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Greg BluesteinTamar Hallerman
Jim Galloway

The ‘vulgarian debate’ wasn’t polite, but few revolutions are

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Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and businessman Donald Trump argue a point during a Republican presidential primary debate in Detroit. AP/Paul Sancya

Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and businessman Donald Trump argue a point during a Republican presidential primary debate in Detroit. AP/Paul Sancya

Revolutions aren’t tea parties, Mao Zedong once said. But perhaps they have something in common with high school locker rooms. The boys’ side, of course.

In and of itself, the 11th GOP presidential clash of the 2016 campaign will be known as the vulgarian debate. Six minutes into Thursday’s Fox News broadcast, the tape measures came out. From USA Today:

[Donald]Trump started off by offering what almost sounded like an apology, saying he’d called Rubio a “lightweight,” even though “he’s really not that much of a lightweight.”logo-all

Trump then noted a recent jab from Rubio that he had small hands. “Look at those hands,” he said, displaying them for the audience. Then he acknowledged what he apparently believed needed to be spoken: that the size of a man’s hands revealed something about the size of another part of his anatomy.

“I guarantee you there’s no problem” on that front, he said.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida hit the news shows this morning, protesting the tenor:

You have to keep reminding yourself that behind the banality, history is giving us something new. Perhaps dangerous, but definitely new. Here’s the lede from the New York Times:

Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, fighting for their political lives, relentlessly demeaned and baited Donald J. Trump at Thursday’s debate, all but pleading with Republicans to abandon a candidate with a long history of business failures, deep ties to the Democratic Party and a taste for personal insults.

Warning that Mr. Trump would lead the party to a historic defeat in November, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz delivered their attacks with urgency, as if trying to awaken voters who had fallen under Mr. Trump’s spell. Mr. Rubio derided Mr. Trump as untrustworthy and uncivil, while Mr. Cruz bashed him for donating money to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and to other Democrats. Mr. Trump looked on with disgust, but as in their 10 previous debates, he seemed impervious and perhaps unstoppable.

Here’s the benediction that the Washington Post’s Dan Balz put on the affair:

A viable — perhaps tenuous is a better term — strategy for stopping Trump requires all three to win their home states. Cruz has delivered. Rubio and Kasich will be tested in Florida and Ohio on March 15, when delegates can be awarded on a winner-take-all basis. If either loses his home state, the pressure will mount to get out.

It seems that all need one another now to keep gathering enough delegates collectively to deny Trump a first-ballot victory at the convention. Under that strategy, chaos awaits the party in Cleveland, and it was chaos that seemed the order of the night in Detroit. The debates, a proxy for the nomination battle itself, have ceased being the party’s friend.

On Thursday, former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney outlined the above strategy for stopping Trump. If you live in Ohio, vote for your governor, John Kasich. If you live in Florida, vote for Marco Rubio. But Politico.com points to the flaw in that thinking:

According to Republican consultants and political observers from Tallahassee to Orlando to Tampa to Miami, there’s virtually no evidence that Rubio has the robust campaign in place that’s needed to shrink – let alone overcome — Trump’s lead that ranges from 7 to 20 percentage points, depending on the poll. For weeks, his team hasn’t blanketed known early voters with mail and they haven’t been calling Republicans state-wide until just a few days ago.

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations polled nearly 2,000 registered Muslim voters this week in six Super Tuesday states (none of them Georgia).

Despite Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim entries into the United States, political identification remained roughly the same as in the past. Sixty-seven percent identified as Democrats, and 18 percent declared themselves Republican.

Forty-six percent backed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president, and 25 percent chose her primary rival, Bernie Sanders.

But here’s your kicker: 11 percent of Muslim voters polled chose Trump, despite his proposed bar to followers of Islam. The billionaire received more support than all other Republican candidates combined.

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Gov. Nathan Deal has stayed out of the Republican presidential race this long. Don’t expect him to wade in any time soon. He said Thursday it’s up to office-seekers to weigh in on that question.

“I don’t think an endorsement of me, a lame duck governor, is going to make any difference for anyone,” he said.

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Roswell Republican Rep. Tom Price’s first stab at a budget blueprint was quickly dismissed Thursday by key House conservatives. Here’s more from Politico: 

“Anything that doesn’t do something today about mandatory spending is going to be very hard for conservatives to adopt,” said Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus. “The real problem is that we have a deficit that is going up. We have a debt … and we need to address those things.” 

Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he won’t support the plan, which was presented by GOP leaders to the House Republican Conference Thursday morning.

We did a larger take on Price’s political balancing act last month.

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Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson will hit the stage today for his first major public appearance since he announced earlier this week he did not see a “political path forward” for his presidential nomination.

Carson’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, D.C., is one of the most anticipated of the multi-day confab, which is also being visited by the other four remaining GOP presidential candidates. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are scheduled to keynote the event on Friday afternoon, while Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio appear Saturday morning.

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On Thursday evening, one more group, the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, weighed in on Gov. Nathan Deal’s increasing skepticism of House Bill 757, the “religious liberty” legislation that was souped up by the Senate:

“It is clear that the Governor understands what is at risk should this legislation pass, and we couldn’t appreciate that more,” said Jim Sprouse, executive director of GHLA. “The fact that the governor expressed his concern regarding this legislation sends a powerful, positive message to the tourism industry.”

The Senate’s passage of the substitute version of the so-called “Pastor Protection Act” threatens the state’s $58 billion tourism industry, Sprouse said. That version is now under consideration by the House.

The hotel industry group was one of the few business organizations that publicly testified against similar legislation last year. Which is why, some suspect, a transportation bill last year was funded – in part – by a $5-a-night tax on hotel rooms.

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Our colleague Chris Joyner has a new column, called the AJC Watchdog. Here’s a taste:

State Rep. Stacey Abrams wears a lot hats.

She is leader of the House Democratic Caucus and directed a large and well-funded voter registration effort. She also runs several businesses and serves on a number of charitable boards.

She’s even a romance novelist in her spare time. It’s exhausting to contemplate.

One hat you might not know about is the one she wore as a paid consultant for Michelle Nunn’s failed U.S. Senate bid. You wouldn’t know it because the $30,000 she was paid was concealed behind a company with her sister’s name on it, and Abrams “forgot” to disclose it on legally required paperwork filed with the state.