Three things to watch for in tonight’s debate
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On the roster: Three things to watch for in tonight’s debate – Biden releases taxes, pressures trump to do the same – Georgia presidential, Senate battles are tight – Courts skeptical of GOP fraud claims – A credit to our species
THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR IN TONIGHT’S DEBATE
It’s been our convention here for many years to refer to debates as “fight nights,” because of the way these contests reflect boxing matches – the preening, strutting, trash talk, etc. But with President Trump, it almost feels a little on the nose now that he’s accused his opponent of doping and wants a physical inspection before the bout.
If Jared Kushner comes out to sit behind Trump with a spit bucket and iced half dollars we’ll know they’ve really embraced the metaphor.
These podium pounders have been part of every presidential contest since 1976 and have operated under the current basic framework (and civics class sets) since 1988. Tonight’s contest from the Cleveland Clinic/Case Western Reserve health sciences campus will be like the previous 22 showdowns hosted by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. But it will also be very different.
First, there will be no crowd – or at least not one large enough to shape the process. As moderator extraordinaire Chris Wallace remembers from his work doing crowd control in the final 2016 showdown between Trump and Hillary Clinton, a boisterous crowd is like having a third candidate on the stage.
Thanks to the coronavirus, there will be no applause track to suggest to viewers at home how they should be scoring the match.
Second, we have little indication for exactly how many folks at home actually will be watching. The first debate in 2016 drew record-setting television audiences as voters tuned in to see Trump in his first heavyweight bout. Interest in the election is certainly high, but this years’ conventions saw a 22 percent decrease in overall viewership from four years ago.
Will that be the case again as polls show voters continuing to shrug off major events in this political cycle or will it be as it has been with baseball that despite not having fans in the stands, viewership actually increases?
The reason interest in 2016 debates was so high – especially the first one – was that Trump was a radical departure from politics. Would this pro wrestling enthusiast walk on this debate stage like Ric Flair, the self-described “stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ and dealin’ son of a gun,” or try to act presidential? Would Clinton shake his hand? Would the whole thing fall apart into some shouting match?
Now we know. Trump turned out to be a very competent debater, and learned how to make the most of the medium. To further mix our sports metaphors, these debates play like bocce ball or cornhole. You and your opponent take turns and each time you get the chance to hit the target and simultaneously try to knock the other guy out of his spot. It’s not fluid.
Deflect, re-direct and zing; reflect re-direct and zing; and so on and so on.
This is a good format for both Trump and his challenger, Joe Biden. Both are older men with a loose grasp of details and a high proclivity for talking themselves into trouble. The questions tee up two-minute mini speeches, which provide guardrails for the kinds of moments both candidates want to avoid.
And don’t expect Mr. Sunday to be stirring things up. As he has made clear, he sees his job as providing structure and keeping the fight fair, not being a real-time fact checker or adding intensity. As he was four years ago, he’ll be a strict, fair referee, not one of the combatants.
With all that in mind, here are three things to watch for tonight:
Red states, blue mood – The first 30 minutes of the debate will probably be the most watched by far, so Trump can’t afford to be, ahem, low energy off the top. He’s in a tough spot. Debates are always hard for incumbent presidents who have records they must defend. But no incumbent since George H.W. Bush has been in the position of walking onto the stage trailing so substantially. Trump can ill-afford one of the glum showings he sometimes delivers when he is down.
Irish up – The rap on Joe Biden is that he’s dim or spacey. But that’s not his real problem, his temper is. Trump will surely make all kinds of accusations against Biden and his family, and the Democratic nominee will be inclined to do his shout-talking, teeth chomping routine. As we saw when he looked like he might eat Paul Ryan whole in 2012, it’s not a good look.
In the clinch – Like a couple of old heavyweights in a title bout, look for both candidates to use the referee to get out of tight spots. When fighters get tired, as these two surely will over the span of 90 minutes, they go into a clinch with each other as a way to rest until the ref comes and pulls them apart. When either candidate is struggling they will be inclined to start nattering with each other about some cockamamie point or even the rules and the questions as a way to get a breath.
