Toomey’s departure and a changing GOP

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On the roster: Toomey’s departure and a changing GOP – I’ll Tell You What: More turns of the worm to turn – Trump to return to White House tonight – Biden gets big post-debate boost – Otterly in love

Lost amid the cacophony of recent political news – something like a mash-up of “Veep” and “House of Cards” played at 2x speed – was the surprise announcement from Pat Toomey that he will not seek a third term as senator from Pennsylvania in 2022.

In an era of performative politics, the thoughtful, sobersided Toomey might be easily overlooked. But in his going, Toomey speaks volumes about the current political situation and what may be ahead.

Toomey’s decision should perhaps not have been that surprising given that he term-limited himself after winning his Allentown-based House district three times. Like other conservatives, two terms in the Senate seems to have been enough. But he took the extra step of declaring he would not seek the commonwealth’s governorship either.

This is a blow to Republicans who, even if Toomey had agreed to stay, are facing a brutal Senate map in two years. The Red Team will be defending at least 20 seats compared to a minimum of 12 for Democrats. Among those contested races, Republicans will be trying to save seats in battlegrounds of Florida, Iowa, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and probably Georgia.

This is the hangover year from the GOP’s Senate successes of 2010 and 2016. If this year’s presidential polls hold and former Vice President Joe Biden does win it gets a little easier for Republicans with the midterm trend of losses for the incumbent president’s party, but that’s a lot of real estate. 

With Toomey leaving, eyes will now fall to Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, Richard Burr in North Carolina and other potential retirees. But make no mistake, the loss of an incumbent who had so deathly maintained his bonafides as a conservative while representing blue-hued Pennsylvania is a big one for the GOP.

Toomey’s story mirrors that of Republicans in the Rust Belt. A Harvard-educated finance dude with blue-collar roots, Toomey flipped a Democratic legacy seat in the Lehigh Valley in 1998, served his terms and then in 2004 challenged his own party’s longtime senator, Arlen Specter.

The Republican establishment came down hard on Toomey, with even then-Sen. Rick Santorum siding with pro-choice, ultra-moderate Specter. In those days, the split in the Republican party was between conservatives and moderates as opposed to the more recent divisions between nationalists and conservatives.

The initial shift was due in substantial part to Toomey’s success – a success that began with a painful defeat.

Specter held on and beat Toomey by about a point and a half in the Republican primary. Toomey stepped out to become the head of the Club for Growth, which was then a swashbuckling, small-government conservative outside group and bided his time.

In 2010, rather than face an obvious defeat in a rematch with Toomey, Specter bolted the party and became a Democrat where he and his vote for ObamaCare were welcomed with open arms. But rank-and-file Democrats saw it differently and picked then-Rep. Joe Sestak over Specter in their primary.

But Toomey beat Sestak anyway and six years later would outperform then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for a second term.

Toomey’s success at winning with the small-government conservatism that had been out of fashion in mainstream politics for years was seen prior to 2016 as a harbinger of things to come. Reform-minded conservatives won across the country, including in places like Wisconsin and Michigan that had long been Democratic strongholds.

As the 2016 Republican primaries took shape it was assumed that a candidate from the Toomey kind would be the top contender, e.g. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker etc. But that’s not what happened, and the party quickly pivoted to embrace its new populist, nationalist leader. In many cases, the individuals themselves overhauled their own ideological stances to get with the program.

If you wonder what might be next for the Republicans after 2020 – other than a grueling Senate map – don’t forget how conservatives like Toomey were once in ascension and considered heroes in their party for taking on centrist GOPers. 

If Trump does get bounced out of office, you can bet that the old insurgency will be made new again.

“The next most palpable defect of the subsisting Confederation, is the total want of a SANCTION to its laws.” – Alexander Hamilton, writing about the flaws of the Articles of Confederation, Federalist No. 21

Ohio History Center: “On October 5, 1813, General William Henry Harrison, who also was the governor of the Indiana Territory and a future president of the United States of America, led an army of 3,500 American troops against a combined force of eight hundred British soldiers and five hundred American Indian warriors at Moraviantown, along the Thames River in Ontario, Canada. The British troops were under the command of Colonel Henry Procter. Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, commanded many of the American Indian warriors. The British army was retreating from Fort Malden, Ontario after Oliver Hazard Perry‘s victory in the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813. Tecumseh convinced Colonel Procter to make a stand at Moraviantown. The American army won a total victory. As soon as the American troops advanced, the British soldiers fled or surrendered. The American Indians fought fiercely, but lost heart and scattered after Tecumseh died on the battlefield. The identity of the person who killed Tecumseh is still vigorously debated.”

