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On U.S. campaign trail and beyond, Trump’s familiar silhouette proving inescapable

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WASHINGTON — He’s the Kevin Bacon of modern American politics, a familiar shadow that seems to loom over or lurk behind virtually every major storyline playing out on the U.S. campaign trail and beyond.

But forget six degrees of separation — with Donald Trump, it’s often only a couple.

Abortion controversy in Georgia? Trump and Herschel Walker are longtime friends. Kooky Republican hopefuls in key swing states? Chances are, they were backed by Trump. Fears of political motives at the Supreme Court? Trump nominated three of the justices.

No points for correctly guessing who Mark Finchem — currently the front-runner to become Arizona’s next secretary of state, making him the state’s top election official — thinks won the 2020 presidential election.

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“Trump is unique in the role he has tried to play in shaping the voter choices in this year’s elections,” said Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia.

“He likes to be in the spotlight; he loves that. And then adding to that incentive for him is the desire for redemption or revenge, with his hope that he can reclaim the presidency that he claims he never lost.”

Trump’s never-apologize, admit-nothing style was on clear display this week in Georgia, where Walker, a fabled college and NFL running back with no prior political experience, is seeking to wrest a key Senate seat away from Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Walker, a self-proclaimed opponent of abortion, adamantly denies media reports that he paid an ex-girlfriend who underwent the procedure in 2009. Walker insists he does not know the woman; the Daily Beast website, which broke the original story, says she’s the mother of one of his four kids.

It’s just the latest Walker revelation to make headlines in Georgia, many suggesting another parallel with the former president: a disdain for the truth. Several of his claims — a foray into law enforcement, including with the FBI; overstating the size and worth of a food service business that bears his name; having only one child — have been thoroughly disproven.

“This here, the abortion thing, is false. It’s a lie,” Walker said Thursday. “I’m here to win this seat for the Georgia people, because the Georgia people need a winner.”

So do Republicans, given the current 50-50 split in the Senate and the neck-and-neck battles they are fighting in other key battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada and Arizona, all of which feature Trump-endorsed GOP candidates.

An all-candidates debate Thursday in Phoenix showcased both Trump’s lingering — and demonstrably false — conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, as well as the challenge of reconciling fealty to the former president with the practical demands of soliciting votes.

Blake Masters, his “Make America Safe Again” slogan a clear echo of Trump’s familiar battle cry, cracked jokes as he ducked and weaved around moderator Ted Simon’s best efforts to corner him on his beliefs about who should be in the White House.

“Joe Biden is absolutely the president,” said Masters, who famously declared the opposite during his primary campaign. “I mean, my gosh, have you seen gas prices lately?”

Eventually, though, he deftly tried to square the circle this way: “I suspect President Trump would be in the White House today if Big Tech and Big Media and the FBI didn’t work together to put the thumb on the scale to get Joe Biden in there.”

Even beyond the 2022 midterms, the former president and his legacy, his election conspiracies and his outsized influence on voters and campaign tactics are never far away.

His reshaping of the Supreme Court, which abandoned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in June, has helped to make abortion a hot-button issue for Democrats in Senate, House and gubernatorial races. Voters may now opt for senators who can moderate the court’s influence, said Capri Cafaro, a former Ohio state senator who teaches politics at American University in Washington, D.C.

“The Supreme Court, at least right now, is game, set and match as far as the balance of power,” Cafaro said. “The fact that Donald Trump was able to appoint and confirm three Supreme Court justices in four years creates an urgency in the long term (for) electing senators that will at least hold judicial nominees accountable.”

And he’s not going anywhere any time soon.

The jaw-dropping search warrant investigators served back in August at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s country club hideaway in Florida, helped vault the former president back into the headlines, where the controversy over the documents he spirited away from the White House has remained ever since.

That search — Trump called it a “raid” — also served to agitate some of his most vocal supporters, suggests a report in the New York Times that found the use of the phrase “civil war” spiked dramatically online in the days and weeks that followed.

