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Friday Talking Points -- Copulating Rodents!

The Republican presidential nomination race has previously devolved to the level of an elementary school playground (penis-measuring in a national debate), and has now risen to at least high school (if not a college frat house) with the vicious battle going on between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz over who can insult each other's wives the most.
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DANE, WI - MARCH 24: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to workers at Dane Manufacturing during a campaign stop on March 24, 2016 in Dane, Wisconsin. Wisconsin voters go to the polls for the state's primary on April 5. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DANE, WI - MARCH 24: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to workers at Dane Manufacturing during a campaign stop on March 24, 2016 in Dane, Wisconsin. Wisconsin voters go to the polls for the state's primary on April 5. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

That really should be "Copulating Rodents, Batman!" for full effect. Or it should just come right out and use the original term being euphemized. But somehow we couldn't quite bring ourselves to use either one of those in our title today.

Confused? Join the club. The Republican presidential nomination race has previously devolved to the level of an elementary school playground (penis-measuring in a national debate), and has now risen to at least high school (if not a college frat house) with the vicious battle going on between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz over who can insult each other's wives the most. This morning, "the beans" may have actually been spilled, as the National Enquirer is now reporting not on Ted Cruz's wife, but instead on his (alleged) five girlfriends. I'd say "we're down the rabbit hole now, folks," but there is in fact a better rodent-based metaphor, from the dim and distant past. Here is the full explanation, from Cruz himself:

It is a story that quoted one source on the record: Roger Stone, Donald Trump's chief political adviser. It is attacking my family. And what is striking is Donald's henchman, Roger Stone, had for months been foreshadowing that this attack was coming. It's not surprising that Donald's tweet occurs the day before the attack comes out. And I would note that Mr. Stone is a man who has 50 years of dirty tricks behind him. He's a man for whom a term was coined for copulating with a rodent. Well, let me be clear: Donald Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him.

The Washington Post article then helpfully explains: "The copulation reference was to a term coined to describe Stone and other political allies of Richard Nixon who spread rumors and foiled the campaign events of rivals." Another of these Nixon allies was none other than Karl Rove, a man George W. Bush called "turd blossom." But let's not get distracted. Back to the term in question, which is (warning -- avert your eyes if you are easily offended): "ratfucking." Originally the term had nothing to do with rodents, as the "rat" was short for "rations" -- it was a military term to describe soldiers who would comb though the rations packages and steal all the good stuff while leaving the less-tasty stuff behind for everyone else. But a rat is a rat, in the world of politics. And here is where we find ourselves, in the historic (or perhaps "infamous" will be more popular for future historians) election season of 2016. Call it the pest-control election, and you won't be far from the reality.

Spring has sprung, so maybe it's just sex scandal season. We say this because the Republican governor of Alabama also seems to be in some mighty hot water. There's even an audio tape of him talking dirty to a woman who is not his wife, if the Cruz-Trump dustup isn't juicy enough for you.

Back out on the presidential campaign trail, we had another Tuesday night of watching the returns come in. Arizona had some pretty massive problems, which might just have been caused (ya think?) by the Republican official who decided shutting down 70 percent of the voting sites would make everything run smoothly. Trump and Cruz both took a state, winning every single delegate. But Trump emerged with a larger delegate lead than he had heading into the night. A few more nights like this one and maybe the Republicans will stop having feverish dreams of an open convention -- especially if the Cruz rumors continue to fly.

It'll be interesting to see, in all of this, what the establishment Republicans are going to do. Last week, before the National Enquirer (who, it must be said, broke the very true John Edwards sex scandal, a while back) ran the Cruz girlfriends story, the establishment types had closed ranks behind Cruz. From Mitt Romney to Jeb Bush to Lindsey Graham, all were begging the voters to vote for Cruz, even if they found him to be as repulsive as the establishment GOP used to, one week earlier. The endorsements were so halfhearted, in fact, some started calling them "endursements" (because they must be endured by the giver). Big GOP donors are now quietly putting money into an attempt to salvage their down-ballot congressional races if Trump does become their party's nominee (the strategy is essentially: "How to distance yourself from your party's choice for president"). Look for this effort to pick up steam, now that Cruz is going to be answering tabloid questions for a while.

The pro-Israel group AIPAC met last week, and all presidential candidates except Bernie Sanders spoke to them. Donald Trump gave a speech that was rather timid for him (he even read it off a TelePrompTer), but it so outraged some in the audience that AIPAC later had to apologize for even inviting him.

