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On the roster: The what-ifs of Trump’s infection – Trump campaign nixes events – Biden flips stance on door-knocking – Final jobs report before election shows hiring slowdown – Politics are the wurst
THE WHAT-IFS OF TRUMP’S INFECTION
First things first: Our prayers are inclined for our president and his wife as they join the ranks of the millions of their fellow citizens whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus.
We are told that President Trump is suffering some “mild” symptoms of the potent respiratory ailment and continues to discharge his duties. The White House forecasts a fast and full recovery during a period of quarantine and convalescence at the executive mansion.
That would be something like a third of the time remaining until the end of the presidential election in 32 days. So while we can’t yet know how Trump’s illness will really play out, time is so short that it behooves us to think about how this will affect the outcome.
Let’s start with the assumption that the White House is right and Trump, like his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, will only be lightly afflicted and be able to execute his responsibilities throughout. It would be an entirely different matter if Trump, like his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, were seriously incapacitated.
The calculus of the election would change completely in the unfortunate event of Trump being seriously ill. Let’s not dwell on that.
You should remember that this is a note that takes the rather outré position that the “Access Hollywood” tape scandal saved Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.
He was so badly damaged that he, after months of undisciplined campaigning and incontinent social media use, became willing to listen to those in his party urging him to calm down, stick to his message and campaign as, more or less, a typical Republican.
Trump quieted down as he braced for what seemed like an inevitable defeat and the focus, with a little nudge from then FBI Director James Comey, fell back to his almost equally disliked opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Obviously this situation is different in many ways, most of all that Trump is now the incumbent president. But as you think about what consequences might descend from his illness, it’s worth bearing the events of October 2016 in mind.
With a month to go, Trump trails badly in his effort to fend off a challenge from former Vice President Joe Biden. That deficit is driven by Trump’s inability to address voters’ concerns about the same virus that is now attacking his body.
In that sense, it’s not helpful for Trump and his party to have a massive news story about the leader of the free world stricken with this terrible plague for the very fact that it intensifies the focus on coronavirus.
Trump’s antic, sometimes even manic, efforts to shift focus away from this topic lets you know just how bad it is for the GOP.
Those problems are made worse by the fact that the president has gone to great lengths to demonstrate his contempt for the recommendations of his own administration when it comes to avoiding the spread of the virus. When we think about the spectacle of hundreds and hundreds of his supporters packed cheek-by-jowl on the South Lawn of the White House or Trump mocking Biden’s penchant for mask usage or Trump’s frustrations with not being able to hold mega rallies, it all seems quite different in light of today’s news.
But, it’s not as simple as that.
As Johnson and other public figures who have contracted the virus have learned, there is a great deal of sympathy for celebrity victims. People are nice like that.
But the biggest potential variable here, outside of Trump’s condition, is his attitude. This is a tremendous opportunity for a reset for a candidate who badly needs one. In the aftermath of this week’s presidential debate it was starting to look like Trump was a lost cause. The trajectory of a race that had always run against his favor seemed to be only accelerating. Now, Trump gets to push pause.
It is certainly possible that Trump will try to minimize the virus in himself just as he tried to minimize it in the population. He may brag about having the most impressive viral load and the most positive positive results of any president in history or talk about how everyone is saying no one has ever made such a beautiful recovery. But it’s also possible that Trump will become willing to show seriousness and empathy. Even toning down his routine and reducing the frequency of his appearances would be a start.
For months, Republicans have mocked Biden for hiding out, but we always wondered why Trump didn’t emulate his opponent from time to time. Two weeks out of the limelight would do our overexposed president a world of good.
We don’t know how the president’s illness will progress and we certainly can’t be sure of how he, mercurial as always, will respond. But we do know this, for an incumbent who badly needed a change in the race, he’s got one.
