If you want less gas, cut off the oxygen

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On the roster: If you want less gas, cut off the oxygenU.S. deficit hits record $3,100,000,000,000 Trump, Biden back on the trail after dueling town halls – GOP after Twitter for squelching Rudy’s laptop story – Hot for creatures

Back in the Gilded Age, the business of the House of Representatives was big news.

While the Senate – slow, indirectly elected and deliberative – offered far less in the way of oratorical drama. But the members on the House floor and the newspaper and magazine reporters writing about them were the talking heads and Twitter warriors of their day.

And in 1894, Rep. William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska was trending.

The 34-year-old Democrat had been swept in on a blue wave in 1890 and was about to get swept back out in a midterm backlash against President Grover Cleveland and their party. But Bryan was no Cleveland Democrat. He was a radical populist ever at war with the moderate, corporate-friendly mainstream of his party. His heirs, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Matt Gaetz, would recognize it all quite well.

The years between 1872 and 1896 look quite a lot like our era. Wave election followed wave election as the parties wrestled over a population undergoing major demographic, cultural and economic changes. Populists at the extremes of both parties quite often seemed ready to tip the whole government over as voters looked on in dismay.

In January of 1894, the nation was being crushed by an economic crisis that was at least as devastating in depth if briefer in length than the Great Depression. Democrats were already at each other’s throats about the causes and solutions for the crisis, setting the stage for a smashing GOP victory that fall and Republican dominance for the next 30 years.

However much Bryan and his team suspected they might be in the waning days of their control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, they were well enough resigned to their fates to focus on fighting amongst themselves rather than uniting to try to fix the economic crisis that was crushing their chances.

Since veto-happy Cleveland had shut down the dearest hopes of Bryan and the other populist insurgents – devaluing the dollar, big tariffs, etc. – the one place they thought they might have him was the re-introduction of an income tax. Cleveland was less concerned about that since the income tax was patently unconstitutional and the Supreme Court had recently and unambiguously struck down the whole concept.

So everyone knew that the income tax vote was a symbolic one, but the players in the drama knew their audiences would eat it up. Bryan was ready with his clickbait: a stem-winder on the evils of income inequality. 

There, in the glow of new electric lights, stood Bryan to deliver the speech that would establish him in the minds of activists and political reporters to such a degree that he could give his more-famous “Cross of Gold” speech two years later. That would lead to the first of his three nominations for president and usher in a period of protracted pain for Democrats. But on that night, Bryan was about to become “the boy orator of the Platte.” And he knew who his real audience was.

“I read the other day in the New York World,” Bryan said of Joseph Pulitzer’s sensationalistic, progressive paper as the congressman was setting up the dubious-sounding tale of a rich old miser lady who lived in a rundown boarding house to avoid taxes. “And I gladly join in ascribing praise to that great daily for courageous fight upon this subject in behalf of the common people.”

The congressman cites the news report about the congressman’s initiative in a speech being delivered for the purposes of receiving coverage in the same paper. Legislation for the media, by the media and of the media.

On the one hand, we can be relieved that much of our current shallow, performative politics predates our current era of shabby showmanship. But on the other hand, we are reminded of how ancient the urge is to cheap demagoguery abetted by reporters looking to maximize discord and sensationalism.

So about those Supreme Court confirmation hearings…

Wasn’t it remarkable how the hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett were pretty much indistinguishable from all other recent nomination hearings (with the obvious exception of the after-action business with Brett Kavanaugh)?

The purpose of the hearings was the hearings themselves.

We have made the point many times before how damaging it is to have cameras in committee rooms. Politicians will predictably perform for the audience beyond the chamber’s walls rather than use their time for serious inquiry.

Whether it is Democrats badgering Bill Barr, as if the attorney general would suddenly cop to their claims of corruption or Republicans hectoring Hillary Clinton about Benghazi, these hearings have long ago lost even the patina of dispassionate inquiry and oversight.

But you could go a step further when it comes to the Supreme Court and other nomination hearings: Do as they did until the Progressive Era and get rid of the hearings altogether.

Now hear us out…

Certainly the Senate should hold hearings if controversies arise and evidence must be taken. That makes sense. But staging these pseudo-events that obviously exist more for the purpose of scoring political points than dealing with the fitness of Supreme Court nominees? Nah.

It would probably be better if the Senate could find a way to return to the old practice of checking presidential nominees for corruption and competence and then advancing all those who pass the smell test. But it would also probably be better if we could uninvent Twitter. Neither is going to happen, unfortunately.