THE RULEBOOK: JUST TWO RULES
“There are two rules of construction, dictated by plain reason, as well as founded on legal axioms. The one is, that every part of the expression ought, if possible, to be allowed some meaning, and be made to conspire to some common end. The other is, that where the several parts cannot be made to coincide, the less important should give way to the more important part; the means should be sacrificed to the end, rather than the end to the means.” – James Madison, writing about how to sustain a mixed government, Federalist No. 40
TIME OUT: BRING OUT THE RADIOACTIVE FOXES
Smithsonian: “In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, the leader of the Office of Strategic Services—America’s wartime intelligence agency—told his scientists to find a way to ‘outfox’ the Axis enemies. In response, the scientists produced a number of dirty tricks, including explosive pancake mix, incendiary bombs strapped to live bats, truth drugs for eliciting information from prisoners of war, and a foul-smelling spray that mimicked the repulsive odor of fecal matter. In other words, desperate times called for desperate measures. Among these outlandish strategies, Operation Fantasia was the most desperate—and peculiar—of them all. Operation Fantasia was the brainchild of OSS psychological warfare strategist Ed Salinger, an eccentric businessman who had run an import/export business in Tokyo before the war. … Operation Fantasia, he pitched the organization in 1943, would destroy Japanese morale by exposing soldiers and civilians to a Shinto portent of doom: kitsune, fox-shaped spirits with magical abilities.”
Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
NATIONAL HEAD-TO-HEAD AVERAGE
Trump: 43 percent
Biden: 51.2 percent
Size of lead: Biden by 8.2 points
Change from one week ago: Biden ↑ 2 points, Trump no change in points
[Average includes: Monmouth University: Trump 45% – Biden 50%; NYT/Siena College: Trump 41% – Biden 49%; ABC News/WaPo: Trump 44% – Biden 54%; Quinnipiac University: Trump 42% – Biden 52%; NBC News/WSJ: Trump 43% – Biden 51%.]
BATTLEGROUND POWER RANKINGS
(270 electoral votes needed to win)
Toss-up: (109 electoral votes): Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Arizona (11), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15), Iowa (6)
Lean R/Likely R: (180 electoral votes)
Lean D/Likely D: (249 electoral votes)
[Full rankings here.]
TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 44.2 percent
Average disapproval: 52.8 percent
Net Score: -8.6 points
Change from one week ago: ↑ 1 point
[Average includes: NYT/Siena College: 46% approve – 50% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 44% approve – 55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 43% approve – 53% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 45% approve – 53% disapprove; NPR/PBS News/Marist: 43% approve – 53% disapprove.]
GOT A WILD PITCH? READY TO THROW A FASTBALL?
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BIDEN RELEASES TAXES, PRESSURES TRUMP TO DO THE SAME
WSJ: “Former Vice President Joe Biden released his 2019 tax returns on Tuesday, showing that he paid nearly $300,000 in federal taxes, seeking to draw a contrast with President Trump in the hours before their first debate. Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, reported receiving $985,233 in adjusted gross income in 2019, a year in which he was mostly running for president. Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has refused to release any of his tax returns, breaking a 40-year tradition of major-party candidates and presidents. The New York Times reported Sunday that Mr. Trump hasn’t paid federal income taxes in many recent years and paid just $750 for 2016 and the same amount for 2017. Mr. Trump has dismissed the Times’ reporting as inaccurate but has declined to specify any errors. The Times report detailed a series of questionable transactions by Mr. Trump, including deductions for hair styling, claims of large losses and consulting payments to his daughter, Ivanka Trump. The president has said he is still being audited by the Internal Revenue Service.”
GEORGIA PRESIDENTIAL, SENATE BATTLES ARE TIGHT
Quinnipiac University: “The race for the White House in Georgia is too close to call with 50 percent of likely voters supporting former Vice President Joe Biden and 47 percent supporting President Trump, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters released today. Republicans back Trump 97 – 3 percent, Democrats back Biden 98 percent, and independents back Biden 51 – 42 percent. There are wide gaps among gender and race. Men support Trump 56 – 41 percent, while women support Biden 57 – 39 percent. Black voters support Biden 89 – 7 percent, while white voters support Trump 67 – 31 percent. … Republican incumbent Senator David Perdue, who is seeking a second term, is essentially tied with Democrat Jon Ossoff, as 49 percent of likely voters go to Ossoff and 48 percent go to Perdue. … Likely voters have a favorable view of Ossoff, 45 – 38 percent, but are split on Perdue, with 45 percent saying favorable and 44 percent saying unfavorable.”
Biden feels boost from Pennsylvania women – ABC News: “Overwhelming support in Philadelphia and its suburbs lift former Vice President Joe Biden to a clear lead in crucial Pennsylvania, with backing from college-educated white people and women — notably white, moderate and suburban women — central to his advantage in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. President Donald Trump, for his part, is suffering attrition among his 2016 supporters; 8% of them now back Biden instead. While a small slice of the electorate, it’s a potentially important factor in a state Trump won by 44,292 votes out of nearly 6.2 million cast four years ago. Likely voters support Biden over Trump by 54 to 45%, almost exactly matching a national ABC/Post poll released Sunday. The result includes more than a 2 to 1 Biden lead in the populous Philadelphia suburbs, home to nearly a quarter of likely voters, and close results in northeastern and western Pennsylvania, leaving only the conservative center of the state clearly to Trump.”