THE RULEBOOK: ON TO THE NEXT THING
“HAVING shown that no one of the powers transferred to the federal government is unnecessary or improper, the next question to be considered is, whether the whole mass of them will be dangerous to the portion of authority left in the several States.” – James Madison, beginning his essay about the dangers from the Union to state governments, Federalist No. 45
TIME OUT: A REDBIRD’S PERCH
St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty’s approach to a game he would honestly prefer not to pitch, because it wouldn’t be necessary, has not changed. … It’s his view of the games that has changed. At the end of the Cardinals’ dugout farthest from the manager and nearest the seats, Flaherty has a spot on the wall, his right foot often propped on a trash can. He called it his ‘perch,’ and it’s a far better look at games he’s not pitching than the one he had most of the season — from his home or a hotel room. For a starting pitcher who twice had his season interrupted with lengthy stoppages and more than once had to find ways to keep his arm lively by throwing into a mattress, one of the other curiosities of this COVID-19 season was the time he didn’t have interacting with teammates.”
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 ↑ 0.4 points, Trump ↓ 0.4 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: ↑ 0.4 points
[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?
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.
TRUMP CAMPAIGN NIXES EVENTS
Fox News: “The Trump campaign announced Friday that President Trump’s events are being temporarily postponed, or moved to a virtual setting, after he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the novel coronavirus. ‘All previously announced campaign events involving the president’s participation are in the process of being moved to virtual events or are being temporarily postponed,’ Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said Friday. ‘In addition, previously announced events involving members of the first family are also being temporarily postponed.’ Stepien added that ‘all other campaign events will be considered on a case-by-case basis and we will make any relevant announcements in the days ahead.’ ‘Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested negative for COVID-19, plans on resuming his scheduled campaign events,’ Stepien continued. ‘Any further information about the president will come from the White House.’ … The White House, on Friday, said that both the president and the first lady were experiencing ‘mild symptoms’ of the novel coronavirus, and that the president is working from the residence.”
Biden tests negative, keeps on the campaign trail – Politico: “Joe Biden has tested negative for Covid, according to a campaign statement from Biden’s physician. ‘Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected. I am reporting this out in my capacity as both Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden’s primary care physician,’ Dr. Kevin O’Connor said. … With Trump quarantining in the White House, Biden hit the campaign trail just before 1 p.m. Friday to head to an event in Grand Rapids, Mich., according to a media pool report. The Biden campaign is also testing those who attended the first presidential debate with the former vice president for Covid-19. A source familiar with the situation told POLITICO that the Biden campaign has ‘rapid testing capability and is testing everyone who attended the debate.’”
White House coronavirus adviser says ‘zero reason to panic’ – Fox News: “Dr. Scott Atlas, a special adviser on coronavirus to President Trump, said Friday he expects the president and first lady to make a ‘complete, full and rapid recovery’ after the two tested positive for COVID-19, adding, ‘there is zero reason to panic.’ During an exclusive interview with Fox News, Atlas said the novel coronavirus is an infection ‘that is very difficult to avoid.’ ‘It is no surprise that people get the infection, even with precautions,’ Atlas said. ‘I anticipate a complete and full and rapid recovery back to normal after his necessary confinement period. I anticipate he’ll be back on the road and in full swing.’ Atlas is not the president’s personal physician, but a special adviser on the coronavirus pandemic and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.”
Hicks one of the few staffers to wear a mask – Vanity Fair: “Meanwhile, [Hope] Hicks has experienced more pronounced symptoms than the president. Two sources said she has had a high fever and a cough, with one source adding she lost her sense of smell. Hicks is said to be frustrated with Trump for taking such a cavalier approach to the virus. She was one of the few West Wing staffers to wear a mask in meetings, which her colleagues chided her for. ‘She was made fun of because she wore a mask,’ a friend said. Sources told [Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman] Hicks is also upset that news coverage has made it appear that she gave Trump the virus, when in fact no one knows where he got it. ‘It’s so unfair she’s sort of being blamed,’ the friend told [Sherman]. Hicks did not respond to a request for comment.”
