TPM Cafe: Opinion

In a development that surprised but did not shock most observers, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker consummated the downward trajectory of his 2016 presidential campaign by “suspending” his candidacy Monday afternoon. This makes him the second candidate to be “winnowed” from the vast field. But while plenty of people might have placed bets that Rick Perry would not make it to Caucus Night—the peak of his national political career remains, eternally, those first few weeks in 2011 when he went roaring and strutting around the country before quickly devolving from Sgt. Rock to Bobo the Simple-Minded—that’s not true of Walker, who seemed to have built a durable base in Iowa and whose mistakes were not exactly epic.

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This week has epitomized the bizarro world American politics has become. It’s a week during which the media and politicians have been enraptured by a debate over whether or not a Muslim could become president.

Never mind that no Muslim candidates are running. Never mind that this is, legally speaking, a settled question, as our constitution forbids religious tests for office. Never mind that the guy who claimed otherwise, Dr. Ben Carson, is a vanity candidate with no real chance of winning office. Never mind that his attempt to clarify his position involved invoking a hysterical right wing conspiracy theory about “sharia law” being imposed on the U.S., which is this century’s version of the old fluoride-is-mind-control John Bircher nuttery.

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I do not believe that Donald Trump really wants to be president.

In fact, behind all that arrogance and bravado, Trump is incredibly insecure and knows he's not prepared for the job. Nobody who talks so excessively about how rich, smart and lovable he is really believes it. I doubt Trump is very self-reflective, but even he knows he's way over his head, and he's more surprised than anyone that he's doing so well among Republican voters in the polls.

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Ed. note: explicit descriptions of rape and sexual violence

Men are the blank space in every rape story. The rapist can never bear witness to himself, or at least never as a rapist, and so instead the stories men tell about rape involve erasing themselves from someone else’s narrative. Owen Labrie, a New Hampshire prep school student who was put on trial for rape and avoided the most serious charges, testified that he decided not to continue his sexual encounter with a 15-year-old freshman even after having put a condom. He attributed it to “divine inspiration” instead of what prosecutor Catherine Ruffle described as “her physical conduct to let him know this was not okay.” Through this kind of thinking, rape becomes not a victimless crime but a criminal-less one.

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We are only a few legislative days away from a government shutdown. I was in Congress to witness the last Republican shutdown of our government, and it had lasting effects on our economy. The 2013 shutdown resulted in 120,000 fewer private sector jobs being created in just two weeks, according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and our economy saw a total loss of $24 billion

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The story of Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Texas high schooler arrested this week after he brought a homemade clock to school, has been framed by two recent trends: the attention the #BlackLivesMatter movement has helped bring to disparities in the responses of law enforcement to people of color vs. other Americans; and the emphasis the war on terror and its accompanying security and surveillance states have placed on Muslim-American communities. (Those seeking to defend Mohamed’s arrest have often analyzed it instead through the lens of school shootings.)

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CNN’s Wednesday night Republican debate, with its emphasis on personal animosity and weird answers about women on the $10 bill, provided plenty of entertainment value for political junkies and late night hosts. But the most consequential moment of the evening was a jaw-dropper of a lie that Jeb Bush told during one of the boring stretches in the middle of the three-hour slog.

In a bit of ugly sparring over who did or did not support the Iraq War, Jeb Bush, in a moment of pique, jumped in with, “You know what? As it relates to my brother, there is one thing I know for sure, he kept us safe.”

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Like a really brutal boxing match between equals, the CNN Republican presidential debate was long and bloody and not terribly conclusive.

For the second time in two debates, the moderators had a big impact. But while the Fox debate revolved around a network decision to demolish (or at least rein in) one candidate -- Donald Trump -- the CNN debate was skewed heavily by a format that began nearly every question with a quote from one candidate about another, and then allowed follow-up by the candidate quoted. This naturally favored the more combative and quote-worthy candidates, and also guaranteed another Trump-heavy debate.

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