Republicans work to close gender gap in the House – Politico: “House Republicans will boost their depressingly low number of congresswomen next year — it’s just a matter of how much. Reeling from a brutal midterm election that decimated their ranks, the remaining female GOP members corralled party leaders, donors, and outside groups into mounting an all-out campaign to close the gender gap by recruiting more women and shepherding them through primaries. On a good election night for the party, they could see as many as two dozen women win their races, bringing them back to their pre-2018 levels. In the worst-case scenario, House Republicans would still grow their female ranks by one or two. More than that, though, the GOP — which has long shunned identity politics, at least when it comes to gender — has experienced a real attitude and cultural shift around electing more women to Congress, according to interviews with over a dozen lawmakers, candidates, operatives and aides.”
COURTS SKEPTICAL OF GOP FRAUD CLAIMS
WaPo: “For six months, the rules for how Americans can vote during the coronavirus pandemic have been locked in court battles while states across the country rushed to embrace mail ballots. Now, with just weeks to go before the Nov. 3 election, voting rights advocates and Democrats have advanced on key fronts in the legal war, scoring victories that make mail voting easier, ensure votes cast by mail are counted and protect the wide distribution of mail ballots in some states. A review by The Washington Post of nearly 90 state and federal voting lawsuits found that judges have been broadly skeptical as Republicans use claims of voter fraud to argue against such changes, declining to endorse the GOP’s arguments or dismissing them as they examined limits on mail voting. In no case did a judge back President Trump’s view — refuted by experts — that fraud is a problem significant enough to sway a presidential election.”
Minnesota House member sues state on election delay – Roll Call: “Rep. Angie Craig, who represents Minnesota’s 2nd District, filed a lawsuit Monday to block the state from postponing her election because of the death of a third-party candidate in the race. The situation has thrown into chaos not only the reelection contest but also the congressional representation of the 2nd District’s voters in Congress early next year. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said the 2nd District would hold a special election on Feb. 9 and, since ballots had already been printed, that votes cast in the race for November would not be counted. That seemed to mean that the seat would remain vacant through the potentially crucial first weeks of the 117th Congress, which will convene in January. Craig, a first-term Democrat, faces Republican challenger Tyler Kistner, a Marine veteran. Adam Weeks, the Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate running for the seat, died last week, according to news reports.”
PELOSI SEEKS TO SQUEEZE SENATE GOP AGAIN
AP: “House Democrats unveiled a scaled-back $2.2 trillion aid measure Monday in an attempt to boost long-stalled talks on COVID-19 relief, though there was no sign of progress in continuing negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The latest Democratic measure would revive a $600-per-week pandemic jobless benefit and send a second round of $1,200 direct payments to most individuals. It would scale back an aid package to state and local governments to a still-huge $436 billion, send a whopping $225 billion to colleges and universities, and deliver another round of subsidies to businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. The proposal represents a cutback from a $3.4 billion bill that passed the House in May, but remains well above what Senate Republicans are willing to accept. Republicans have endorsed staying in the $650 billion to $1 trillion range. Pelosi said Monday that she remains in contact with Mnuchin, with whom she negotiated several earlier relief packages. The two spoke briefly on Sunday and Monday evening and are slated to talk again Tuesday morning, according to Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill.”
Pergram: The Fermi Paradox and the possibility of another coronavirus relief bill – Fox News: “House Democrats are poised to consider a revamped, tailored measure later this week. Pelosi’s been talking with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. But it’s unclear if it’s possible to get something done which can become law. Sure. The end of the week is an inflection point. After this effort, Congress won’t mess with much legislation until after the election. So, Pelosi is trying to punctuate things before November 3. An effort to dare GOPers to vote nay – and show that House Democrats can move yet another bill on their own. But, despite her conversations with Mnuchin, this is not a package negotiated with the Trump Administration. Yet. And, until that happens, it has scant chance of becoming law. Here’s the irony: If there is so much ‘consensus’ on the need to do another package of coronavirus assistance, why isn’t another, bipartisan bill ready? Why can’t the sides forge some compromise? Efforts to advance a fifth phase of coronavirus relief really haven’t evolved since May.”
TRUMP SUPCO NOMINEE MEETS WITH GOP SENATORS
USA Today: “Federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett traveled to Capitol Hill today to start meeting with senators ahead of her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Barrett’s scheduled meetings on Tuesday are all with Republicans. She started her day meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence. In the afternoon, she will meet with other key Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee, the panel overseeing nominations, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who chairs the panel. Instead of meeting in each senator’s office, lawmakers are meeting individually with Barrett in a larger room in the Capitol to account for COVID-19 precautions. After his meeting with her, McConnell, joined by Barrett and officials from the White House, offered brief remarks about starting the process. … Standing nearby, Vice President Mike Pence, joined by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, praised Barrett and the members of the Senate who ‘committed to meet with an extraordinary American.’”
