**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**
On the roster: Trump’s favorite county - Today’s Tennessee primary caps bitter fight - GOP bullish on N.D., bearish on W.Va. - Trump insiders: President eager to talk to Mueller - The Judge’s Ruling: Subtraction by addition - Hell toupee
TRUMP’S FAVORITE COUNTY
Donald Trump tonight heads to one of the places that had more to do with making him president than almost any other.
And Luzerne County, Pa. will have as much or more to say about whether he keeps his job in 2020 than anyplace else.
The president is holding a campaign rally in Wilkes-Barre, a city of about 40,000 in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania, which along with neighbors Hazelton and Scranton was once the heart of the anthracite coal fields that fueled the early industrial revolution.
Later supplanted by cleaner, cheaper-to-mine coal to the west, this was one of the first parts of America to endure the pain of industrial dislocation. Hard times fell here before they came to Cleveland and Pittsburgh. And when the second wave of de-industrialization took out steel producers in other parts of the region starting in the 1970s, these communities suffered a second economic death.
That helps us to understand why Luzerne stands out as one of the counties that witnessed the greatest political shift from 2012 to 2016 – a 22-point swing from Barack Obama to Trump. Only a handful of places, like Genesee County, Mich., can compare.
It was these voters, hundreds of thousands of them across Pennsylvania and the Upper Midwest, who voted for Obama twice and then switched to Trump who made the difference in Trump’s razor thin win. And they’re the ones who will likely get to pass verdict on him in two years.
Trump is ostensibly coming to former Vice President Joe Biden’s turf to boost the chances of Rep. Lou Barletta, the Republican running in a long-shot bid to unseat popular incumbent Sen. Bob Casey Jr. Barletta’s polls have been dire and Republican oddsmakers have already written off the race, but the voters of Barletta’s district are still indispensable to Trump’s hopes for re-election. More than half of his 44,292-vote margin in Pennsylvania came from Luzerne County alone.
When Trump looks at the electoral map, he sees places like these shining like chunks of anthracite. If you think of it that way, you can not only understand his campaign schedule, but also his policies.
The rest of the country may not like a trade war, but you’d better believe that the crowd that turns out tonight will cheer for policies aimed at the same Chinese government that politicians of both parties have long blamed the region’s ills.
THE RULEBOOK: ON OUR HONOR
“Facts have too long supported these arrogant pretensions of the Europeans. It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother, moderation.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 11
TIME OUT: DRAFT DROUGHT
WSJ: “U.S. drinkers, particularly young ones, are having relationship problems with the national beverage. It’s no longer true they start out favoring mild pilsners and low-calorie beers, then graduate to harder stuff later in life, if at all. Now they are thinking about other things: taste, value, beer bellies. … According to the Beer Institute, a trade group, drinkers chose beer just 49.7% of the time last year, down from 60.8% in the mid-’90s. Among 21- to 27-year-olds, the decline has been sharper. Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser’s owner, found that in 2016, just 43% of alcohol consumed by young drinkers was beer. In 2006, it was 65%. …John Saputo owns beer distributorships in Florida and Ohio. He realized the industry had a problem a few years ago when he went out with a team of young radio-ad sales people who wanted him to advertise Budweiser and Bud Light on a local station. When it came to their own drinks, some of them ordered wine—and ‘even a liquor drink with a freaking umbrella in it.’”
Flag on the play? - Email us a HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
Trump job performance
Average approval: 41.6 percent
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent
Net Score: -12 points
Change from one week ago: down 1.2 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve - 58% disapprove; NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist University: 39% approve - 51% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 45% approve - 52% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve - 51% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 40 percent
Democratic average: 48.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 8.2 points
Change from one week ago: No change
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: Dems 51% - GOP 39%; NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist University: Dems 47% - GOP 40%; Fox News: Dems 48% - GOP 40%; Suffolk University/USA Today: Dems 45% - GOP 39%; CNN: Dems 50% - GOP 42%.]
TODAY’S TENNESSEE PRIMARY CAPS BITTER FIGHT
Fox News: “A bitter and expensive Tennessee gubernatorial primary comes to a close Thursday as Republicans will officially choose who will be their party's nominee. The top four GOP contenders have emerged as a congressman, state House speaker, local businessman and political outsider: Rep. Diane Black, state Rep. Beth Harwell, former state economic development commissioner Randy Boyd and Bill Lee. The four added $33 million in combined personal wealth to their campaigns and spent about that much, setting records and more than doubling what they've raised through donations. … In the tense primary, the Republicans all share at least one commonality: loyalty to President Trump and his policies. Trump won Tennessee with more than 60 percent of the vote in the 2016 presidential election.”
