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On the roster: Trump’s 2020 campaign complicates the present - I’ll Tell You What: Beep, beep, beep… - Trump blames Ryan, McConnell for debt limit fight - Alabama Senate primary race gets uglier - Combo meal  

One of the perceived merits of President Trump’s decision to break with precedent and file for re-election on the same day he took office is that such an audacious move would put the quietus on some of the chatter that he was looking for an exit strategy.

While Trump’s continual campaign hasn’t ended speculation that the often unhappy and consistently unpopular president might drop out, it, along with his ongoing campaign rallies and fundraising efforts, has helped stave off most speculation about his future.

It will not, however, spare him a primary challenge. Nor will skipping over the traditional governing phase of a presidency help his chances to win another term.

First, let’s be clear-eyed about this: The person most likely to take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2021 is the current president. Of the 11 incumbent presidents who stood for another term since the end of World War II, only three have failed.

This relates to the power of incumbency, yes, but of a specific kind. Incumbent presidents usually have strong control of their own parties. The three incumbents who failed, Gerald FordJimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush share something in common other than one-term status: Each of them faced a robust primary challenge.

As Trump faces what promises to be a painful couple of months with his own party, he understandably will be thinking about how things might look in January of 2020.

Polls this far out are rankly speculative, but we do have one survey already showing Trump trailing in New Hampshire and another suggesting that there is considerable appetite nationally for an alternative to the incumbent among Republican primary voters – and the second was even done by Trump’s own pollster.

The odds of a primary fight will increase as the current conflict between Trump and Congress continues. Look at it this way: As Trump targets individual Republicans for primary challenges, he is multiplying the force arrayed against him. Sen. Jeff Flake R-Ariz., one of Trump’s boogeymen was asked about the subject and said that the president was “inviting” a primary fight in 2020.

We can’t know how much of Trump’s approach stoking enmity against fellow Republicans is the president lashing over his hog-tied legislative agenda and how much of it is intended to keep his supporters in the same pugilistic mindset that carried him through 2016. But we can bet that it is at least some combination of the two.

We also have no way of knowing whether Democrats will be able to sort out their own problems in time to field a viable candidate for 2020. Heck, they still can’t get over 2016, not that their former nominee is helping. But so much of Democrats’ chances for 2020 depend not on their own choices but how ugly things get on the GOP side. There would have been no President Clinton without Pat Buchanan in 1992 and no President Carter without Ronald Reagan in 1976.

But Trump’s continual campaigning against his own party may be depriving him of an even more important asset: A successful tenure.

It looks increasingly like Congress will only pass crisis aversion legislation in September in spite of Trump’s hectoring, not because of it. Trump’s taunts and threats against his fellow Republicans do not produce results but, instead, increase the perceived value of refusing the president’s demands. Weakening a president one wishes to see defeated isn’t a practice limited to the opposition side.

If the worsening cycle of rhetorical aggression that has marked 2017 so far continues through next year, it is easy to imagine something like complete rupture between the Trump and non-Trump wings of the GOP before Election Day 2018. And as we have discussed many times before, there is no particular incentive for Democrats to work with a president whose failures they see as materially beneficial to them.  

We are given to seeing politics in two-year increments. But one of the changes of the Trump era may be that the consuming focus on the president himself makes midterms far less important.

It may be Trump against his party and the world every day between now and the fall of 2020.  

“…we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people...” – James MadisonFederalist No. 39

We know all about the licentious lifestyle of Benjamin Franklin, especially during his years abroad making the case for American independence. But what of Franklin’s 44-year marriage and his icy rejection of his wife in her waning years, even as her health declined? The answer may lie in the death of their 4-year-old son, Francis “Franky” Franklin, from smallpox.
Smithsonian: “How did a man who understood better than most the relative safety and efficacy of inoculation choose wrong? Possibly he just lost his nerve. Other men had. In 1721 Cotton Mather … had stalled for two weeks before approving his teenage son’s inoculation... It’s more likely, though, that Benjamin and Deborah disagreed over inoculation for their son. Franky was still Deborah’s only child (the Franklins’ daughter, Sarah, would not be born for seven more years) and the legitimizing force in her common-law marriage.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -18.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 2.2 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.]

After the president’s major policy address on Monday and campaign-style rally on Tuesday, Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss the mindset of the Trump Administration heading into a pivotal September. Plus, Chris shares the “best culinary revelation” of his vacation and Dana recounts her late night battle with a smoke alarm. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

WashEx: “President Trump on Thursday blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan for delaying the debt ceiling fight until the last minute, and said that delay will create a legislative ‘mess’ in September. ‘I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval. They didn't do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!’ Trump tweeted. Congress is under pressure to raise the debt limit before the end of September, which coincides with the deadline lawmakers have to pass a government spending bill or face a partial government shutdown.”