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Trump: 42.2 percent         
Biden: 51.6 percent         
Size of lead: Biden by 9.4 points         
Change from one week ago: Biden ↑ 0.4 points, Trump ↓ 0.8 points
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: Trump 39% – Biden 53%; 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%.]

(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.]

Average approval: 44.4 percent
Average disapproval: 53 percent
Net Score: -8.6 points
Change from one week ago: no change in points
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: 43% approve – 55% disapprove; NYT/Siena College: 46% approve – 50% disapprove; Gallup: 46% approve – 52% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 44% approve – 55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 43% approve – 53% disapprove.]

We’ve brought “From the Bleachers” to video on demand thanks to Fox Nation. Each Wednesday and Friday, Producer Brianna McClelland will put Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt to the test with your questions on everything about politics, government and American history – plus whatever else is on your mind. Sign up for the Fox Nation streaming service here and send your best questions to HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM.

Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt quickly catch up about the busy news weekend after President Trump was flown to Walter Reed Medical Center on Friday evening, after contracting coronavirus. They discuss the latest from the President’s doctors, what the diagnosis means for his re-election bid and the upcoming Vice-Presidential debate. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

AP: “President Donald Trump said Monday he’s leaving the military hospital where he has been treated for COVID-19 and will continue his recovery at the White House. He said he’s feeling good and the nation should not be afraid of the virus that has killed more than 209,000 Americans. Trump’s expected return comes as the scale of the outbreak within the White House itself is still being uncovered. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced she had tested positive for the virus Monday morning and was entering quarantine. ‘I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M.,’ Trump tweeted. ‘Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. … I feel better than I did 20 years ago!’ He is expected to make the journey aboard the presidential helicopter, Marine One. It was unclear how long Trump would remain in isolation at the White House. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with mild to moderate symptoms can be contagious for as many — and should isolate for at least — 10 days.”

Experts suggest inappropriate use of rapid tests could have caused spread – WSJ: “At least eight people who attended the White House’s recent Supreme Court nomination ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett have tested positive for the coronavirus, and public health experts say they expect more attendees to be diagnosed in coming days. The White House says it has relied on rapid testing to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 among officials and guests. Officials don’t wear masks or socially distance because they are tested daily. The president is also tested for the coronavirus every day, as is anyone who comes in close contact with him. The administration relied on Abbott Laboratories’ ID Now rapid test at the Sept. 26 event for Judge Barrett. After guests tested negative, they were ushered to the Rose Garden, where few people were wearing masks. The White House didn’t comment on whether anyone screened at the event tested positive. Public-health experts say the White House isn’t using the test appropriately, and that such tests aren’t meant to be used as one-time screeners.”

Trump didn’t share first positive test on Thursday – WSJ: “President Trump didn’t disclose a positive result from a rapid test for Covid-19 on Thursday while awaiting the findings from a more thorough coronavirus screening, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Trump received a positive result on Thursday evening before making an appearance on Fox News in which he didn’t reveal those results. Instead, he confirmed earlier reports that one of his top aides had tested positive for coronavirus and mentioned the second test he had taken that night for which he was awaiting results. … As the virus spread among the people closest to him, Mr. Trump also asked one adviser not to disclose results of their own positive test. ‘Don’t tell anyone,’ Mr. Trump said, according to a person familiar with the conversation.”

Trump’s visit to supporters outside of hospital triggers backlash – USA Today: “Doctors, critics, and other Twitter users reacted after President Donald Trump ventured outside Walter Reed Hospital Sunday night to wave at supporters,  calling the move ‘reckless’ and saying he endangered the Secret Service members riding in the vehicle with him. Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, tweeted that everybody in the vehicle with Trump should be quarantined for 14 days. ‘They might get sick. They may die,’ he tweeted. ‘For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.’ … White House spokesman Judd Deere told USA TODAY that ‘appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the President and all those supporting it, including PPE. The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.’”