Mark Hemingway: Can Lee pull off an upset? - Weekly Standard: “Black and Boyd have been perceived as the top two contenders for most of the race and both campaigns have acted as if that’s the case. But while the two frontrunners launched flurries of attack ads against each other, Lee was touring the state, touting his success and Christian values. He was flying under the radar until a July 28 poll shocked observers by declaring Lee the frontrunner by six points. While it was only one poll, and one done by a Louisiana polling firm not exactly known for its expertise in Tennessee politics, there’s a general agreement that Lee is surging.”
WITH VISIT TO OHIO’S 12TH, RACE BECOMES REFERENDUM ON TRUMP’S PRESIDENCY
Columbus Dispatch: “In deciding to personally weigh in on the spirited special congressional election in central Ohio, President Donald Trump is doing more than just trying to help a Republican win the seat. He’s also made it a referendum on his own performance as president. In an effort to inject some life into Republican voters, Trump will speak Saturday night on behalf of Republican congressional candidate Troy Balderson at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. Trump is gambling he can rescue the Republicans from what would be a staggering political defeat in a congressional district held by Gov. John Kasich and retired Rep. Pat Tiberi since 1983 while simultaneously cementing his brand of populism over the Kasich wing of the Republican Party wary of his stands on tariffs and immigration. But Trump will campaign at a time when his own abrasive style has fueled a backlash against him among moderate Republican women and Democrats, the latter who are more energized than at any time since President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election.”
In ad, Balderson flip-flops on cuts to entitlements - Columbus Dispatch: “State Sen. Troy Balderson has launched a new ad vowing he’d ‘never do anything to cut Social Security and Medicare’ despite telling the Dispatch editorial board last month that he was open to raising the eligibility age for both groups. … ‘I’m Troy Balderson, that’s why I’m running for Congress and why I would never do anything to cut Social Security or Medicare,’ he said. ‘My own mom and dad depend on both.’ Balderson told the editorial board that he was open to considering raising the Medicare and Social Security entitlement age. Balderson later clarified, insisting he would not support raising the eligibility age for current retirees or those who are near retirement. He has not yet defined what ‘near retirement’ means, however, but has said he also supports reforms to fix the system.”
Poll: Balderson, O’Connor neck-and-neck - Cleveland Plain Dealer: “The Aug. 7 special election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District is in a statistical dead heat between Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O'Connor, according to a new poll from Monmouth University. The tie is good news for O'Connor and the Democratic Party. The 12th District is heavily Republican, and a close race indicates heavy gains by Democrats. Republican Pat Tiberi, whose resignation prompted the special election, never won the district by less than 9 percentage points since 2000. … The Monmouth poll showed 44 percent of respondents planned to vote for Balderson, while 43 percent were backing O'Connor in what will be the final congressional special election before the November midterms.”
GOP BULLISH ON N.D., BEARISH ON W.VA.
WaPo: “Republicans say two states that President Trump won in landslides are heading in opposite directions in the battle for the Senate majority, as they expressed increasing confidence about capturing North Dakota but diminishing hopes about West Virginia. With fewer than 100 days to the midterm elections, top Republicans have concluded that North Dakota represents their best chance to flip a seat from blue to red, with Rep. Kevin Cramer(R) looking to unseat first-term Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. A win in North Dakota would be a major step toward the GOP majority protecting its slim advantage in the Senate. At the same time, Republicans have grown more pessimistic about West Virginia, where Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, a former governor, is trying to fend off state attorney general Patrick Morrisey.”
Corporate donations prove toxic for Dem candidates - AP: “When an audience member at a town hall asked California Sen. Kamala Harris earlier this year to reject corporate donations, her answer was decidedly non-committal. ‘Well, that depends,’ she said. ‘Wrong answer,’ the questioner responded, shrugging his shoulders. Harris wouldn't be wrong twice: Less than a month later, she reversed herself, telling the hosts of a morning radio show that she'd no longer accept checks from corporate political action committees. … In total, more than federal 170 candidates have said they're not accepting corporate PAC donations, according to a tally by the group End Citizens United, a political action committee dedicated to campaign finance reform. The groundswell of opposition to corporate PACs has developed quickly as Democrats aim to tap into the anti-establishment sentiment that President Donald Trump successfully harnessed in 2016.”
Millenials all talk, no registration, data shows - WaPo: “The surge in activism among young Americans about gun laws after February’s Parkland, Fla., shootings, and that group’s general disapproval of President Trump, has raised the prospect that they will turn out at higher rates in this year’s midterm elections. An early sign backed up the possibility: voter registration data. Separate analyses by the New York Times and Democratic voter database firm TargetSmart Communications found that younger adults made up a greater percentage of new voter registrants across several states. But a Washington Post analysis of voter registration data tracked by Aristotle Inc. finds hardly any change in the overall share of registered voters ages 18 to 29 since the Parkland shootings. That, coupled with low enthusiasm from the youngest voters and the group’s history of anemic turnout in midterm elections, does not point to under-30 voters having a huge impact in November.”
