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Feb 29, 2016

Rundle: the Republican Party crapshoot, and it's losing bets all round

Crikey's writer-at-large is in Las Vegas. Specifically, in the Hooters hotel and casino. And there is no better place to watch Donald Trump and Marco Rubio call each other sweaty, pissy messes.

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Veeeeeeeegas, baby! Three-dollar blackjack, the bucket margaritas, Britney and Penn and Teller doing their shows, 24 Walgreens doing a roaring trade in rubbers and pregnancy tests, hookers working the Sports Book bar of the MGM Grand, the machine gun firing range, the indoor parachuting, the shakedown lap dance clubs, the Mob Museum, the whole of the old town under one huge roof, the so-called arts district, and the absurd family casinos, Treasure Island, New York New York fake skyscrapers, Bellagio, a pseudo-Venice, and Excalibur, a pinkish Arthurian castle in the centre of the Strip. Your correspondent stayed on after the caucus to get some writing done, and in the hope that some cheap tickets to Britney: Piece of Me (the real Britney, not some hack), might appear. Strip hopping to get the best rate, I went from Circus Circus to the Howard Johnson, and then, on the rolling craps site that is hotels.com, the latest gaff came up as the cheapest on the Strip. There was no getting round it. It was the best deal.

Thus it was that I checked into Hooters Hotel Casino. Nine storeys, a ground floor casino, a bar, a branch of Margaritaville, the rooms all done in pine wood, the clientele, well, the clientele were buying beers from the ground floor store to tide them over for the trip in the lift — or “magic moving room”, as they called it. Fat white guys who wouldn’t make the dress code at the Daytona 500. I recognised myself among them and accepted the mantle with joy, with resignation, with relief. What joy to have found your station in life  especially when your station is a hotel whose logo is a giant owl whose eyes are breasts. In the spirit of the Oscars I would like to accept this award — hot tears of gratitude flow, fans self — and take the opportunity to say a few words to those who’ve said, in the past, that I couldn’t go any lower than I have. Oh ye of little faith. Yet there were some who said “no, no, give him  a chance, he’s not even halfway down”. How true that was, and I would like to thank you for your support. This is a new personal low, and I don’t think we’ve hit rock bottom by any means, but we’re in the zipcode, we’re definitely close. Thanks for believing in my capacity for falling. Here I would stay, if the prices of the rooms were not skyrocketing next week for the Plumbing Suppliers Association Conference.

Yes, and what better place to watch the latest Republican candidates debate than this ashtray of a place, with a staff of Asian-American girls paying for their MAs dressed like the video clip of iconic ’70s song Car Wash, serving beers to men who’ll be parking their cars in five years’ time? (Is that intersectionality? I’m gonna get it right one day). Car Wash? Car crash, more like. Towards the end of the last debate, Republican operative Frank Luntz tweeted “This is insane”. It was like an Oxford Union debate compared to last Thursday’s effort, a debate in which the closed-caption operator, midway through, simply gave up and typed “unintelligible shouting” and left it on there for a couple of minutes. Donald Trump, fresh from the Nevada caucus victory, and a fresh round of taunting Marco Rubio — “Could you imagine Putin sitting there waiting for a meeting, and Rubio walks in and he’s totally drenched? I don’t know what it is but I have never seen a human being sweat like this man sweats” — sailed into it, expecting that it would be more of the same: Rubio and Cruz would beat up on each other, and Trump would sail on through, throwing out a few drive-by punches on the way.

Didn’t happen thusly. By the time the debate came round, the flat-out panic that has been consuming the Republican Party behind closed doors had started spilling out into the open. A New York Times in-depth piece published on the weekend gave a peek behind the scenes: a disorganised Republican Party that had believed for months that Trump’s appeal would fade, that the early primaries would end his campaign, were now scrambling to find a way to halt his relentless progress. It’s a measure of how atrociously the party has handled this that the clearest voice across the airwaves for a couple of days was Stuart Stevens, the campaign director for Mitt Romney in 2012, who popped up, urging the other candidates to attack Donald Trump head-on rather than jockeying for second position and hoping that … what? That’s the point. Both Rubio and Cruz have been running on the old plan that Trump would fall over, and they would compete for his disillusioned supporters. Stevens was followed by Mitt Romney himself, who strapped on a bomb and drove straight for Trump Tower: asking why The Donald hadn’t released his tax returns, and what might be lurking there. Since this was what Romney had got hit with in ’12, it was something of a self-sacrificing intervention, and a measure of how desperate the Republican establishment had become. Trump’s response: “Mitt Romney, who was one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics, is now pushing me on tax returns. Dope!”

