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Will Trump's GOP give candidates room to maneuver?

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Lessons from Ohio's special election

Razor-thin margin between Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O'Connor in Ohio's 12th Congressional District; reaction and analysis from the 'Fox News @ Night' panel.

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On the roster: Will Trump’s GOP give candidates room to maneuver? - Time Out:Just as soon as I see Jesus’ - Trumpland puts a positive spin on losing the House - Trump: Stripped clearance punishment for Russia probe - Confucius says, ‘Gimmie that cheddar’

WILL TRUMP’S GOP GIVE CANDIDATES ROOM TO MANEUVER?
Congressman David Joyce represents a tricky patch of northeastern Ohio.

The Republican’s district was a perfect fit for the former GOP coalition: a blend of the wealthiest Cleveland suburbs on Lake Erie east of the city and of rural and small-town precincts stretching all the way to the Pennsylvania border.

But this year, he has a real race on his hands for a seat that he has won handily in three consecutive elections. Joyce’s problem is that the voters in the more densely populated suburbs are down on the current Republican president, but the rural voters are still feeling full MAGA vibes. How do you win back the white collars without aggravating the red hats?

With the state’s May primary far in the rearview, Joyce this week offered voters a very modest distancing from the president, whose administration had tried the scuttle a 2010 program aimed at cleaning up the Great Lakes.

“I’ll do what’s right for northeast Ohio even if means standing up to my own party,” Joyce says in his ad, as a graphic on the screen tells viewers “Dave Joyce Stood Up to President Trump.”

Now, in another time an ad like this would be utterly uncontroversial. In times of unified partisan government, incumbents from swing districts have always tried to show their independence. When Democrats ran in 2010, it was helpful to show some situational separation from Barack Obama and Republicans were fairly falling over themselves to dump on George W. Bush in 2006.

The playbook goes like this: You pick a safer issue than what’s driving the news – say, Social Security rather than Iraq in the second Bush midterm or global warming regulations rather than ObamaCare in Obama’s first midterm – and brag to voters that you are not what your opponents ads say you are 24/7: A rubber stamp.

And just as reliably in each such cycle, hardcore partisans warn these maverick-ish incumbents that this is the road to ruin. Stick with the base, they say. Don’t run from the president and depress voter enthusiasm. Karl Rove made the case in 2006 just as David Axelrod did in 2010. But we know that presidents are thinking about re-elections and legacies and policy struggles, while individual candidates are just looking for a way to survive November. When interests diverge in politics, so too do politicians.

What generally tends to happen is that the president and his party come to some terms about how far candidates will be allowed to go in brushing back claims of rubber stampism. Singe but don’t burn and, most of all, hold the seat. We’ve seen this in this cycle as Democrats tell their candidates to say whatever’s clever about congressional leadership just so long as they bring home the win.

But how is this going to work on the GOP side?

Trump himself seems unlikely to tolerate even modest expressions of independence from Republicans. He is a great believer in his own political power, and points to the success of Republican candidates in special elections like the nail-biter in Ohio’s 12thDistrict outside of Columbus as evidence that the way to win is Trump, Trump and more Trump.

“I think the Democrats give up when I turn out,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal. “If you want to know the truth, I don’t think it energizes them. I think it de-energizes them. I think they give up when I turn out.”

But we know that’s not so. As the new projections from FiveThirtyEight show, Republicans are facing increasingly long odds in holding the House. The forecaster’s model has the highest probability for Democrats gaining 35 seats, more than enough to get the job done.

And given the fact that districts like the one where the special election was held last week are even remotely close suggests that the bloodletting in November will be serious business.

Many pixels have been spent either marveling at or bemoaning the power of the “Trump effect” in Republican primaries this year. When Trump endorses, it helps his candidates win close races or turn comfortable wins into blowouts. When he comes against you, it is poison with the GOP base.

But with just a handful of primaries remaining, we are getting ready for the other Trump effect, the one in which the Republicans who rode the red hat wave in the primaries have to face general electorates in districts and states where Trump is an unpopular, polarizing figure.

We’ve already seen this in places like Virginia where Republicans are all but abandoning their hopes for a Senate seat and some House races because of candidates who followed Trump to primary wins but can’t compete in the fall.

But the trend will intensify in the coming weeks. What we don’t know yet is whether Trump and his party will show mercy for candidates in tough races and give them the space they need to distance themselves from the administration.

We’ll see whether even wan expressions of bipartisanship and independence like Joyce’s will be tolerated by the new GOP establishment. Our guess is that you’d have better odds in betting the Browns to make the Super Bowl.