Later this week, the select committee investigating the Capitol Hill riots of Jan. 6, 2021, will hold its final public hearing before voters head to the polls Nov. 8 — a made-for-TV event sure to showcase America’s deep-seated cultural and political divisions in a superheated political atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Biden, his dismal approval ratings having ticked up in recent weeks, is hoping that talking more openly about his predecessor’s legacy will help to blunt powerful Republican attacks about the state of the U.S. economy, in particular fears about inflation and rising gas prices.

He didn’t mention the former president by name Friday during a campaign-style speech at a Volvo manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Md., but he certainly invoked Trump’s legacy, drawing a sharp distinction between America’s storied history and the conspiracy-minded, QAnon-fuelled nature of modern U.S. political discourse.

“Just remember who in hell we are — we’re the United States of America. There’s nothing, nothing we’ve ever set our minds to that we’ve not been able to do,” Biden suddenly shouted.

“That’s my hope, that after this election, there’ll be a little return to sanity. We’ll stop this bitterness that exists between the parties and have people working together.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 9, 2022.

 

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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Jason Kenney quits Alberta politics with critical letter on state of democracy

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Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney stepped down as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Calgary-Lougheed late Tuesday afternoon.

“Thank you to my constituents for the honour of representing them in Parliament and the Legislature over the past 25 years,” Kenney said in a tweet also containing a statement.

The resignation came two hours after the throne speech for the Fall session was read inside the legislature, which Kenney was not present for.

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Kenney said he is proud of the work done while he was the leader but with a new government in place under Premier Danielle Smith — who replaced him as leader of the UCP in October — and a provincial election coming in May 2023, now is the best time for him to step aside as MLA.

“This decision brings to an end over 25 years of elected service to Albertans and Canadians,” he said.

“I would like to thank especially the people of south Calgary for their support over nine elections to Parliament and the legislature, beginning in 1997. Thank you as well to the countless volunteers, staff members and public servants who have supported me throughout the past two and a half decades of public service.”

Kenney said in the future he hopes to continue contributing to democratic life but chose to close his resignation letter with a scathing reflection of the state of politics.

“Whatever our flaws or imperfections, Canada and I believe Alberta are in many ways the envy of the world. This is not an accident of history.”

Kenney went on to provide the following statement:

“We are the inheritors of great institutions built around abiding principles which were generated by a particular historical context. Our Westminster parliamentary democracy, part of our constitutional monarchy, is the guardian of a unique tradition of ordered liberty and the rule of law, all of which is centred on a belief in the inviolable dignity of the human person and an obligation to promote the common good. How these principles are applied to any particular issue is a matter of prudent judgment.

“But I am concerned that our democratic life is veering away from ordinary prudential debate towards a polarization that undermines our bedrock institution and principles.

“From the far left we see efforts to cancel our history, delegitimize our historically grounded institutions and customs and divide society dangerously along identity lines. And from the far right we see a vengeful anger and toxic cynicism which often seeks to tear things down, rather than build up and improve our imperfect institutions.”

“As I close 25 years of public service, I do so with gratitude for those who built this magnificent land of opportunity through their wisdom and sacrifice. And I’m hopeful that we will move past this time of polarization to renew our common life together in this amazing land of limitless opportunity.”

Kenney announced his intention to step down as the leader of the United Conservative Party on May after he received 51.4 percent support in his leadership review vote.

Earlier Tuesday, Smith was sworn in as the new member for Brooks-Medicine Hat after winning a byelection for the seat earlier this month.

It was her first time back on the floor of the legislature chamber since the spring of 2015.

At that time, Smith was with the Progressive Conservatives, having led a mass floor-crossing of her Wildrose Party months earlier. She failed to win a nomination for the PCs in 2015 and returned to journalism as a radio talk show host for six years.

Kenney remained a backbencher UCP legislature member until his resignation. It’s not yet known when a byelection will be held in Calgary-Lougheed.

Kenney joins a long list of Alberta conservative leaders sidelined following middling votes in leadership reviews.

Former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein left after getting 55 percent of the vote in 2006. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford received 77 percent in their reviews but stepped down from the top job when the party pushed back.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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Murray Mandryk: Today’s partisan politics abandons all common sense

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Long abandoned is the principle in politics that politicians are there to represent everyone…even those that didn’t vote for you.