But ending the harmful, exploitive charade of these meaningless hearings would deny the Bryans of our day the chance to further diminish the esteem and credibility of two once-great institutions for their own personal gain.

“It is a matter both of wonder and regret, that those who raise so many objections against the new Constitution should never call to mind the defects of that which is to be exchanged for it.” – James Madison, writing about various objections to the creation of a new form of government, Federalist No. 38

History: “Nine months after the execution of her husband, the former King Louis XVI of France, Marie Antoinette follows him to the guillotine [on this day in 1793]. The daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, she married Louis in 1770 to strengthen the French-Austrian alliance. At a time of economic turmoil in France, she lived extravagantly and encouraged her husband to resist reform of the monarchy. In one episode, she allegedly responded to news that the French peasantry had no bread to eat by callously replying, ‘Let them eat cake.’ The increasing revolutionary uproar convinced the king and queen to attempt an escape to Austria in 1791, but they were captured by revolutionary forces and carried back to Paris. In 1792, the French monarchy was abolished, and Louis and Marie-Antoinette were condemned for treason.”

Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

Trump: 40.4 percent         
52.4 percent         
Size of lead:
Biden by 12 points         
Change from one week ago:
Biden no change in points, Trump ↓ 1.4 points
[Average includes: AP/NORC: Trump 36% – Biden 51%; KFF: Trump 38% – Biden 49%; NPR/PBS News/Marist: Trump 43% – Biden 54%; NBC News/WSJ: Trump 42% – Biden 53%; ABC News/WaPo: Trump 43% – Biden 55%.]

(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: 43 percent
Average disapproval: 55.6 percent
Net Score: -12.6 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 2.8 points
[Average includes: AP/NORC: 39% approve – 61% disapprove; KFF: 44% approve – 54% disapprove; NPR/PBS News/Marist: 43% approve – 54% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 44% approve – 54% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 45% approve – 55% 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.

U.S. DEFICIT HITS RECORD $3,100,000,000,000
AP: “The federal budget deficit hit an all-time high of $3.1 trillion in the 2020 budget year, more than double the previous record, as the coronavirus pandemic shrank revenues and sent spending soaring. The Trump administration reported Friday that the deficit for the budget year that ended on Sept. 30 was three times the size of last year’s deficit of $984 billion. It was also $2 trillion higher than the administration had estimated in February, before the pandemic hit. It was the government’s largest annual shortfall in dollar terms, surpassing the previous record of $1.4 trillion set in 2009. At that time, the Obama administration was spending heavily to shore up the nation’s banking system and limit the economic damage from the 2008 financial crisis. The 2020 deficit, in terms of its relationship to the economy, represented 15.2% of total gross domestic product, the sum of all the goods and services produced by the country. That was the highest level since 1945, when the U.S. was borrowing heavily to finance World War II.”

Fox News: “With the November election less than three weeks away, President Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden will stump in key battleground states on Friday, making a final appeal to voters one night after their dueling town halls. The candidates participated in competing town halls in different cities on different networks Thursday night: Trump on NBC from Miami and Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. … Trump will start his day by campaigning in Florida, a vital swing state. … Once that concludes, Trump will travel to Georgia for a second rally in Macon, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET. … The former vice president is making a swing through southeastern Michigan, with planned stops in Southfield and Detroit. Biden’s campaign said the candidate will deliver remarks on protecting and expanding access to health care in Southfield, before heading to Detroit for a ‘voter mobilization event.’”

Trump gets pressed on QAnon – NYT: “In perhaps his most incendiary remarks, Mr. Trump repeatedly declined to disavow QAnon, a pro-Trump internet community that has been described by law enforcement as a potential domestic terrorism threat. The president professed to have no knowledge of the group, and as a result could not disavow it, but then demonstrated specific knowledge of one of its core conspiracy theories involving pedophilia that is entirely false. ‘I know nothing about it,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard.’ When the NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie pressed Mr. Trump to reject the community’s essential worldview, and described some of its most extreme and bogus elements, the president gave no ground: ‘I don’t know,’ he insisted. ‘No, I don’t know.’”

And conspiracy theory retweets – USA Today: “NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie prodded President Donald Trump Thursday during his town hall when talking about him retweeting conspiracy theories, saying he’s not just ‘someone’s crazy uncle.’ Guthrie pressed Trump on his penchant for tweets that spread disinformation, including one post he retweeted that contained a conspiracy theory that former Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama orchestrated a cover-up that included the Navy SEAL Team Six faking the death of terrorist Osama bin Laden. ‘That was a retweet. That was an opinion of somebody and that was a retweet. I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves. I don’t take a position,’ Trump said in defending his tweet. ‘You’re the president,’ Guthrie responded. ‘You’re not someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.’”