THE RULEBOOK: SPARE THE ROD, SPOIL THE REPUBLIC
“The hope of impunity is a strong incitement to sedition; the dread of punishment, a proportionably strong discouragement to it.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 27

TIME OUT:‘JUST AS SOON AS I SEE JESUS’
Author Malcom Jones reflects on what is probably the greatest work of the late Aretha Franklin. Daily Beast: “The last great album Franklin cut for Atlantic was Amazing Grace, a gospel album recorded live in 1972 ... The highlight of this album that’s almost all highlights is the absolutely transcendent performance of ‘How I Got Over’... With the entire Southern California Community Choir for backup singers, Franklin starts off in high gear and never lets up. There are very few singers who can match an entire choir for intensity, and this choir is singing full out, nothing held back, and still she dominates, kicking the intensity higher on every chorus until you honestly think you’re going to levitate. … I don’t have a lot of In-Case-of-Emergency-Break-Glass songs, but this one would top any list I’d make. It has hauled me out of the emotional ditch too many times to count, because every time I hear it, I’m reminded of just what the human spirit and the human voice can do. As someone whose only faith is in this world, I’d have to say that if I harbor any idea of heaven, it’s Aretha Franklin singing this song. That’s all I know of heaven and all I need to know. Amen.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance
Average approval:
41.2 percent
Average disapproval: 52.8 percent
Net Score: -11.6 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.2 points
[Average includes: CNN: 44% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; IBD: 41% approve - 50% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 41% approve - 51% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average:
42.2 percent
Democratic average: 48.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points
Change from one week ago: no change
[Average includes: CNN: 52% Dems - 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 51% Dems - 42% GOP; IBD: 45% Dems - 45% GOP; NPR/PBS/Marist: 47% Dems - 40% GOP; NBC/WSJ: 49% Dems - 43% GOP.]

TRUMPLAND PUTS A POSITIVE SPIN ON LOSING THE HOUSE
Politico: “There’s a new way of demonstrating loyalty to Donald Trump and his Republican Party: Claiming that the president could not only survive an impeachment effort, but that it would guarantee his victory in 2020. The idea gaining currency on the right is that Trump can be Bill Clinton, not Richard Nixon. It depends on a delicate political calculation — that a Republican-held Senate would never follow a Democratic House and vote to remove Trump, and that voters tired of the long-running Russia scandal will, as they did in the late 1990s with Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal, want to move on. The notion has surfaced spontaneously among a diverse set of conservatives, including politicians with Trump’s ear and young ultraloyalists of the president whose institutional knowledge of the GOP begins with its new standard-bearer. They’re also the die-hards who aren’t afraid to align themselves with pro-Trump positions even before the president has warmed to them himself.”

Bannon super PAC aims to keep midterm focus on Trump -Politico:Steve Bannon is attempting a political resurrection, launching a 25-person pro-Trump rapid-response and polling operation that is framing the midterms as an up-or-down vote on the president’s impeachment. The former White House chief strategist has started Citizens for the American Republic, an outside political group that intends to advise surrogates, generate talking points, and flood the TV and radio airwaves ahead of a perilous midterm election. As part of the campaign, Bannon — a former Hollywood producer who’s made several conservative films — will soon release a new documentary, ‘[email protected],’ which he plans to release in September on the two-year anniversary of Hillary Clinton’s now-infamous speech in which she referred to Trump supporters as ‘deplorables.’ The slickly produced movie depicts the president in deeply flattering terms, casting him as a populist hero who’s followed through on his campaign promises and defied a long line of liberal critics.”

McSally ducks debates -AP: “Republican primary voters casting ballots for an open U.S. Senate seat in Arizona are unlikely to see a televised debate despite calls from two of the three candidates. Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio are vying for the Republican nomination to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Jeff Flake. Ward has been calling for a debate for months. Arpaio posted a Twitter letter Wednesday challenging his opponents to a televised debate. But McSally says with the primary less than two weeks away, she’s engaging directly with voters and debunking attacks from her opponents. ‘We’ve got 13 days, we’re sprinting to the finish,’ she said. ‘We’re pretty sure primary voters know where the other opponents stand on a lot of issues, so we’re engaging with primary voters and building our momentum and enthusiasm so we can shore up this nomination.’”

Dem poll shows a race is Mississippi -Roll Call: A Democratic poll of the Mississippi Senate special election shows former Rep. Mike Espy having a path to finishing first in a runoff this fall. Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed earlier this year to replace longtime GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, is running for the remainder of his term this November. Candidates from all parties will run together on the same ballot, and if no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top-two finishers will advance to a late-November runoff. In the poll conducted for the Espy campaign, Hyde-Smith finished first on the initial ballot with 29 percent. Espy was in second with 27 percent, followed by state Sen. Chris McDaniel at 17 percent. The Mellman Group surveyed 600 likely votes from Aug. 1-7, and the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.”