Green Party hopes to ride the ‘blue wave’ - NYT: “The Greens want no part of Democratic Party’s ascendant left wing: As much as they may loathe President Trump, they say several issues — including corporate donations and support for capitalism — have rendered both the Democrats and the Republican Party rotten to the core. … A wave of liberal excitement has raised hopes for a ‘blue wave’ in the midterms and empowered a new crop of progressive Democrats, like the democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But it has also paid dividends for the Green Party, whose formal endorsement of anti-capitalism in 2016 helped set them apart from the Democrats and contributed to a swell of new members, many of them young people and ex-Democrats embittered by Mr. Sanders’ primary loss.”
Doug Sosnik: Increased turnover results in a weaker Congress - Politico In the Senate, 29 members with a staggering 557 years of seniority left office—due to deaths, appointments, retirements and election losses—between the beginning of 2008 and the 2010 midterm elections. By comparison, the entire Senate had only 1,042 years of experience at the beginning of this year. In the next Congress, there will be at most only 45 senators who were in office before 2011. In the House, the turnover has been almost as dramatic. Next year, there will be at most 160 House members—barely a third of the body—who were elected before the 2010 midterms. Many of the most senior members of the House are departing at the end of this year. With the retirement of Paul Ryan, Republicans will be electing their third speaker in three years (if they manage to maintain control).”
TRUMP INSIDERS: PRESIDENT EAGER TO TALK TO MUELLER
NYT: “President Trump pushed his lawyers in recent days to try once again to reach an agreement with the special counsel’s office about his sitting for an interview, flouting their advice that he should not answer investigators’ questions … Mr. Trump has told advisers he is eager to meet with investigators to clear himself of wrongdoing … In effect, he believes he can convince the investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, of his belief that their own inquiry is a ‘witch hunt.’ … Mr. Trump’s belief that an interview would bring the investigation to a swift end ignores several realities: that the investigation sprawls into areas well beyond his behavior; the possibility that Justice Department officials will hand over the results of the investigation to lawmakers to decide whether to proceed, thus prolonging the inquiry; and the lack of any public indication from the special counsel about how much work he has ahead of him.”
Mueller narrows questions - Fox News: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally responded to a letter from President Trump's outside attorneys about what the scope and format of a potential interview with the president would be … Mueller has agreed to cut the number of questions for Trump from an initial list of 49 and is willing to have some questions answered in writing – though he wants other questions answered orally. However, the sources added that Mueller has not agreed to the president's demands to limit his questioning to matters related to allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The special prosecutor still wants to ask the president about obstruction of justice and other topics.’”
Trump’s call for end to Mueller probe an ‘opinion’, White House says - Weekly Standard: “White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Donald Trump’s tweets earlier in the day calling the special counsel investigation a ‘TOTAL HOAX’ and urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop the ‘Rigged Witch Hunt’ were just expressions of the president’s opinions and not a directive to his administration. ‘It’s not an order, it’s the president’s opinion,’ Sanders said several times at the Wednesday afternoon briefing. She insisted Trump was not directly asking Sessions to end the special counsel. Sessions, in fact, has recused himself from any investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s possible role. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, appointed and oversees the special counsel, which is lead by former FBI director Robert Mueller.”
The Judge’s Ruling: Subtraction by addition - Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano wonders how well the president is being served by his lawyer: “In a series of combative, disjointed and logically challenged television rants, Rudy Giulianihas essentially argued that Trump did not engage in any conspiracy with the Russians for them to provide help to his campaign and that even if he did, it wasn't criminal. In making this argument, Giuliani has played a word game in which he has effectively created a straw man and then denied it's real because it's made of straw. He has done this by avoiding the use of the word ‘conspiracy,’ substituting the word ‘collusion’ and then arguing that there is no crime of collusion and therefore Trump did not commit a crime. This is an argument based on a false premise.” More here.
Appeals court rules against Trump’s sanctuary cities embargo - USA Today
Trump’s fire and fury have proven useful distractions for conservative policymakers - Axios
AUDIBLE: LIKE THE WAY YOU LOOK
“If it doesn't say 'Men's Wearhouse,' I don't know it.” – Judge T.S. Ellis, asking about the brand names of defendant Paul Manafort’s lavish wardrobe paid for with wire transfers from offshore accounts, including a $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I understand that the short term health plans aren’t ideal, but can you really blame the President for doing SOMETHING when Democrats are just sitting on their hands and hoping Republicans fix the mess they created? You ask me, this plan gives relief to some people who unconstitutionally are forced to pay into this socialist healthcare system, and if some people have to pay more as a result, that’s really the Dem fault for giving us this problem in the first place!” - James Gooley, Exeter, N.H.