On the Democratic side of the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders had a good night last Tuesday, taking two out of the three states that were voting (by almost 80 percent in both Idaho and Utah), and raking in a bigger haul of delegates than Hillary Clinton (who won Arizona). You might not have heard any of that (except for Hillary's win) in the mainstream media, who has apparently decided that Bernie is just not worth covering anymore, no matter what the voters have to say. Sanders may have another impressive night tomorrow, when Alaska, Hawai'i, and Washington all caucus. There's little polling to go by, but Bernie seems to have a good shot in all three.

Hillary Clinton just can't seem to do anything right, according to the folks at Fox News. After berating her for months for being too shrill and shouty, they were unimpressed by her big foreign policy speech at Stanford this week. Comments ranged from: "Did you notice that calm and collected tone of voice right there?" to: "She's a little too calm.... You see more passion from Democrats when they're attacking Republicans than when they're attacking the actual enemies of the United States." In other words, Hillary yells and screams too much, right up until she doesn't yell and scream enough, which are both to be condemned. With an incoherent media mouthpiece like this, it's no wonder the Republicans find themselves in the mess they're now wallowing in, is it?

Paul Ryan made a speech, to impress all the sane people still clinging to the Republican Party (a number which seems to shrink almost daily), and also to try to distract people from the huge budget fight happening on his watch among House Republicans. He got up on his high horse to speak of all the messiness which regularly erupts from the mouth of Donald Trump (although Ryan refused to name him, so we guess it could equally apply to the messiness which Ted Cruz blurts forth, also on a regular basis). Politics, begged Ryan, should be above all this unseemliness. Things were so much nicer and better back when he first got involved with Congress, and we should return to those halcyon days.

There's only one problem with all of this, and that is that it is complete and utter moose poop. Firstly, when Ryan first worked in Congress, none other than Newt Gingrich was busy leading his own revolution. Known publicly as a "bomb-thrower," Gingrich's style of politics was the precursor for Donald Trump's style. It might be put (in the most genteel way possible) as: "Take no prisoners!"

The other problem is that, while Ryan did denounce his own framing of all of America as either "takers" or "makers," he forgot to mention the fact that for over seven years his own party -- aided and abetted by Ryan himself -- has dedicated itself to the absolute destruction of President Obama's agenda. Not just the opposition to everything Obama has wanted to do, but instead a policy of fearmongering and utter destruction.

Need proof? How about all that high-minded fact-based opposition to the dreaded Obamacare? Remember all the sane and reasoned arguments Ryan and other polite Republicans put forth to oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? We don't. Instead, we remember idiotic dark fantasies about non-existent "death panels" and all the rest of the scaremongering.

To put this as politely as Ryan wants political discourse to be: "You cannot ignore everything your party has done to lead up to this point -- especially the fact that no matter how much you denounce Trumpism and Trump's tactics, you and almost all other Republicans are still going to back Trump if he wins your party's nomination." You can either denounce him, hold a moral position, and refuse to support him, or you can drown in the thick goo of your own naked hypocrisy. You simply can't have it both ways, Mister Speaker.

In other non-campaign news, Republicans in North Carolina have now banned any local non-discrimination law which would get in the way of being able to discriminate against the people they don't like. Georgia is considering similar legislation. Seems that the lack of politeness has gone a bit beyond the presidential race -- maybe Paul Ryan will address this in an upcoming speech. Or something.

Marijuana legalization got a big boost this week, from the Supreme Court (of all places). They tossed out a case where two states were suing the federal government to crack down on Colorado. Federal law is undoubtedly supposed to supercede state law, but the legalization experiment was instead given a big green light by the court. This could become an issue in November, because the next president will get to choose the next Attorney General, which will have a dramatic impact (one way or the other) on federal marijuana policy, going forward. This won't just be an issue in the four states which have already legalized recreational use (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Colorado), but will also be important in all the other states considering putting legalization on the ballot this year.

Which brings us to a gem of a quote, to close on. This was actually from 1994, from a former member of the Nixon White House, John Ehrlichman. He summed up the reasons why Nixon ramped up the War On Drugs so much -- which should be a point of discussion now that we're beginning to dismantle this ugly legacy. The real reason for the War On Drugs? It's exactly as bad as you'd think, in Ehrlichman's own words:

You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black people, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Which is exactly what millions of hippies and black people have long suspected, in fact. Good to know it wasn't all just rampant paranoia, or anything. On that less-than-happy note, let's move along to this week's awards.

