that the area has swung between wet and dry periods for over a million years.”

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HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

Trump net job-approval rating: -19.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.8 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.]

Politico: “House Republicans are so desperate for a win on taxes that they’re agreeing to proposals that would have caused internal party warfare just a year or two ago. They’re considering forgoing a big cut in the top income tax rate on the rich, offering moderate-income Americans so many tax breaks that many would be excused from paying taxes entirely and passing a potentially 1,000-page tax bill few have seen within a matter of weeks. Last week, they agreed to a budget that ignored their demands for deep cuts in federal spending just so they could pass a tax bill using a special procedure that enables them to move forward without any Democratic votes. It’s an open question whether Republicans will be as flexible when party leaders release their entire tax bill, due Nov. 1, and everyone can see exactly who will be the losers under their plan. They already have some internal battles, with Republicans from high-tax states fighting a proposal to dump a long-standing deduction for state and local taxes.”

And it’s all in the details - WashEx: “The details of the Republican tax reform bill will be revealed this week in Congress, but GOP lawmakers are already threatening to sink it over proposed tax loophole closures. Republicans are eager to pass a bill that lowers both individual and business tax rates. But Republicans are up in arms over the proposals to at least partly pay for cuts by eliminating some deductions. House Way and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady has held frequent meetings with a group of lawmakers from high-tax states who oppose a provision that would strike the popular state and local tax deduction. Other lawmakers are threatening to defect if Republicans go anywhere near the 401(k) tax deduction that allows individuals to save up to $18,500 annually tax free.”

Proposed end to homeowner tax credit prompts uproar - WaPo: “The National Association of Home Builders know how to demolish things, and on Saturday they decided to take on a new project — the House Republican tax bill. That’s because one day before, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) informed NAHB that he would not be including a homeownership tax credit as part of the new tax legislation, which will be released on Wednesday. NAHB’s chief executive, Jerry Howard, had spent months working on this new tax provision with Brady’s aides, but House leaders wouldn’t allow its inclusion, Howard was told. The next day, Howard and other NAHB officials gathered on a conference call and debated what to do. They agreed unanimously — kill the bill.”

WaPo: “One of President Trump’s most fervent fans hopped onto his Harley in South Carolina and roared all the way to Virginia Beach, where he led a ‘Bikers for Trump’ rally Sunday for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. Except Gillespie wasn’t there, irking some Trump supporters who say the Republican has been too standoffish toward the president. But Corey Stewart, a Trump acolyte who nearly beat Gillespie in the June gubernatorial primary, was front and center and gave the crowd the blunt, populist rhetoric it craved. ‘We are in a war, a cultural battle,’ boomed Stewart, who is running for the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D) in 2018. ‘And we have to stand up and fight, fight the criminals, communists, crackheads and the weirdos — those are your Democrats.’ He urged the crowd to ‘take back Virginia!’”

Latino Dems equate Gillespie support with racism - Federalist: “A new ad depicts supporters for Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie as racist murderers who hunt schoolchildren from a pickup truck. The ad starts out with two children walking home from school. … All four children run through an alley and get to a chain-link fence. They’re cornered with nowhere else to run. They look back at the truck terrified as the headlights illuminate their faces. The little boy suddenly jerks awake — it’s all a dream. ‘Is this what Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie mean by the American dream?’ a narrator asks while two parents watch news coverage of white nationalists carrying tiki-torches and marching in opposition to the removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia. The video was paid for by Latino Victory Project, a leftist political action committee, which encouraged its Twitter followers to vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam in a tweet.”

What next week’s elections can tell us about 2018 - WashEx: “Elections in Virginia and New Jersey don’t always foreshadow the midterm results. But you can find examples in which they have, dating back to at least 1993. That year, Virginia’s George Allen and New Jersey’s Christine Todd Whitman ran as tough-on-crime tax cutters who supported welfare reform and won. A year later, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress, including their first House majority in 40 years. This year, Virginia has more of a potential to be a bellwether than New Jersey. It has become a battleground state at the presidential level, and control of the governorship has swung back and forth between the parties. And Virginia is the more competitive of the two contests this year.”

Bannon threatens to attack GOP donor Paul Singer - Axios: “In a Friday night phone call, President Trump’s former chief strategist and enforcer Steve Bannon told Trump he was going ‘off the chain’ to destroy Paul Singer, a New York hedge fund billionaire who is one of the most influential donors to the Republican Party. Trump agreed with Bannon that it needed to be done, according to two sources familiar with the conversation. … A source familiar with the arrangements told me that Singer has already made a ‘major commitment’ and cut substantial checks to outside groups to support the president’s tax reform push.”

Gillian Turner: ‘Niger has Washington mad as hell, but for all the wrong reason’ The Hill

Trump’s candidates for Federal Reserve don’t share the his views on financial deregulation - NYT

On the campaign trail with John Kasich NY Mag

“[TreyGowdy—that’s my guy, even though he doesn’t know how to dress. F--k [Tim]Jordan. F--k [Jason] Chaffetz. They’re both a--holes.” – Former Speaker of the House John Boehner said as he kicked off his tell-all interview with Politico Magazine.

“Why do you think that term limits would enable more straight talk by politicians? Many of those limited candidates would depend on being hired by think tanks and your ‘straight talk’ might lessen their chances for hire. A political career does not end when out of office.” – Richard Pohle, Kula, Hawaii

[Ed. note: I certainly take your point, Mr. Pohle. But I also wonder how that would be different than the current situation in which some politicians spend lengthy careers catering to particular interests in hopes of securing sinecures. There is no system for the election of representatives and senators that can protect completely against human nature. The question we wrestle with when talking about term limits is whether such a system would strengthen a pitifully weak legislative branch after a century of executive branch expansion. The best argument for term limits in that sense is that lawmakers would be in a bigger hurry to get things done if they knew that the clock was running and more willing to take risks when they faced lame-duck status.]

“How could any rational person (who is not clearly self-serving, and/or not seeking re-election) speak in terms of the need to relieve middle-class tax burdens, or to greater tax the wealthy?  There is the old political adage that ever homeowner thinks NIMBY (‘not in my backyard’) as to any projects that would otherwise serve the greater good.  I am concerned that the adage NIMP (‘not in my pocket’) applies even stronger as to how taxpayers feel about the source of most federal government funds.  With this as a backdrop, a Republican-led Congress should spend far more time talking about entitlement reform than tax reform, which is just a matter of picking winners and losers to assist in one’s own re-election.” – Ken Levine, Lionville, Pa.

[Ed. note: One of the dividing lines in Washington is on the question of whether people think the government spends too much or taxes too little. Both sides are nominally interested in deficits, but mostly as a tool to advance their preferred vision of government. Unfortunately for those who share your point of view, the constituency for more generous benefits is just as potent, if not more so, than the one for lower taxes. We didn’t get to be $20 trillion in the hole by accident.]

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AP: “A deer that got its head trapped in an orange plastic pumpkin bucket is free after residents in suburban Cincinnati spent the weekend tracking it. WCPO-TV reports the Anderson Township Family Pet Center got calls over four days from residents concerned about the deer with the bucket stuck over its nose. Daryl Meyerrenke at the pet center warned that it would be dangerous for neighbors to try to rescue the deer, but he says they were determined to help the animal and spent hours following it through wooded areas. Eventually, the group using animal catch poles was able to encircle the deer, and Meyerrenke’s son freed it from the bucket. Meyerrenke says the animal immediately went to graze and drink water at a creek.”

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.