Politics: The art of abandoning all manner of common sense and principle in favour of convincing your own supporters what you’re doing is just and true while what your opponent promotes simply isn’t.

That’s probably cynical and unhelpful.

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Sadly, though, it’s neither as cynical nor as destructively divisive as much of what we see every day from politicians themselves whose only interest is in catering to their respective bases.

Long abandoned is the principle in politics that politicians are there to represent everyone…even those that didn’t vote for you.

Today’s politics is tribalism and, sadly, this cuts across party lines…although that observation is, evidently, now considered offensive to members themselves.

We’re not like that — they are.

Let us review, beginning with the latest from the federal Liberals. By definition, liberals (small l) are supposedly respectful and accepting of behaviour and opinions different from their own, open to new ideas and, promote individual rights, civil liberties, democracy and free enterprise.

Unless, of course, there are political points to be scored with your large urban base.

Consider the last-minute amendments to the latest federal gun-control bill that stands to criminalize millions of firearms now used by Canadian hunters.

The amendment would ban “a firearm that is a rifle or shotgun, that is capable of discharging centrefire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner and that is designed to accept a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity greater than five cartridges of the type for which the firearm was originally designed.”

For those unfamiliar, that’s pretty much all hunting rifles and shotguns that aren’t pump, bolt or lever-action.

Essentially, this would ban all forms of semi-automatic firearms except for tube-style duck hunting shotguns — far in excess of the how Bill C-21 was pitched as a targeting of the sale of Canadian handguns (no mention of long guns was even in the initial draft bill).

This goes much further than the Liberals’ failed gun registry of 30 years ago, angering hunters, target shooters and of course, conservatives. It’s almost as if irritating the latter was the point.

The changes drew the expected angry response from Western Conservative politicians including Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe — which only seems to fortify the Liberal notion that somehow what they are doing is right.

But what happens when they are not?

The ongoing problem with illegal guns crossing the U.S. border, 3D printers capable of producing all manner of weaponry and light sentences for violent crimes would seem far bigger threats than a hunting rifle locked up for 364 days a year.

But in today’s tribal political world, it’s not about common-sense solutions. It’s about the virtues you are signalling to your base, which takes us to today’s conservatives defined by preserving traditions, institutions and following rules of law.

Or at least until it’s their ox being gored as we are seeing at the Emergencies Act inquiry. Then it becomes about justifying all behaviour and lawlessness … as long as it was aimed at the Liberal government.

It was bad enough that we saw in January elected politicians like Moe writing letters of support to Freedom Convoy organizers — some of whom were subsequently criminally charged.

But the same Conservative politicians who cavorted and emboldened protester organizers are now eagerly engaging in political revisionism. To hell with what the people of Ottawa endured. Senator Denise Batters claims she “personally never felt safer.”

And those criminally charged with obstruction? The plethora of other actions meritorious of criminal charges and the very real threats at border crossings? A figment of Liberal and/or RCMP imaginations?

Of course, that has now been superseded by the battiness of convoy protest lawyer Brendan Miller being sued for accusing someone of being al Liberal provocateur who waved a Nazi flag just to make the protesters look bad.

But this, too, is easily justifiable when you can view everything through a lens of extreme partisanship rather than common sense that’s seemingly no longer required in politics.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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The U.S. and Iran beef is what politics has become at the World Cup

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United States head coach Gregg Berhalter and Tyler Adams attend a press conference on the eve of the group B World Cup soccer match between Iran and the United States in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 28.The Associated Press

Over the weekend, U.S. Soccer sent out social-media posts containing an altered Iranian flag. Two lines of Islamic script and the country’s emblem had been stripped from it. A spokesperson for the American team said the change had been made to show support for Iranian women.

Iran has had a torrid first week in Qatar. Its Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, devotes huge chunks of his near-daily remarks to alternately lashing the team’s critics and begging them to back off.

Here was a main chance to change the story, courtesy of their old enemy. The fight is so silly, you’re tempted to think the two teams – who play each other on Tuesday – cooked it up together.

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Iran saw the provocation from the U.S. and raised it. It demanded FIFA suspend the American team for 10 games – effectively eliminating it from the World Cup. FIFA ignored it.