[Ed. note: Blame is useful for winning elections but almost always counterproductive when it comes to solving problems. Every presidential administration and Congress dating back to FDR’s wartime wage controls that led employers to expand tax-free health insurance perks as a means to attract employees in a tight labor market is partly to blame for our failing system. The object of this note is politics – the game we play to determine who will control our government. The work of government is infinitely harder and more complicated than the act of obtaining the power to govern. But as a matter of politics, this one is a dog for the GOP. Republicans made lavish promises and then once they had the votes needed couldn’t agree on a solution. Whether Democrats are able to exploit that failure without going over Niagara on single-payer etc. is another question, but the opportunity is there for sure.]
“Boy, they’re really testing our patience with this health insurance nonsense. Aren’t there any conservative solutions to this mess? Why can’t we actually try to push for those instead of this garbage they rolled out yesterday. Some people might be too ignorant to see it, but this is all about politics, as you say. I voted many times on promises of repeal and replace, and it looks like it was all just a big ruse. If you have the House, the senate, the Presidency, the Supreme Court, most governors and statehouses, and you run for a good decade on repairing the healthcare system, only to present us with a three-year junk plan, isn’t it only reasonable to assume they don’t really care about those of us who actually have health problems and can’t pay our bills? I’m sick and tired of it. I’m no Democrat, but at least they passed a bill they promised they would!” - Allen Baucus, Fallon, Nev.
[Ed. note: There are tons of conservative solutions on health insurance, but not the requisite political will to enact them. Health insurance is so tricky because most of the best solutions on any side involve massive disruptions. Now, there are always to blunt the trauma, but if even a single person losses care or access to quality coverage in the process, the electorate will recoil. Getting a plan from a think tank and into the real world requires cunning, legislative agility, political acumen and courage. Those are all traits in short supply in Washington these days. I would say, though, that there are lots of people in both parties that care deeply about this issue. It’s just that caring is not enough.]
“Remember the Fairness Doctrine? … I just think it is a disservice to everyone to have one sided opinion airing all day long, while ignoring the other side completely. If such a law existed previously forcing equal representation for each side on TV, it couldn’t have been an encroachment on the first amendment, correct? I suppose one-sided opinion spouts will always find their place in the age of the internet, but the way Americans learn is too toxic and allows people to form a cocoon of opinions that make themselves feel comfortable. Also a channel should not be allowed to call itself ‘news’ if over half of what they air is opinion, especially the shows at night that get the most eyeballs. That is partially why people cannot tell the difference between the two in this day and age. Anyways, I love the column, it’s honesty, and the way you try to give people access to stories they might not always see on the air. I’m a former school teacher so this stuff really grinds my gears. Keep it up!” - Karen Sachs, Davenport, Iowa
[Ed. note: I certainly understand your frustration, Ms. Sachs. The atomization of the news media has corroded our public discourse in a pretty profound way. Just as you say, it has allowed Americans to retreat into comfortable cocoons where their views are not challenged and troublesome facts can be ignored or distorted. It’s bad business. But I’m sorry to say that there is no rewind button on this machine. We’re going to have to go forward and figure out a new way to reason together. The Fairness Doctrine applied to broadcast stations that use public airwaves leased to companies through the Federal Communications Commission. We could, I suppose, have the government take over the internet and nationalize the vast network of fiber that connects us all to each other, but that sounds rather far-fetched in a country where people are increasingly distrustful of the government. Imagine the response to such a suggestion today. The hard truth is that fixing our discourse will be an inside job. We’re going to have to do it ourselves. And much of that work will start with teachers like you. Thank you for your service on the front lines of the battle for a better future.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
AP: “Posing as customers, the three men entered a little New Delhi workshop early one morning. Then one pulled out a gun, and the trio demanded the most valuable thing there: Hair. They fled a half-hour later with 200 kilograms (500 pounds) of wigs and raw hair worth more than $20,000, police said Thursday. … ‘We breathe life into dead hair,’ said workshop owner Jahangir Hussain, who proudly says his wigs can last a decade if they are cared for properly. … Hair is big business in India, estimated to bring in more than $300 million a year, with wigs and hair extensions exported around the world. Much of the hair is collected at Hindu temples in South India where devotees have their heads shaved as a form of religious sacrifice. The best-known temple for tonsuring, as the practice is known, in the town of Tirupati, collects hundreds of tons of hair every year, auctioning it off for millions of dollars.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“I am sure there is a special place in heaven reserved for those who have never used the F-word. I will never get near that place.” – Charles Krauthammer writing in the Washington Post, July 2, 2004
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Dave Sweet contributed to this report.