Braun campaigns on brains, but keeps close to Trump agenda -WashEx:Mike Braun isn’t a culture warrior. The Republican has the upper hand against Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in the midterm election, an advantage he owes to President Trump’s standing in ruby red Indiana. Yet Braun has little in common with Trump, save wealth and the entrepreneur resume. He’s more apt to lull voters to sleep with conservative ideas for rebuilding infrastructure than stir them with nationalist paeans about the dangers of immigration. Being boring is a Hoosier tradition, and it can work for Braun (‘understated’ is how he describes himself). Think Republican Sen. Todd Young; Democratic former Sen. Evan Bayh; Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor; Donnelly, even. The key to Braun keeping Republican voters in the fold and maintaining his built-in political edge? Don’t stray too far from the Trump agenda.”

O'Rourke keeps the pressure on Cruz - Fox News: “[A] Texas congressman is trying to do what no Democrat has been able to do here in nearly 25 years -- win statewide office. Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke from El Paso, elected in 2012 to serve Texas’ 16th Congressional District, is battling it out with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, aiming to capture Cruz's seat come November. ‘We're listening to and bringing in everyone -- Republican, Democrat, independent -- everyone in Texas is important,’ O’Rourke tells Fox News. His message appears to have some resonance with voters, with polling data showing O’Rourke within striking distance of Cruz. According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, Cruz has a six-percentage-point lead -- 49 percent to 43 percent. But some polls suggest a tighter race. A recent Texas Lyceum poll put the spread at just two points.”

Walker’s approach? ‘Burning down the village’ -WashEx: “With the primaries out of the way, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is launching an ‘absolute, total blitz,’ on his newly-crowned Democratic opponent, state superintendent Tony Evers. Described by a Walker insider as a ‘shock and awe’ campaign and ‘burning down the village,’ Walker's strategy is to waste no time in bombarding Evers. That was immediately evident on primary night, when the state GOP launched a TV and digital ad statewide shortly after Evers won the nomination accusing him of ‘refus[ing] to revoke’ the license of a teacher found to have viewed and shared pornography on district computers. A state party spokesman said on Tuesday the ad's initial TV buy was worth $500,000.”

Alaska gubernatorial hopefuls hold forum ahead of primary -KTOO: “Gubernatorial candidates stopped in Homer [Alaska] on Tuesday to campaign, meet with residents and square off in a governor’s forum. The event drew four prominent candidates including Gov. Bill Walker, Mike Dunleavy, Mark Begich and Mead Treadwell. It also drew lesser-known candidate Billy Toien. … The Homer Chamber of Commerce sponsored the forum and grilled candidates on issues from health care to the economy. All candidates agreed health care expense was an issue but differed widely on how to address it.”

Dems debate plans to oust longtime Alaska GOP congressman - Anchorage Daily News:Alyse Galvin and Dimitri Shein, candidates running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Congress in Alaska, offered voters a choice between a progressive businessman and an independent moderate in an Anchorage debate Tuesday night. Galvin has long been registered an independent, and spent much of the debate staking out the ‘listen to all sides’ territory. Shein is a Democrat with a quick wit who has focused his message on ‘Medicare for all,’ offering single-payer health care for all Americans. Galvin said she has the political and financial backing to take on Alaska Rep. Don Young. … Galvin said her opponent is ‘a really nice person,’ but ‘what he doesn't have is the machine that I have to win’ against Young, who has held his seat since 1973.”

Congressman’s campaign aide arrested on assault charges - Roll Call: “GOP Rep. Rodney Davis’ campaign field director was arrested and charged with aggravated assault Wednesday night after an altercation involving Davis’ Democratic opponent, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan. The Illinois Republican’s field director Levi Lovell was arrested at Londrigan’s campaign event at a local bar, according to WCIA Chicago reporter Mark Maxwell. Lovell reportedly shouted at Londrigan, a businesswoman and former aide to Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin, and then punched someone at the event. Springfield Police confirmed to Roll Call that Lovell was booked into the Sangamon County Detention Facility.”

Voters turn out Clarke successor in Milwaukee -
Atlantic: “Remember David Clarke? He became a national celebrity for his support of Donald Trump during the 2016 election, speaking at the Republican National Convention and delivering often inflammatory remarks on the campaign trail. But as Clarke’s large array of badges and oversize hat were intended to remind, he was first and foremost a lawman—the sheriff of Milwaukee County, in office since 2002. … Clarke left office in 2017 with the promise of a job in the Trump administration that never actually materialized. (He later joined a pro-Trump political-action committee.) On Tuesday, however, the police-reform movement won a victory over Clarke’s legacy in the county, turning out his successor and former deputy in the Democratic primary for sheriff. Earnell Lucas won roughly 57 percent of the vote, handily defeating Acting Sheriff Richard Schmidt, who took 34 percent.”