There's a tight race happening for an open Senate seat from Maryland, and Donna Edwards is running a very impressive primary campaign against Chris Van Hollen. We must admit being impressed by Edwards the one time we got to hear her speak, and it seems like she's got EMILY's List in her corner, so this might be a race worth watching.

There were two impressive Democrats last week in particular. On Tuesday night, Bernie Sanders scored two victories to Hillary Clinton's one, which was impressive enough but what was even more impressive is that he picked up more delegates than her. You'd think this would be news, but it was virtually blacked out in the media the next day. Now, partly this was due to the fact that the Arizona returns came in a long time before the Utah and Idaho ones did, which meant the news of Bernie's wins missed the deadline for a lot of East Coast newspapers. But this doesn't fully explain the shoddy coverage. Take, for instance, the Washington Post political columnist Chris Cillizza, who regularly runs a "winners and losers" column after each primary election night. Cillizza not only didn't put Bernie in the "winners" department, he barely mentioned Bernie at all. That's a pretty inexcusable way to treat the candidate who won two states (to Hillary's one) by overwhelming margins, and who got more delegates than Hillary.

Even having said all of that, we're only going to give Bernie an Honorable Mention this week. He'll no doubt be in the running for next week's MIDOTW award, especially if he (as expected) has another big night tomorrow (when Washington, Hawai'i, and Alaska Democrats caucus).

The reason why Sanders didn't win the big prize this week was because there was history being made by President Obama, in Cuba. For the first time in almost 90 years, an American president visited Cuba. That's a big deal.

Cuba, right up until Obama took office, had become the last relic of the Cold War. Picture your refrigerator. In the freezer, if you cleared it out, you'd likely find a package of something in the back so ice-bound as to be immovable. That was America's Cuba policy, from President Kennedy all the way through Dubya's time in office. It was a solid block of ice, so covered with hoarfrost and rime that you'd need a chisel to even pull it out into the light of day.

Obama has always wanted to be a transformative president, and on Cuba he certainly has lived up to this goal. He entirely deserved his visit to the island, after thawing the relationship that many (us included) thought would not unfreeze in our lifetimes. There is no sane reason for treating Cuba the way we have been, at least not after we normalized relations with communist China or communist Vietnam (a regime we actually lost a war to, mind you). America does business with all sorts of evil and totalitarian countries all over the planet, so why should Cuba be any different? Our embargo is nothing but a joke to the rest of the world, and it took Obama to realize that it simply was not working, after over a half a century of being ineffectual.

Of course, two caveats apply. We've got a long way to go before the Cuban-American situation is truly thawed. The embargo still exists, as does the "wet foot/dry foot" immigration policy which automatically guarantees Cubans who manage to make it to our shores an immediate green card. Both are going to need to be revised, obviously. This work will remain for some future president to accomplish. But without Obama's initiative, we would never be at the point we are now.

The second thing is that Obama's visit to Cuba was overshadowed by another incident of terrorism in Europe. The Belgian tragedy happened during Obama's trip, and while we do agree with the president's decision not to cancel the rest of his schedule, it did shift America's attention away from Cuba.

In the future, though, the juxtaposition of the two events will likely fade. What historians will remember is that "Obama opened Cuba," in much the same way they always say "only Nixon could go to China." For finally pulling the last vestige of the Cold War out of the deep-freeze and chucking the obviously outdated "total isolationism" Cuba policy on the refuse pile of history where it belongs, President Obama is clearly the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Congratulate President Barack Obama on his White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

Bill Moyers wrote a column this week, outlining his top two choices of Democrats who should be so ashamed of themselves that they should just immediately resign. We've addressed both officeholders in previous columns' MDDOTW awards, though, so we merely mention his picks in passing.

Bill Clinton got in a little hot water this week, for an off-the-cuff condemnation of Barack Obama's entire term in office -- which is not exactly the message his wife wants her campaign to portray. While Hillary has all but promised "four more years" of Obama policies, Bill had this to say out on the hustings (emphasis added):

If you don't believe we're ever going to grow again, if you believe it's more important to re-litigate the past, there may be many reasons that you don't want to support [Hillary]. But if you believe we can all rise together, if you believe we've finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us and the seven years before that when we were practicing trickle-down economics and no regulation in Washington, which is what caused the crash, then you should vote for her because she's the only person who basically had good ideas, will tell you how she's going to pay for them, can be Commander-in-Chief and is a proven change-maker with Republicans and Democrats and Independents alike.