McConnell says it’s all good - The Hill: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is pushing back against reports of a rift with President Trump, saying Wednesday he and the president have shared priorities. ‘We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we are committed to advancing our shared agenda together and anyone who suggests otherwise is clearly not part of the conversation,’ McConnell said in a statement.”

Ryan is busy pushing tax reform - CNBC: “Ryan cast the coming GOP proposal as essential to simplifying the tax code and allowing the U.S. economy and its companies to thrive. ‘We're basically taxing American businesses out of America,’ Ryan told Intel employees.”

Some still say high chance of a government shutdown - Axios: “Top White House and GOP leadership officials tell [Axios] the chances of a market-rattling government shutdown are rising by the day… the president's talk is starting to spook markets. Goldman Sachs, in guidance to investors last Friday, pegged the odds at 50/50. … This may all come down to Trump's mood… That's a dangerous dynamic. Based on funding mechanisms, the showdown could come either in September or December…”

Menendez corruption trial could alter vote balance in Senate - NYT: “When the 115th Congress returns to Washington on Sept. 5,
Senator Robert Menendez will likely be absent: His federal corruption trial is set to begin here the following day. But when the Senate moves to vote on major bills during the fall … Senator Menendez will be caught between his desire to remain in front of jurors and his congressional obligation to fight for his constituents.”

AL.com: “Without offering evidence, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of leaning on Alabama Democrats to help push Sen. Luther Strange to victory in next month's GOP runoff. McConnell controls the Republican Senate's campaign arm and has ties to a super PAC supporting Strange.  ‘Well that's exactly what their strategy is,’ Moore told the Daily Caller in an exclusive interview published Wednesday night. ‘…I wish the people of Alabama knew that McConnell and them were using the Democrats to come into the Republican primary.’ … Moore, who was removed twice as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, gave no other details of what he claimed is an effort by McConnell to court state Democrats. But he claimed the alleged strategy would turn off Democratic voters. ‘I'll tell you the truth. There are a lot of Democrats that understand about the acknowledgement of God…’”

Dems show (modest) confidence in their candidate - Roll Call: “As Republicans gear up for a grueling primary runoff in the Alabama special election Senate race, Democratic candidate Doug Jones has the race to himself. And Democrats see Jones as their best hope for victory in a ruby-red state. But that’s a tall order for Jones. President Donald Trump won the state by 28 points in November.”

Politico: “Confronted with a West Wing that treated policymaking as a free-for-all, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly is instituting a system used by previous administrations to limit internal competition —and to make himself the last word on the material that crosses the president’s desk. … The new system, laid out in two memos co-authored by Kelly and [Rob Porter] and distributed to Cabinet members and White House staffers in recent days, is designed to ensure that the president won’t see any external policy documents, internal policy memos, agency reports, and even news articles that haven’t been vetted. Kelly’s deputy, Kristjen Nielson, is also expected to assume an integral role. The keystone of the new system is a ‘decision memo’ that will — for each Trump policy — integrate the input of Cabinet agencies and policy councils and present the president with various options, as well as with the advantages and drawbacks of each one.”

But can he control Trump? - Bloomberg: “Trump’s appointment of Kelly has imposed new order on a White House that had been riven with infighting among warring camps. But it hasn’t been the political lifeline Republican allies had hoped for, as Kelly has so far been unable to perform one of the chief of staff’s most basic duties: to stop a president from following his worst instincts.”

Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano examines President Trump’s about-face on the Afghan war: “He actually began attacking the war in Afghanistan long before he announced his presidential candidacy. If he has been consistent on any public issue, it has been his opposition to this useless, lawless, costly war -- until he needed to change the subject.” More here.

White House to send memo on transgender ban to Pentagon in upcoming days
 - Reuters

Rabbis shun Trump
 - NYT

Poll: 68 percent worry that Trump’s behavior could lead to accidentally lead to international conflict - George Washington University  

Race to unseat Manchin heats up - Federalist

Federal judge tosses new Texas voter ID law - Texas Tribune


“I think it’s a good time in politics to be humble.” – Sen. Amy Klobuchar said to The Daily Show host Trevor Noah.

“As always your political analysis is spot on. You were missed while on vacation, but I am glad you got some much deserved time off. I was pleased to see that Trump finally came around this week to announce a US strategy for Afghanistan that is in line with what his military and diplomatic advisors have been pushing him towards for months. But with no intelligible foreign policy doctrine, what happens when Generals Kelly, McMaster, and others are no longer in the President's ear? As someone who has shown himself willing to adopt the position of the last person in the room is it possible that our foreign policy may change several times throughout this administration? I'd love to hear your input on this concern.” – Drew Watkins, Lexington, Ky.