Several Dems refuse to meet with her – Fox News: “Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett is set to start meeting with senators on Tuesday as her accelerated confirmation process continues despite multiple Democrats refusing to see her, calling the process that led to her nomination so close to a presidential election ‘illegitimate.’ ‘I believe first the whole process has been illegitimate,’ Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Sunday. ‘And second, because she’s already stated that she is for overturning the ACA. I will not meet with her.’ Schumer, who has said if Barrett is confirmed the GOP ‘will have stolen two Supreme Court seats,’ is joined by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, in refusing to meet with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge.”
TRUMP OFFICIAL SAYS CENSUS WILL STILL END OCT. 5
AP: “U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross says the 2020 census will end Oct. 5, despite a federal judge’s ruling last week allowing the head count of every U.S. resident to continue through the end of October, according to a tweet posted by the Census Bureau on Monday. The tweet said the ability for people to self-respond to the census questionnaire and the door-knocking phase when census takers go to homes that haven’t yet responded are targeted to end Oct. 5. The announcement came as a virtual hearing was being held in San Jose, California, as a follow-up to U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh’s preliminary injunction. The injunction issued last week suspended the Census Bureau’s deadline for ending the head count on Sept. 30, which automatically reverted back to an older Census Bureau plan in which the timeline for ending field operations was Oct. 31.”
Sen. Rick Scott introduces bill requiring mail-in ballots be counted within 24 hours of Election Day – Fox News
Seven candidates facing off in special election to be short-term successor to John Lewis – AP
AUDIBLE: BOOM, ROASTED
“Do either of you think you’re acting like a U.S. senator? Is this the way Iowans expect their senator to act? I want to ask a question and get a response.” – Moderator David Yepsen interrupting Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield as they talked over each other in Monday night’s Iowa Senate debate.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I generally agree with your articles BUT I was disappointed in an excess of populism you showed this morning in ‘Trump Tax Story No Bombshell.’ Specifically you said: ‘it’s fascinating (if disheartening) to read about all the time and effort that rich people put into squeezing every nickel out of each and every of the 2.4 million or so words in the federal tax code.’ Let me cite the following passage from the decision of Court of Appeals Judge Learned Hand in Gregory v Helvering (2d Cir. 1934) Quote: ‘Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.’ Unquote. And with that phrase Judge Hand created the largest segment of the legal profession extant.” – H. Hollister Cantus, McLean, Va.
[Ed. note: Mr. Cantus, if you can feel anything but disheartened thinking about something as shoddily built, inefficient and ineffective as our federal tax code then I have a 1990 Yugo I’d like to sell you!]
“It seems to me that Democrats would be taking a big risk of significant backlash if they used Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholicism as reason for not accepting her as a Supreme Court Justice – or even questioning her regarding her religion. Why? Are not both Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi Catholic and would be subject to the very same questioning and scrutiny?” – Tom Snyder, Frankfort, Ill.
[Ed. note: You don’t even need to go the hypocrisy route — the nation’s 70 million or so Roman Catholics make for plenty of reasons why it would be unwise for Democrats to institute some kind of religious test. I think Democrats are well forewarned about this whiff of anti-Catholic bigotry and will likely steer well clear. But if they don’t, they will have handed Republicans a powerful weapon in convincing members of this key voter demographic.]
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A CREDIT TO OUR SPECIES
KUTV: “A Utah man allegedly stole a truck he said he needed to rendezvous with aliens but felt bad for stealing it and returned it to a 7 Eleven store. Bryce Jerald Dixon is accused of theft of a vehicle and three attempts to escape from official custody after he returned a red pickup truck that he later told police he needed so that he could ‘get to the Colosseum to get on a flight with alien diplomats.’ According to court documents, Dixon intended to drive the truck all the way to the Colosseum but felt bad for stealing it so he returned to the 7 Eleven he took it from to give it back. The truck had been reported stolen when the owner — who left his truck unlocked with the keys inside while he stopped into the story — called 911. Police responded and investigated and when an officer arrived at the convenience store he was met by the truck’s owner who said the man suspected of taking it returned it and was running from the location. The officer used his radio and another officer took the suspect into custody.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“A terrorist is by profession, indeed by definition, an unlawful combatant: He lives outside the laws of war because he does not wear a uniform, he hides among civilians, and he deliberately targets innocents. He is entitled to no protections whatsoever.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about torture in The Weekly Standard on Dec. 5, 2005.
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.