The "awful legacy" of Barack Obama? Clinton later had to walk back and clarify what he meant to say, but it still earns him a (Dis-)Honorable Mention from us.

We've also got a (Dis-)Honorable Mention on the other side of the Democratic race, as well. Senator Elizabeth Warren recently said, about Bernie Sanders's campaign: "He's out there. He fights from the heart. This is who Bernie is. He has put the right issues on the table both for the Democratic Party and for the country in general so I'm still cheering Bernie on." That's all fine and good, but these quotes were followed by the line: "Warren said she will make an endorsement in the 2016 race, but declined to make one Thursday."

This can be read two ways. Either Warren is just holding back her endorsement until the nominee has wrapped up the primary season, or Warren is being coy and waiting for precisely the right moment to endorse Bernie. That moment, however, has long since passed. Bernie could have used a Warren endorsement, and the earlier it had been made the better. The prime time for Warren to have endorsed Bernie would have been just before Super Tuesday, in fact, when Hillary beat Bernie in Massachusetts by a little over one percent -- then it might have done him some good. It's been obvious since Warren herself declined to run that the closest Democratic candidate to her world-view was Bernie Sanders, but Warren continues to play it coy with her explicit endorsement. Unless she really means just to endorse "whichever Democrat wins the nomination," it is woefully late for Warren to make a primary endorsement. Not exactly a profile in courage, Senator.

But this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is the daughter of Illinois state representative Cynthia Soto. Jessica Soto was apparently putting up campaign signs for her mother outside her opponent's campaign office. Bob Zwolinski tried to stop her and her companion from doing so, and a verbal and physical confrontation followed. They beat Zwolinski "with a bottle and a metal object." He then posted a rather gruesome photo of his own face after the attack, which was not only swollen but actually had a metal staple (from a staple gun) stuck in his head. "Politics is a contact sport," he wrote. "Apparently that's literally the case."

Now, Jessica Solo and her companion deny the charges and say they were defending themselves. But they're the ones who now face three felony counts of aggravated battery, so we're going to go ahead and give Solo this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. In a campaign that has turned nasty and violent over on the Republican side, this is the last sort of thing Democrats need in the news.

[Jessica Solo is a private citizen, and it is out blanket policy not to provide contact information for such persons, sorry.]

Volume 384 (3/25/16)

Before we get to the talking points, we have an interesting link for anyone who cares about Irish history. This weekend is the centennial of the "Easter Rising" of 1916, which was the biggest step towards Irish independence ever taken. The attempted revolution failed, in the end, but it directly led to the Republic of Ireland's independence from Great Britain, the most monumental political realignment that had happened on the island since 1690. Anyone interested in reading more about this story can check out this helpful guide in the Irish Times, which covers what took place one hundred years ago in Dublin.

Back to the present, and American politics. We have a mixed bag of talking points this week. We'll begin with some nice things to say about President Obama, and we'll finish (as we often do) with some very snarky things to say about Republicans. And we promise, we won't even touch upon wives, girlfriends, or rodents copulating! How's that for fair?

Winning the battle of public opinion

This one should be used whenever any Republican sanctimoniously speaks of letting "the American people" have their say in Supreme Court nominations.

"Which 'American people' are you talking about, precisely? Because where I'm sitting, the American people have spoken twice -- by electing President Obama. As for current public opinion, CNN just released a poll showing that 64 percent of Americans -- that's two out of every three -- think that the Republicans in Congress should hold hearings on Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland. Over half of Americans think Garland should be confirmed, in fact. A full 57 percent think Obama should be the one to make this choice, not the next president. In fact, the only group surveyed without a majority in favor of Obama's nominee were Republicans. So let's be entirely clear, here -- what you're saying is that Republicans should get a chance to vote on the next Supreme Court justice. Be a little more precise in your phrasing -- because a clear majority of 'the American people' already think Garland should get not just hearings, but swift confirmation by the Senate. So stop acting like you're talking for them, please."

Opening Cuba

Again, this was a historic week.