Pergram: How Friday was an inflection point for the country and fight against coronavirus – Fox News: “We had ‘Black Wednesday’ in March. Wednesday, March 11, was the day everything melted down with coronavirus. You know the rest. Cases started surging. Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive. The NBA suspended its season. Tom Hanks announced he was positive. Hospitals were bursting. … We don’t know what we’ll call Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in the future. But history was made on Friday. It may not be Black Wednesday or Black Friday or anything else. But Friday was an inflection point for the country and the fight against coronavirus. … Friday was ‘one of those days.’ It upended the presidential campaign. It raised questions about the breakneck pace to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. It further nudged congressional leaders and administration officials to secure a big coronavirus agreement. And, it raised the question of whether there should be a COVID-19 testing regime at the U.S. Capitol.”

WSJ: “President Trump is drawing his weakest voter support of the year in his re-election race following Tuesday’s contentious debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, leads the president, 53% to 39%, among registered voters in the new poll, which was conducted in the two days following the debate but before news emerged that Mr. Trump had tested positive for Covid-19. Mr. Biden’s 14-point lead compares with an 8-point advantage last month and 11 points in July, which was his largest of the campaign at that time. The survey finds something rare in Journal/NBC News polling: evidence that an individual news event—the debate—is having a material effect on Mr. Trump’s political standing, at least for now. Significant events in the past, such as Mr. Trump’s impeachment by the House and acquittal by the Senate, had only hardened views of the president, not shifted them.”

Pennsylvania, Florida voters don’t respond well to Trump’s performance – NYT: “By overwhelming margins, voters in Pennsylvania and Florida were repelled by President Trump’s conduct in the first general election debate, according to New York Times/Siena College surveys, as Joseph R. Biden Jr. maintained a lead in the two largest battleground states. Over all, Mr. Biden led by seven percentage points, 49 percent to 42 percent, among likely voters in Pennsylvania. He led by a similar margin, 47-42, among likely voters in Florida. The surveys began Wednesday, before the early Friday announcement that President Trump had contracted the coronavirus. There was modest evidence of a shift in favor of Mr. Biden in interviews on Friday, including in Arizona where a Times/Siena survey is in progress, after controlling for the demographic and political characteristics of the respondents. One day of interviews is not enough to evaluate the consequences of a major political development, and it may be several days or longer before even the initial effects of Mr. Trump’s diagnosis can be ascertained by pollsters.”

Biden visits Miami’s Little Havana, Little Haiti ahead of national town hall – Fox News: “Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is expected to visit Miami’s Little Havana and Little Haiti ahead of a televised town hall Monday, as the former vice president returns to the critical swing state of Florida in the final homestretch of his election campaign. … Monday will be Biden’s second trip to Florida this year… Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, will visit the Little Haiti Cultural Center around 2:45 p.m. Monday before speaking in Little Havana later in the afternoon on ‘building back the economy better for the Hispanic community and working families,’ his campaign told WTVJ. … Biden will answer questions from undecided Florida voters in a socially distanced town hall outside the Pérez Art Museum in Miami at 8 p.m. moderated by NBC’s ‘Nightly News’ anchor Lester Holt.”

Trump trails in Arizona – NYT: “Joseph R. Biden Jr. has established a steady lead over President Trump in Arizona, a traditionally Republican but fast-changing state that is tilting increasingly Democratic, according to a new New York Times-Siena College poll. Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump 49 percent to 41 percent in Arizona, with just 6 percent of likely voters saying they were undecided, according to the survey, which was taken before and after the president announced that he had tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19 but after his caustic debate performance last week. The poll has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points. The results are essentially unchanged from a Times-Siena poll of the state last month, which found Mr. Biden leading 49 percent to 40 percent. The poll illustrates the depth of Mr. Trump’s difficulties in Arizona — an incumbent Republican president trailing by a significant margin a month before an election in which most voters have made up their minds.”

NYT: “President Trump’s hospitalization with the coronavirus has catapulted this week’s vice-presidential debate into the spotlight to an extraordinary degree, putting pressure on Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris to use this forum to reassure an anxious public they are prepared and qualified to step in as president. Mr. Trump’s diagnosis with a potentially lethal virus — and the fact that he is 74 and his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., is 77 — was a stark reminder that either Mr. Pence or Ms. Harris could end up being president themselves, as opposed to just leading contenders for the nomination in 2024 and beyond. For Mr. Pence, Wednesday’s debate will most likely compel him to account for the administration’s record on a virus that has now infected 7.4 million Americans — including the most protected man in the country, Mr. Trump — and answer for his own stewardship as chairman of the federal coronavirus task force. For Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, the debate is a chance to show that she is capable of being president in a national emergency, as well as to demonstrate that she can challenge the Trump record on Covid-19 without seeming overly aggressive against an ailing president.”