BIDEN FLIPS STANCE ON DOOR-KNOCKING
Politico: “Campaign door-knocking in a pandemic puts lives at risk and turns off voters. It’s also sort of useless. And anyone who said otherwise is needlessly panicking. That was the Joe Biden campaign’s position — until Thursday, when it abruptly reversed course and announced hundreds of volunteers would soon be hitting the doors in swing states with just 33 days to go in the campaign. The campaign said volunteers would start door-knocking in Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania this weekend with the rest of the battleground states following early next week. It’s an abrupt turnaround from the Biden campaign’s previous posture. Over the past two months, the campaign and the Democratic National Committee have insisted that their voter turnout operation focused on digital organizing, phone banking and texting was superior to President Donald Trump’s even without canvassing. Meanwhile, Democrats used door-knocking as a public health cudgel to bash Republicans as irresponsible.”
Breaks $365 million fundraising record – NYT: “Joseph R. Biden Jr. raised more money in August than any past presidential candidate had in a single month: $364.5 million. Now he has done it again. Mr. Biden broke his own record again in September, according to three people familiar with the matter, who said the campaign and its joint operations with the Democratic National Committee had raised more than the August haul but less than $400 million. The record-breaking sum for a second month in a row is likely to expand Mr. Biden’s financial advantage over President Trump, who had reported raising $210 million in August. Mr. Biden’s September fund-raising haul was first reported by Bloomberg. Mr. Biden and the D.N.C. had entered September with $466 million cash on hand, compared to $325 million for Mr. Trump — a $141 million edge — and they are far outspending Mr. Trump on television.”
Florida’s importance reflected in major ad spending – Politico: “Florida’s record-breaking campaign season continues to scale stunning new heights, with the presidential campaigns and their allies preparing to spend at least a quarter of a billion dollars on television ad time between now and Nov. 3. … President Donald Trump, who narrowly won the state in 2016, is unlikely to win a second term in the White House if he loses his adopted home state. The jaw-dropping ad spending, which is $100 million more than what was spent four years ago in the battleground state, raises questions about the effectiveness of wall-to-wall television ads, especially when the vast majority of voters have already made up their minds. … An analysis by Advertising Analytics conducted at POLITICO‘s request showed that as of this week, Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, and their allies, have purchased or plan to spend $243 million. When radio and digital advertising is included, the total jumps to $264 million.”
FINAL JOBS REPORT BEFORE ELECTION SHOWS HIRING SLOWDOWN
CNBC: “Nonfarm payroll rose by a lower than expected 661,000 in September and the unemployment rate was 7.9%, the Labor Department said Friday in the final jobs report before the November election. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting a payrolls gain of 800,000 and the unemployment rate to fall to 8.2% from 8.4% in August. The payrolls miss was due largely to a drop in government hiring as at-home schooling continued and Census jobs fell. ‘The issue is momentum, and I think we’re losing it,’ said Drew Matus, chief market strategist for MetLife. ‘When you go through a significant disruption to the labor market, it takes time to fix itself. That’s without regard to whether there’s a virus.’ The decline in the unemployment rate came along with a 0.3 percentage point drop in the labor force participation rate to 61.4%, representing a decline of nearly 700,000. However, a separate, more encompassing measure that counts discouraged workers and those working part-time for economic reasons also saw a notable decline, falling from 14.2% to 12.8%.”
RUBBER MATCH IN NORTH CAROLINA SENATE RACE
Raleigh [N.C.] News & Observer: “You might consider the third and final North Carolina U.S. Senate meeting between Republican incumbent Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham the ‘rubber stamp’ debate. For an hour, Tillis and Cunningham accused each other of being nothing more than a ‘rubber stamp,’ or automatic votes, for the agendas of their respective party’s leaders. … Though the candidates broke little new ground in disagreements over the timing of a Supreme Court confirmation, the extent of a new coronavirus aid package and the future of the Affordable Care Act, they weaved critiques into nearly every answer of their opponents ability to break from the party line. In Cunninghams opening statement, he called Tillis ‘too weak to stand up and fight for us in Washington.’ In Tillis first remark, he labeled Cunningham ‘an $80-million rubber stamp for (Democratic Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer.’”