Biden faces tough question on ‘you ain’t black’ gibe – CBS News: “During Joe Biden’s town hall on Thursday night, a young Black voter stood up to ask the Democratic presidential candidate about race. ‘May people believe the true swing voters in this election will be Black voters under 30 – not because they’re voting for Trump, but because they won’t vote at all,’ said Cedric Humphrey, a student from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. ‘I myself have had this exact same conflict,’ Humphrey continued. ‘So my question for you is: Besides, ‘you ain’t Black,’ what do you have to say to young Black voters who see voting for you as further participation in a system that continually failed to protect them?’ Biden, who participated in a separate but competing town hall from President Trump that aired on a different network, replied with a quote by his buddy, the late civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. ‘It’s a sacred opportunity, the right to vote, to make a difference,’ Biden said. He continued: ‘If young Black women and men vote, you could determine the outcome of this election. Not a joke. You can do that.’”

Biden leads in town hall viewership – Variety: “Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump appeared in directly competing town halls on Thursday night, after the President dropped out of the second debate. Trump’s hourlong appearance on NBC, which drew criticism across the industry and even an angry letter from top talent and showrunners who work with NBCU, appears to be trailing Biden’s 90-minute session with ABC in the ratings, at least according to early numbers. Biden drew 12.7 million total viewers on the Disney-owned network, while Trump drew 10.4 million in the same 9-10 p.m. time slot on NBC. Across the entire runtime, the Biden town hall averaged 12.3 million viewers. In terms of the fast national 18-49 demographic, Biden is comfortably on top with a 2.6 rating to Trump’s 1.7.”

WSJ: “The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to issue a subpoena on Tuesday to Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey after the social-media company blocked a pair of New York Post articles that made new allegations about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, which his campaign has denied. The subpoena would require the Twitter executive to testify on Oct. 23 before the committee, according to the Republicans who announced the hearing. GOP lawmakers are singling out Twitter because it prevented users from posting links to the articles, which the Post said were based on email exchanges with Hunter Biden, the Democratic candidate’s son, provided by allies of President Trump. Those people in turn said they received them from a computer-repair person who found them on a laptop, according to the Post. The Wall Street Journal hasn’t independently verified the Post articles.”

NatSec adviser warned Trump that Rudy could be a conduit for Kremlin – NYT: “The intelligence agencies warned the White House late last year that Russian intelligence officers were using President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani as a conduit for disinformation aimed at undermining Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential run, according to four current and former American officials. … Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have promoted unsubstantiated claims about Mr. Biden that have aligned with Russian disinformation efforts, and Mr. Giuliani has met with a Ukrainian lawmaker whom American officials believe is a Russian agent. Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, presented the warning about Mr. Giuliani to Mr. Trump in December. Two former officials gave conflicting accounts about its nature. One said the report was presented to Mr. Trump as unverified and vague, but another said the intelligence agencies had developed solid and credible information that Mr. Giuliani was being ‘worked over’ by Russian operatives.”

Fox News: “The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) raised a massive $247.8 million in September, an impressive haul as the 2020 cycle hit its final stretch — though still short of his Democratic rival Joe Biden, who raked in $383 million in the same time period. … The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and its joint-fundraising committees brought in $247.8 million in September, and combined, have a whopping $251.4 million cash on hand. ‘POTUS has done more in 47 months than Biden in 47 years,’ [Tim] Murtaugh [tweeted]. But the Biden campaign and Democrats, earlier this week, announced their fundraising numbers, revealing they out-raised Trump and Republicans, bringing in $383 million in September. ‘To every person who chipped in a few dollars last month — thank you. Because of your support, we raised an astounding $383 million. I’m incredibly humbled,’ Biden tweeted.”

Billionaire Adelson throws $75 million lifeline to Trump – Politico: “Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam Adelson gave $75 million to a super PAC that flooded battleground states with anti-Joe Biden ads in September, a huge investment from the GOP megadonors as President Donald Trump slipped in the polls. The Adelsons gave the massive sum to Preserve America PAC, accounting for roughly 90 percent of the group’s fundraising in September, according to a person familiar with the group’s finances who shared details with POLITICO ahead of the group’s campaign finance filing. The money for Preserve America brought the Adelsons’ giving to Republican candidates and committees to a whopping $176 million for the 2020 election cycle, according to FEC data. The couple had previously given $50 million to Senate Leadership Fund, the GOP super PAC focused on defending the Senate majority.”