WaPo: “It’s tough to predict what political impact the news that North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham had been sending intimate texts to a woman who isn’t his wife will have on the competitive Senate race there. It’s undeniably bad for him, although partisanship can be a strong motivator to keep voters with their respective candidates. The broader impact on the battle for the Senate is more clear: It’s one of the worst possible races for this to happen in for Democrats. North Carolina had been shaping up as one of their best chances to clinch the Senate majority next year. And they will need the Senate to accomplish much of anything if they win the White House next year. Now that could be in jeopardy with recently revealed texts like this from Cunningham, who is married with two children, to a public relations specialist who is also married: ‘Would make my day to roll over and kiss you about now.’”

Senior officials seek investigation in to accusations against Texas AG Ken Paxton – Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“He has experience now fighting the coronavirus… those first-hand experiences, Joe Biden doesn’t have those.” – Trump 2020 campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine.

“I’m not expecting Lincoln-Douglas, but there is a Grand Canyon sized chasm between Lincoln-Douglas and what we saw last week. With that being said: What are your suggestions for changes in the debates? My initial suggestions: Each candidate gets a 5 minute response (I’d prefer 10 minutes, but I’m a realist) to a question, followed by a 2 minute rebuttal and possibly a 1-2 minute rejoinder. Then the other candidate responds to the same question with the same format. Following that rule, each topic would get 16-18 minutes total (still not enough, but better than we have now). And second suggestion, fewer topics. There are 3 debates, so there is no need to address Coronavirus, Supreme Court, riots, race relations, economy, etc. all in 1 debate. Fewer topics would allow for the longer responses I am proposing. What say you? What are your suggestions for improving the debates (outside of the moderator holding a mute button!)?” – Adam Day, San Jose, Calif.

[Ed. note: Why not, Mr. Day? You pretty much just described a Lincoln-Douglas style debate format. It gives participants each a total of 18 minutes broken into alternating chunks of time of between 3 minutes and 7 minutes. Would that really be so bad? You’d have a moderator who basically just kept time and directed the candidates to take their turns. I’m all for it!]

“I’m throwing a flag on the play — in your Wednesday podcast, you said “same thing” when Dana mentioned both absentee voting and mail-in voting. Do you really see them as the same thing? I realize I may have missed sarcasm; if that’s not the case, then could you kindly explain? Absentee voting (presumably) involves individual verification of valid voter status before sending the ballot to the voter. No problems there. But full ‘vote-by-mail’ seems to simply involve sending a ballot to everyone currently on each county’s rolls. Even granting the assumption of honesty and good faith, how accurate are those rolls? People die, move, and go to jail every day. The fear is that there will be vast numbers of ballots arriving in mailboxes that shouldn’t be receiving them.  In 2000, if only one in 10,000 votes were changed, Gore would have won. Also, one could argue that a voter requesting an absentee ballot is more likely to complete it and return it correctly, whereas a voter who simply receives an unsolicited ballot in the mail might be more likely to fail to submit it correctly. In Pennsylvania, they will reject ballots that don’t include the inner privacy sleeve. Thanks for hearing me out. Love the podcast!” – Mike Whalen, Wheeling, W. Va.

[Ed. note: First off, greetings to you and all my fellow Wheeligites! I’m not sure what the exact context was, but yes, there isn’t an obvious distinction between “mail in” and ‘absentee’ voting. All mail-in voting is absentee voting in the sense that the voter will be absent from the polling place. There are many states that allow “in-person” absentee voting, an oxymoron that refers to voters who come early and cast their votes because they will be absent on Election Day. The trend toward early and absentee voting has been rising for years, and this year will no doubt intensify that trajectory. But what you’re talking about are states that are mailing all registered voters a ballot this year. That doesn’t have anything to do with being by mail, per se, but rather the fact that the mail ballots are unsolicited. Perhaps it would help Republicans to call these “unsolicited ballots” rather than “mail-in ballots,” to avoid confusion. Nine states and the District of Columbia are in fact mailing ballots out to all registered voters. Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Colorado have done so for multiple cycles without difficulty. California, Nevada, New Jersey, Vermont and D.C. are introducing the change this time. While it’s certainly true that this could make it easier for criminals to obtain ballots with which to rig elections, you can at least be glad that only one of these states, Nevada, is being contested to any degree on the presidential level. While we can have a high degree of confidence in the states experienced with all-mail voting, there is reason for concern in the states new to the system. Elections officials will have to keep a weather eye, indeed.]