On Sunday, in the midst of a U.S. news conference, an Iranian journalist scolded America’s media operation, telling it to “respect international media.”

“This is World Cup, not MLS Cup,” he said.

The presser was cut short.

By Monday, Iranian journalists were pressing American manager Gregg Berhalter to move the U.S. Fifth Fleet out of the Persian Gulf. Shockingly, Berhalter doesn’t have any juice with the Navy.

Berhalter explained that neither he nor his players knew anything about the flag flap, but still apologized for it. No one wanted to hear it. This is what happens when athletes become political advocates. Everyone ends up looking clueless.

FIFA has spent years trying to strip the World Cup of its political symbolism and replace it with a commodified, pop-culture, politics-lite. That would be the sort of politics that gooses viewership, but doesn’t upset anyone.

It hasn’t helped itself by placing the event in military autocracies (Argentina 1978), functional dictatorships (Russia 2018), and developing nations that can’t afford to host it (a few).

A high-water mark for political tensions created by soccer goings-on was the 1982 semi-final, France vs. Germany. The two nations didn’t like each other going in. They liked each other much less after watching their countrymen kick the tar out of each other for 120 minutes. At one point, the German goalkeeper delivered a flying knee to an onrushing French player, knocking out several teeth.

Afterward, the German – Harald Schumacher – was told about the missing teeth. “I’ll pay for the crowns,” Schumacher said, glibly.

That went over as well as you’d imagine. Tensions mounted to a postwar high. The Germans learned the French hadn’t really forgiven them, and the French figured out they were still piping hot over it.

The situation was only defused when the then German chancellor publicly apologized to his French counterpart. The incident – referred to as ‘The Tragedy of Seville,’ after the city in which the match was played – remains a potent touchstone in both countries.

That was back when politics in sports had guardrails. You only went so far, for fear that a shouting match might become a shooting match.

Those limits have come off in recent years. People feel perfectly entitled – compelled, even – to show up at events such as this and start delivering speeches and tossing around insults.

As usual, FIFA is mostly to blame. By inveigling teams to engage in soft advocacy, it has persuaded the human brands in its temporary employ to speak the sort of truth that makes sponsors comfortable. But once the complaints get anywhere near the money, FIFA becomes a stickler for rules as written.

So, ‘OneLove’ armbands? Out. ‘No Discrimination’ armbands? In.

What does ‘no discrimination’ mean? Who, exactly, are these people who are for discrimination? When’s that press conference, because I’d like to attend it.

‘No discrimination’ means less than nothing, because it pretends to be something. Proper protest is organic. It isn’t approved by the marketing department, then sent off to the printers to be colour-matched and sized for overnight delivery.

After FIFA nixed the armbands, Germany came up with its own stunt. During the prematch team photo ahead of its first game, German players put their hands over their mouths. Presumably, this means they can’t speak their minds. Who exactly this is a shot at – FIFA? The state of Qatar? The World Cup writ large? – wasn’t defined.

And yet, they can speak. They’ve got cameras on them every hour of the day. People are itching to tell their stories. The German players haven’t been prevented from speaking. They’ve opted not to speak because they fear sanction.

So what is it? You’re taking a principled stand, or you’re doing a photo op? You can’t have both.

Now you’ve got USA and Iran taking pops at each other for kicks, hoping a few callbacks to the bad old days will jazz up their current sports chances.

Is it now totally out there to say this stuff ought not be taken so lightly? You want to start an international slapping contest with a sovereign country? Maybe your foreign service should be the one doing that, rather than the guy who runs the Instagram account at U.S. Soccer.

If you’re the United States of America, maybe don’t do that at all. You’re in no moral position to lecture anyone else.

But stripped of actual menace, that’s what politics has become at the World Cup (as well as the Olympics). It’s gamesmanship. It’s theatre. It’s for funsies.

And it can be fun. Until one day, something silly that happens here leaks out into the real world, where everyone doesn’t slap hands and trade jerseys when the game ends.

You feel like protesting the injustice inherent in staging this World Cup in this place? Or how your opponents comport themselves? How about not coming?

Why not apply the same standards of total commitment to your protesting that you do to your play? Otherwise, make room for serious people willing to take actual risks.

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