Senate Dems see a cash surge – NYT: “Democratic candidates in competitive Senate races received another surge in donations over the last few months, with some breaking fund-raising records in their states and many entering the final weeks of the campaign with significant stores of cash, according to new quarterly filings with election authorities this week. ActBlue, the central platform for donations to Democratic candidates and causes, announced that from July 1 to Sept. 30, it had processed $1.5 billion in contributions — an amount roughly equal to what the site raised during the entire 2018 election cycle, and one far exceeding the $623.5 million that the equivalent Republican platform, WinRed, took in during the quarter.”

Axios: “Three senior Trump advisers who recently talked to campaign manager Bill Stepien walked away believing he thinks they will lose. … Several campaign officials say they don’t have a clear sense what Stepien’s strategy is to get to 270 electoral votes. In internal conversations, Stepien and other senior officials often use the word ‘optionality’ to describe the decision to keep dabbling in every Rust Belt battleground and preserve multiple paths to 270. Critics hear ‘optionality’ as a cover for indecision, keeping small pots of money spread across numerous states rather than picking a path and committing to it. One campaign adviser pointed to a ‘half-assed’ advertising buy in Wisconsin this week, around $130,000 according to Advertising Analytics data, which two campaign sources said seemed pointless given it’s too small to move the needle. Ditto the decision to stay on the air in Minnesota, a state that no one I spoke to sees as part of Trump’s path to 270. But Stepien’s dilemma, as described by several advisers, is that Trump would inevitably blow up at him if he were to read newspaper stories that he was going off the air in a Rust Belt battleground.”

Final presidential debate topics released – AP: “President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will face questions on the coronavirus, race issues and climate change in the final presidential debate next week. Moderator Kristen Welker of NBC released the six topics for the debate Friday through the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. They are ‘Fighting COVID-19,’ ‘American Families,’ ‘Race in America,’ ‘Climate Change,’ ‘National Security,’ and ‘Leadership.’ Trump and Biden will take the stage together for 90 minutes on Oct. 22 in Nashville, three weeks after their first meeting in Cleveland. A second outing planned for Oct. 15 was called off after Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis and his refusal to participate in a virtual debate. Trump and Biden held town halls on different networks at the same time instead.”

The real story about Wisconsin – FiveThirtyEight: “Wisconsin is proof that politicos have short memories. …Now-President Trump carried Wisconsin by 0.8 percentage points [in 2016], reaffirming its status as a swing state. It was the third time in five presidential elections that Wisconsin was decided by less than a point. Fast forward to 2020, and both sides are rightly treating it as a potential tipping point state. According to the FiveThirtyEight forecast,1 Wisconsin has a 13 percent chance of providing the decisive vote in the Electoral College; only Pennsylvania and Florida are likelier tipping points. Conventional wisdom says that Clinton lost Wisconsin because she infamously did not visit the state at all during the final seven months of the 2016 campaign. But that’s probably not true; Clinton devoted a lot of effort to winning Pennsylvania and still lost there, for instance. Instead, Wisconsin probably got redder in 2016 for the same reason that Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states did: demographics.”

NYT: “President Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham have established clear but not overwhelming advantages in South Carolina, a heavily Republican state that is showing signs of competitiveness this year, according to a new New York Times/Siena College poll. Mr. Trump leads Joseph R. Biden Jr., 49 percentage points to 41, while Mr. Graham, who is facing the most serious challenge of his career, is winning 46 percent of the vote compared with 40 percent for his Democratic rival, Jaime Harrison. The Senate race, though, may be even more competitive because the survey finds that 12 percent of Black voters are undecided, a vote share that is likely to favor Mr. Harrison, who is African-American. The poll has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. … It’s this coalition of voters that’s pushing Mr. Trump’s advantage into single-digits, four years after he carried South Carolina by 14 points, and that has made the race between Mr. Graham and Mr. Harrison perhaps the most surprisingly close Senate matchup of 2020.”

McSally swamped – Monmouth University: “Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in Arizona, making small gains in the past month. The Monmouth (‘Mon-muth’) University Poll finds the Democrat maintaining a large advantage among Latino voters and a small edge in all-important Maricopa County. In the race for U.S. Senate, Democrat Mark Kelly has widened his lead over incumbent Martha McSally. … Among all registered voters in Arizona, the race for president stands at 50% for Biden and 44% for Trump. The contest stood at 48% to 44% one month ago and 46% to 43% in a poll taken shortly before the state’s presidential primary in March. … In Arizona’s U.S. Senate contest, Kelly leads McSally by 10 points among registered voters (52% to 42%), which is larger than his margins in prior Monmouth polls from September (50% to 44%) and March (50% to 44%).”