“Mr. Christopher Stirewalt, West Virginian Bon Vivant, So clearly I listened to your recent spot on The Commentary podcast, credit to John Podhoretz for giving you the best title ever! Additionally, on that podcast, you suggested the release of the Access Hollywood tape gave Trump the win in 2016 because… and now I’ll Stirewalt this… it caused him to listen to Moses, melt down the golden calf, stop tweeting about how much he loves the golden calf, and become a more humble candidate (I mean Israelite) for a little while. And at the exact time the Comey / Hillary stuff hit the fan. Could this positive Corona test also be a calf melting moment? Force Trump to go radio silent for a couple weeks while (hopefully) recovering. Leave the media with nothing left to report on but Biden (à la Comey / Hillary), so that they press him to answer some of the fundamental questions he hasn’t yet:  end filibuster, court packing, state creation. There are a lot of differences between ‘16 and ‘20, but Trump has an amazing way of threading impossible needles. What do you think?” – Brent Pickle, Pottsboro, Texas

[Ed. note: That was certainly the thinking behind Friday’s note, but so far that doesn’t seem to be how things are shaping up. While it’s not exactly clear what the president’s condition is, it is clear that he and his administration are still struggling with how to deal with the issue. Part of the problem may be that the Israelites actually have to believe they’re in trouble to be chastened and start melting the idols. Trump may himself see this as an opportunity, one that he is too eager on which to capitalize.] 

“Good morning from Mississippi! I’m not seeing HTR as often and hope you and Brianna are doing ok. Just wanted to share this article from ‘Mississippi Today’ and gently suggest that you keep your eye on this [Senate race of Mike Espy against incumbent Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith]. It is WAY tighter than anyone expected it to be and will be one to watch. These are crazy days we are living and I continue to be grateful for the clarity and sanity you and Dana bring to us. Please don’t throw your hands up and quit, we need you!” – Mary Carol Miller, Greenwood, Miss.

[Ed. note: From Brianna: Hello Ms. Miller! We’ve had other readers write in saying they aren’t receiving the Halftime Report as well. It seems that some email providers have been sending the Halftime Report to readers’ spam folders. We recommend you check there, report it as “not spam” and that should hopefully fix your problem. If that’s not the case, I unfortunately don’t have further guidance yet. Due to this ongoing issue we have launched an inquiry with our outside vendor – who provides the platform we send the Halftime Report from – to find the underlying cause of this. We appreciate your patience as we actively try to fix this problem! In the meantime, you can always access the Halftime Report at]

“I finally got around to making the roquefort dressing from the recipe in your July 13 column. I suspect there is an error since mine turned out sort of yellow rather than pink. Should ‘1 tbsp curry powder’ be ‘1 tsp curry powder’ instead? It still tastes pretty good but I think the problem lies with too much curry powder. I look forward to your wit and wisdom and unabashed optimism every week day.” – Ken Lowther, Rhinelander, Wis.

[Ed. note: Oh, no — the curry is the thing! It may depend on what kind you are using. If it’s a reddish vindaloo curry, you should have a very pleasing result. And like with a lot of things, a little more ketchup will cover a lot of sins.]

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Metro: “Poor otter Harris had been feeling lonely after his partner of four years, Apricot, passed away. His owners at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary were keen to find the Asian short clawed otter a new mate sharpish, so set him up on a dating website made just for him. On the site, called Fishing For Love, ten-year-old Harris was given his own dating profile highlighting all he has to offer. His profile read: ‘Looking to find my significant otter.’ … When the team sent around the otter’s dating profile, they were delighted to receive photos back from a female otter called Pumpkin, who was looking for love at Scarborough Sea Life after her elderly partner Eric passed away. Of course, as with most first dates, there’s a lot of pressure on the big meet-up. Introducing Asian short-clawed otters is a tricky process, as it’s essential that the male submits to the female on first meeting. For this reason, Harris will be moving up to Pumpkin’s enclosure to make sure the introduction goes as smoothly as possible. Yes, we do think they might be moving a bit fast, but when you know, you know.”

“Every democracy needs an opposition press. We damn well have one now.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about American Democracy in the Washington Post on March 23, 2017.

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.

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