Kelly remains in high orbit over McSally – Arizona Republic: “The same statewide poll found Democrat Mark Kelly with a commanding lead over Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., suggesting Democrats in the state could sweep the top two races for the first time since 1944. A Suffolk University/USA TODAY Network poll of 500 likely voters in the battleground state showed Biden with a 4-percentage-point lead over Trump. Kelly led McSally by 9 percentage points. … Kelly has led in all eight of the polls taken in September, usually by high single-digit margins, the website reports. … Mesa resident and health care worker Stephanie Waddell, 26, is a Democrat who, as a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the primaries, prefers more liberal candidates. While she isn’t thrilled with either Biden or Kelly, she will gladly take them over the GOP slate.”
Lieberman and son make trouble for Senate Democrats – Politico: “Joe Lieberman is still tormenting Democrats — and he’s brought his son with him. More than a decade ago, the former senator infuriated his party by endorsing John McCain and gutting the public option on Obamacare. Now, the Liebermans are causing problems for Democrats in a pair of critical Senate campaigns. In the wild race for a Georgia Senate seat, Joe’s son Matt Lieberman could play spoiler and allow two Republicans to advance to a runoff. Democrats are calling on Matt to drop out in favor of the party’s preferred candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock, but he is unbowed. About 1,000 miles north, Joe Lieberman has endorsed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in a race that Democrats likely need to win to seize the majority. Lieberman is even showing up in pro-Collins ads touting the independent bona fides of a Republican that liberals are eager to defeat.”
HOUSE PASSES VIRUS RELIEF BILL WITHOUT BIPARTISAN DEAL
WSJ: “The House passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill Thursday as bipartisan negotiations with the Trump administration dragged on, with Democrats moving forward on their legislation in the absence of a deal with Republicans. The vote had earlier been postponed to give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin more time to agree on an aid package. But those conversations haven’t yet yielded a bipartisan agreement. ‘We’re still far apart,’ Mrs. Pelosi said Thursday. ‘Hopefully, we can find our common ground on this and do so soon.’ Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Mnuchin spoke multiple times on Thursday. Mrs. Pelosi said Thursday evening she was going to review documents from Mr. Mnuchin, but no deal was likely Thursday evening. The legislation passed 214-207, with 18 Democrats joining Republicans in opposition to the bill.”
First lady’s former friend reveals secret recordings of kvetching – NYT
AUDIBLE: CARDINAL OF COMEDY
“Am I mistaken or did we just see a rather peaceful transition…?That wasn’t so bad, was it?” – Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, joking after President Trump’s recorded message for this year’s virtual Al Smith dinner followed seamlessly after the one from former Vice President Joe Biden.
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
Tune in this weekend as Mr. Sunday sits down with Dr. Tom Inglesby from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Plus, tune in for a special history panel with presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Douglas Brinkley. 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.
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
POLITICS ARE THE WURST
AP: “The chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party warned Milwaukee’s chief elections official that it would be illegal for any Milwaukee Bucks or Brewers players or mascots, including the Brewers’ famous racing sausages, to participate in early voting events planned at their stadiums in the days leading up to the election. … Milwaukee plans to allow for in-person absentee voting at Miller Park and Fiserv Forum between Oct. 20 and Nov. 1. Voters can vote early in person or also return their mailed absentee ballots. The Republican Party’s chairman, Andrew Hitt, sent the warning letter to Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, even though there’s no indication that members of either team planned to be at their venues on Election Day. ‘It seems kind of silly to be worried about racing sausages, but the larger point is the law is pretty clear,’ Hitt told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“‘Optimism’ is the perfect way to trivialize everything that Reagan was or did. Pangloss was an optimist. Harold Stassen was an optimist. Ralph Kramden was an optimist. Optimism is nice, but it gets you nowhere unless you also possess ideological vision, policy and prescriptions to make it real, and, finally, the political courage to act on your convictions.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about “Reagan revisionism,” in the Washington Post on June 11, 2004.
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.