[Ed. note: Thank you for the kind words, Mr. Watkins. I look at it a little differently, perhaps. I think the president, like many, if not most of us, usually does only the things he HAS to do. While he is prone to outbursts and harmful emotionality, Trump generally bows to reality when he runs out of options. Is it possible that if he loses or discharges his current team of national security advisers that the president could be led in a different direction by those who see a different set of obligations or who would tolerate a different set of outcomes? Certainly. But, one of the advantages of our professional military is that it tends to be a very reality-based entity. You can call it the “deep state,” if you like, but the famous “military-industrial complex” has ways of acting to check and restrain inhabitants of high offices, especially the president. With a different set of advisers Trump might entertain different policy options and might delay longer before acting on unpleasant tasks, but I tend to think he would lose his agency rather quickly if he deviated too far from political and strategic norms.]

“Chris, your otherwise meticulously precise analysis of all matters constitutional slips into the same vernacular ditch as so many others by employing the popular, but inaccurate phrase ‘jury of your peers’. This phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, although I often see erudite legal analysis attempting to define the meaning of this ‘constitutional right’. If the Founders had given us a right to be judged by a ‘jury of our peers’ one could never settle on any working definition of a jury. Would my peer be occupational? Or of the same race, or socio-economic status?  In fact the Sixth Amendment wisely grants the accused the right to trial only by ‘an impartial jury’. Upon reflection, this is certainly the standard by which all jurors should be selected.” – Jim Hubbard, Reno Nev.

[Ed. note: You are quite right, Mr. Hubbard! Now, to be fair, we were talking about the motivations for the rebellious colonists, not the rights that would descend from that rebellion. As you well know, the colonists were offended by the idea that they were subject to return to the motherland for trial. They found this unjust since what might sound reasonable to jurors in Bladen County in the North Carolina Colony would seem absurd to jurors at the Old Bailey in London. The peerage the colonists were interested in was geographic and cultural. But as you point out, once independence had been won, the framework changed. We would all be Americans, with no distant juries to face. But your point is a good one and very much worth remembering as we remember the aims of our criminal justice system.]

“The state of our federal government has devolved into something of low expectations and inadequate outcomes.  We’ve come to accept simple road projects that take two years to complete and bungling bureaucrats that spend more time protecting their own backsides while they turn a tin ear toward us common folk just trying to scratch out a living.  Anytime someone dares to challenge ‘the way it’s done’ (read: the way we’ve always done it since I’ve been here) is met with, ‘you just don’t understand how things get done around here.’ Maybe it’s time we, as the electorate, raise our standards, and hold the (often ‘un’) civil servants and elected officials accountable for their self-serving attitudes and actions.  Some have said that we ‘get the government that we deserve’.  If we continue to elect (politicians) and employ (civil servants) self-serving people who are more committed to preserving the status quo and their own perks than really benefitting our community and country, then we will be doomed by our own hands to ever-devolving government quality and effectiveness.  It is refreshing to hear someone of influence tell our lethargic, leviathan government, ‘That’s not good enough!’ May that chorus increase in numbers and magnitude!” – Kent Haldorson, Beaverton, Ore.

[Ed. note: You are no doubt right, Mr. Haldorson, that America has a bad case of declining expectations. But demanding better from elected officials only matters if you have an alternative at hand. And here’s where it gets tricky. Everybody is a critic, but very few people want to join the cast of the show they are reviewing. As Americans understandably eschew public service and even public participation, the available pool of talent shrinks. We are approaching a future in which the assorted nuts who populate internet comment sections have more influence than reasonable, hard-working, rule-following Americans. It may not be unreasonable that people shun public life today, but that does not mean there will not be consequences for them and everybody else. If you want better roads or finer schools or more efficient government, you may find yourself obliged to run for office or volunteer for local projects. It’s quite a catch-22: Americans deplore the low quality of their elected officials, but simultaneously refuse to volunteer to replace them. You, Mr. Haldorson, may have already made that leap and can point to a proud record of public service. But for most who complain bitterly about their leaders, being part of government or politics is the last thing they would ever want to do.]

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WGHP: “A North Carolina father-to-be whose wife was in labor made a pit stop at Chick-fil-A on the way to the hospital Monday morning and grabbed a pack of his favorite chicken nuggets. Wess and Lacey Cope were on their way to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte around 8:30 a.m. when they took a little detour, the Charlotte Observer reports. ‘She was relaxed, and I was starving,’ Wess said. ‘If you want Chick-fil-A to move fast, tell them your wife’s in labor. They did.’ Already having three children, Lacey was calm and let Wess pick up chicken nuggets, hash browns, and a sweet tea. Thankfully, the couple made it to the hospital and Finn Sullivan Cope was born by C-section at 4:02 p.m. — just minutes before the end of the eclipse in Charlotte.”

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.