"This week, President Obama became the first United States president to visit Cuba in nine decades. For over half a century, it was completely unthinkable that any president would do so, because a policy from the depths of the Cold War kept us perpetually at arm's length from a country a mere 90 miles from Florida. Guess what? The Cold War is long over. We won. It's been over a quarter-century since the Berlin Wall came down, in fact, and almost as long since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Our Cuba embargo was a joke the rest of the world laughed at. Not even our closest allies agreed with it. Obama was the first president since John F. Kennedy to realize that our Cuban policy simply was not working and was long overdue for a change. A big part of Obama's foreign policy legacy will be the fact that he'll always be remembered as the president who opened Cuba back up."

And the public agrees, once again

Not everyone has noticed this, so it's worth pointing out.

"Ever since the primary season began back in January, an interesting thing has been happening. As Americans listen to the Democratic candidates talk about expanding Obama's record as president, and as they watch the trainwreck of the Republican presidential campaign, President Obama's job approval numbers have been steadily climbing. Obama's got a higher job approval rate than he's had since the beginning of his second term, in fact. He now regularly polls above 50 percent approval. Perhaps it is because, stacked up next to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and the rest of the Republican field, Obama looks a wee bit more presidential. I think what's really going on is that the Republican campaign is reminding a whole lot of people why they voted for Obama in the first place."

Paul Ryan's amnesia

This talking point is taken directly from a very good takedown article in Salon, which appeared after Paul Ryan made his plea for everyone to sit down and sing "Kumbaya" together. Seriously, his attempt to school Republicans on proper ways to conduct politics are pretty laughable, for those without amnesia. It's as if the past seven years didn't even exist, or something. Also worth pointing out is the fact that Ryan will still support Trump if he becomes the nominee, which pretty much destroys his "moral high road" posturing.

It was perversely appropriate for Paul Ryan to deliver this speech, with those lines, on March 23: the six-year anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law. The Republican response to the A.C.A.'s passage has been to scare people -- you'll lose your coverage and then probably be murdered by the death panel -- and to oppose it without offering an alternative. There have been God knows how many votes to repeal or weaken the A.C.A. in Paul Ryan's House of Representatives over that six-year time period, but the number of legislative alternatives to Obamacare put forth by the GOP can be counted on zero fingers. The Republican policy during the Obama administration, on healthcare reform and pretty much every other issue area, has been to stoke fears and wring political benefit from unyielding opposition.

Another crack in the wall

We're up to three, and counting....

"I see that a third Republican senator has now called on their own leadership to do their jobs as laid out in the Constitution, and give Merrick Garland a proper hearing. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas now joins Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois in calling for the Senate to do its damn job. Both Kirk and Moran are up for re-election this year, but then so are a whole bunch of other Republican senators. Bet Moran won't be the last crack in the wall of GOP obstruction to appear. Because if Republicans follow through on their pledge to collect their paychecks without doing their constitutional duty, then Democrats are going to hit them hard over the issue, out on the campaign trail. You can take that to the bank, in fact."

The fear spreads

This is just too, too amusing. And it's only March! Imagine how much worse things are going to get down the road....

"I find it interesting that already some big Republican donors are throwing their money behind an effort to salvage their party's chances in November's elections. They know full well that having Donald Trump at the top of their ticket (or Ted Cruz, for that matter), is going to be devastating for their down-ballot candidates. People are now openly talking about the possibility of not just seeing Republicans lose control in the Senate, but also for control of the House to possibly slip from their fingers. This is a truly stunning turn of events -- millions of dollars are already lining up to create Republican House and Senate campaigns which are centered around disavowing their own party's presidential nominee. They're trying to limit the damage that Trump or Cruz will do to the party as a whole, but this rear-guard action seems as doomed to fail as every other attempt to take down Trump. Still, the spectacle of the big money guys in the Republican Party lining up to denounce their own party's leader in the fall is really unprecedented."

With friends like these...

Ted Cruz is getting some awfully bizarre endorsements lately. Now, Ben Carson not showing much excitement for Ted Cruz is one thing (Carson doesn't show excitement about much of anything), but the real standout among recent Cruz endorsers is Lindsey Graham. Graham appeared on "The Daily Show" recently, and had these warm words for the man he has now endorsed for president. Graham, quite obviously, is stuck between a rock and a very hard place, when the best he can come up with is:

I prefer John Kasich, but he has no chance.... [Ted Cruz] was my fifteenth choice, what can I say? ... He's not completely crazy.

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