TRUMP: STRIPPED CLEARANCE PUNISHMENT FOR RUSSIA PROBE
WaPo: “In an interview with the Wall Street Journal posted late Wednesday,
President Trump … confessed that his true motivation for revoking former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance was the ‘rigged witch hunt’ that Brennan once ‘led.’ ‘I call it the rigged witch hunt; [it] is a sham,’ Trump told the Journal’s Peter Nicholas and Michael C. Bender. ‘And these people led it!’ He added: ‘So I think it’s something that had to be done.’ You could be forgiven for having flashbacks to Trump’s interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt in the aftermath of his firing last year of James B. Comey as FBI director. Then, as now, the White House offered a series of motivations for the crackdown on a person who was a liability in the Russia probe. Then, as now, it seemed clear what the actual motivation was. And then, as now, Trump appeared to go out and just admit the actual motivation.”

Rudy says he’s ready to fight Mueller on interview at SupCo -
WaPo:Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s lead lawyer for the ongoing Russia probe, said Wednesday that he is still awaiting a response from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to the Trump team’s latest terms for a presidential interview, which were made last week in a letter that argued against Trump’s having to answer questions about his possible obstruction of justice. In the meantime, Trump’s lawyers are preparing to oppose a potential subpoena from Mueller for a Trump sit-down by drafting a rebuttal that could set off a dramatic fight in federal courts. ‘We would move to quash the subpoena,’ Giuliani said in an interview. ‘And we’re pretty much finished with our memorandum opposing a subpoena.’ Giuliani added that Trump’s attorneys are ready to ‘argue it before the Supreme Court, if it ever got there.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Fear the turtle: McConnell chides fellow GOPers for skipping vote - The Hill

Jury begins deliberations in Manafort trial - Fox News

State officials investigate sex abuse claims from wrestlers who allege Jordan turned a blind eye - Politico

Top admiral to Trump: Revoke my clearance too, so I can speak freely against you - WaPo

Trump accuses The Boston Globe of ‘collusion’ with other papers - Fox News

AUDIBLE: SUCK IT IN

“[President Trump’s tariffs on imports are] a little bit like weight loss… it's kind of painful to start with, but you're healthier in the end.” – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Fox News on Wednesday.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Hey guys, Republican candidate Knute Buehler [in the Oregon gubernatorial race] is singing all the left friendly refrains in his slick TV ads. Local media is reporting the race is actually closer than anyone would imagine.” – David Steiner, Beaverton, Ore.

[Ed. note: You may be right, Mr. Steiner! We’ve been keeping a closer eye on the race since the primary and Buehler is indeed in a position to give Gov. Kate Brown a run for her money. Brown beat Buehler badly for Secretary of State in 2012, but her tenure as governor, which began when her scandal-soaked predecessor resigned in 2015, has not be free of controversy. But given the political trends in the state and the nation, we’re content for now to leave the race as “Likely Democrat.” I promise we will keep watching, though.]

“And a fine sherpa [Jon Kyl] is. He's so fine that it could just be a step up if the roles were reversed and the nominee was Sen. Kyl, with Judge Kavanaugh as the sherpa. Only question: Kyl is a bit older.” – Jack Lavelle, Phoenix

[Ed. note: I’d say 23 years is more than “a bit,” Mr. Lavelle. I know the Boomers are good at hanging on in the workforce, but 76 for a freshman justice may be pushing it!]

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CONFUCIUS SAYS, ‘GIMMIE THAT CHEDDAR’

UPI: “A Washington state man said he followed the advice inside a fortune cookie and won a $125,000 lottery jackpot. The Vancouver resident told Washington's Lottery officials he discovered three fortunes inside a single cookie recently and decided to follow the advice printed on two of them: ‘Buy a ticket. All your financial troubles will soon be solved.’ The man said he bought a Hit 5 ticket from the Plaid Pantry in Vancouver and initially thought he won $125, but later discovered his jackpot was $125,000. ‘Who knew my day would be turned upside down by the message on a fortune cookie?’ the man said. He said he planned to celebrate his win by spending some of the money on a sushi dinner.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“It is not that football is decadent. To say that in the age of Twisted Sister and low-cal dog food would be unfair. The problem with football is that it is imperial. Where did it pick up all that absurd Augustan ritual – the oversized flag, the color guard, the presidential coin toss – urged on by platoons of highly energetic vestal virgins? … Now without a fly-by by the Blue Angels and invocations by ministers of all denominations, one can hardly get the game off the ground.” – Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Washington Post, Jan. 25, 1985.

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.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.

Chris Stirewalt Fox News

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