NYT poll shows Alaska Senate race close but a GOP lead – NYT: “The reliably Republican state of Alaska has soured on President Trump’s job performance, but Republicans still lead the state’s races for president, Senate and U.S. House, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released Friday. Over all, Mr. Trump leads Joe Biden, 45 percent to 39 percent, with 8 percent supporting the Libertarian candidate, Jo Jorgensen. Similarly, Dan Sullivan, the incumbent Republican senator, leads the Democratic nominee, Al Gross, by 45 to 37, with 10 percent backing the Alaska Independence candidate, John Howe. In a rematch of 2018’s House race, the Republican Don Young, the longest-serving member of Congress, leads the Democratic nominee, Alyse Galvin, 49 percent to 41 percent — about the same margin as his seven-point win two years ago.”

Buuuuutttt, in-state poll shows it tied – The [Alaska] Midnight Sun: “The latest poll on the race for Alaska’s U.S. Senate seat gives Democrat-backed independent challenger Al Gross a one-point lead against Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. Gross has the support of 47% of the 606 Alaska likely voters covered in the poll to Sullivan’s 46%, according to a polling memo released Harstad Strategic Research. The poll was conducted between Oct. 10 and Oct. 13 with a self-reported 4% margin of error and is the third such poll conducted by the firm. ‘This progress confirms Dr. Gross’ continuing momentum and steady climb in recent months to his first tiny lead over Sullivan,’ explained the memo by Paul Harstad, the firm’s CEO.”

C-SPAN suspends political editor Steve Scully indefinitely after lying about Twitter hack – AP

AP-NORC poll finds voters believe the nation is fundamentally dividedAP

KFF Health Tracking Poll find Biden holds advantage on health policy issues – Kaiser Family Foundation

Tune in this weekend as Mr. Sunday sits down with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Trump campaign senior adviser, Jason Miller. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz – Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

“Regarding your claim that ‘Trump said, without evidence, …’ is snarky and that instead, whatever Trump is claiming should be countered with evidence, there is a basic principle in logic that you can’t prove a negative. If someone says ‘Pigs can fly,’ there’s no proof that pigs can’t fly. All you can really say is that there’s no proof that they can. This is not being snarky. The same thing is true of ‘There’s massive voter fraud at the polls’ or ‘Voting by mail will lead to massive cheating.’ There’s no evidence of either of those things, as many experts have said. The burden of proof is on Trump. The press could cite these experts, and they have, but that’s really the same as saying ‘without evidence.’ Trump has made these and other false claims so many times that he doesn’t deserve anything more than that.” – Nigel Bannish, Lexington, Ky.

[Ed. note: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Mr. Bannish! I said that the assertion should be let stand, ignored or refuted. If Trump did say that pigs fly, the reporter could feel free to ignore the claim if it was not central to the story. Or she could say that she called the USDA which confirmed that pigs cannot fly. If the matter is material then readers ought to have answers, not just snarky shorthand. It’s not about what you think the presidents deserve. It’s about what readers deserve. If the factual basis of a claim important enough to report is in question then explaining the ABCs of the matter seems the least we should do.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

Vice: “Participants in a virtual paleontology meeting were not permitted to use the words ‘bone,’ ‘sexual,’ or ‘Hell’ in early digital Q&A sessions, sparking amusement and frustration from researchers attending the online conference. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) opted to hold its annual meeting, which runs from Monday to Friday this week, as a virtual event. At the end of presentations, attendees can ask written questions, but it quickly became apparent that some words and phrases—including many that are utterly ubiquitous in paleontology—were verboten. The platform that the virtual meeting used, provided by Convey Services, came with ‘a pre-packaged naughty-word-filter,’ explained Stephanie Drumheller, a paleontologist at the University of Tennessee and a member of the SVP, in an r/askscience Reddit thread about the meeting on Wednesday. … Thomas R. Holtz Jr., a paleontologist at the University of Maryland, created a spreadsheet of banned words so that meeting organizers could keep up to date on the issue.”

“We play like the vagrants in the park — at high speed with clocks ticking so that thinking more than 10 or 20 seconds can be a fatal extravagance.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about play chess in the Washington Post on Dec. 27, 2002.

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.