Still, the message got through. On Thursday night’s debate, Marco Rubio came out swinging against Trump, and landed a couple of blows before the event descended into utter farce. Rubio went Trump for hiring illegal workers to build his buildings –Trump: “You’ve hired nobody”, big cheers — and for the flim-flam “Trump University”, which ran in the 2000s selling gimcrack real-estate courses, and folded in acrimony and lawsuits.

Rubio: “You lied to the students of Trump University.”

Trump: “That was 38 years ago.”

Rubio: “So I guess there’s a statute of limitations on lies.”

It went back and forth, with Trump trying his alpha-male trick — “stop talking, I’m talking now” — which caused Rubio to redouble his efforts, thus turning the debate into a complete meltdown. Kasich and Carson barely got a look in, although the latter got a chance when speaking of character, to say that we should assess a potential president by looking at the various elements, the “fruit salad” of their life. Reflecting on the week, Lindsey Graham told an audience: “Mah parrrty hayaz gone bayatshit crazah.”

The day after, it went whackadoodle squared. Trump gave a five-minute performance of Rubio gasping and chug-a-lugging water during a speech, with Trump spraying an audience with a bottle of mineral water: “Lightweight choker Marco Rubio looks like a little boy on stage. Not presidential material!” Rubio riffed on like a Vegas comedian at a 4pm slot in a strip club: “Donald’s flying around on Hair Force One, talking about winning lawsuits. He should be suing whoever did that to his face, have you ever seen a worse spray-tan?” Trump responded by saying that Rubio got extra make-up to hide his big ears. Rubio suggested that Trump had pissed his pants during the broadcast and changed them during an ad break. The process for choosing the commander-in-chief of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, folks.

Rubio was widely perceived to have landed a blow in this chaotic process, but any advantage he gained from it was quickly blindsided when, at a press conference on Friday morning, the Donald produced a somewhat sheepish-looking Chris Christie, who duly endorsed his new master: “They do not know the playbook of Donald Trump because Donald Trump is rewriting the playbook. He’s rewriting the playbook of politics that the status quo are playing,” said this defeated, compliant tub of a man.

The rest of the day was then occupied with clips of Christie trashing Trump throughout Christie’s pitiful primary run. “He’s not fit to be president”, “We’re not electing an entertainer-in-chief”, “[imitating Trump] We’re going to build a big waaaaal. It’s gonna be beeeeeautiful”. Etc. Asked about this, Christie and Trump said “Well, it’s politics”. Which would seem to be the thing that most Trump voters were rebelling against.

There was initial speculation that Christie was lining up for the VP slot on the ticket, but this was quickly dismissed, with the thought that Trump would choose a legislative insider who could build deals in the Congress — or Ivanka, his daughter. Christie is aiming for attorney-general slot. He can’t run for governor again, he wouldn’t make it to Congress from New Jersey — he doesn’t have that many A-list options going forward. This keeps him in the public eye. If it all collapses, he can at least become a cable news talking head.

Christie then started barnstorming Super Tuesday, the beginning of his months-long walk of shame, before the Donald drops him off a building to see, as with a melon, what it will like when he explodes.

The deeply satisfying crack-up in the Republican Party was interrupted by the Democratic South Carolina Primary, a straight up-down vote that the news networks managed to spin out for eight hours of tortured discussion. Hillary won big — yuggggge — beating out Bernie Sanders roughly 75% to 25%. Sanders was never expected to win the state, but his team had hoped that he could nudge towards a 40% vote and thus make it look closer to an even contest than a two-to-one result. The three-to-one result, with a huge margin among black people — 84% to 16% — was a blow. Sanders couldn’t get a hearing among Clinton’s empathetic, storytelling campaign, but that is in part a product of his determination to stick to his simple message of post-Occupy politics — the “billionaire class”, the fixed electoral system, universal health care, a federal minimum wage, etc. That is both a commitment to universalism in building a movement but it is also a hedge, looking ahead to the possibility that he might be the candidate. He wants to win the white working-class vote back from the Republicans, and to do that he seems determined to stay out of identity politics as much he can. That’s high-risk, if true.

Super Tuesday, in two days, has a run of southern states, from Georgia across to Texas, and large Clinton victories will amass a lead of 200-300 delegates — which, with another 300 “superdelegates” added, would put Clinton at around 600 of the 1200 delegates she needs. Bernie’s long-shot strategy has always relied on the idea that, by a steady accumulation of delegates, he could be in a position to win big in New York and California, further down the line. For this to occur, other than by a sheer shift in mass consciousness, something else would have to happen — such as Hillary Clinton being indicted by prosecutors for her use of a private email server while handling classified documents. That too is unsaid, but if it occurred, there might be a sufficient downturn in Clinton supporters for Sanders to prevail. For this to be at all possibility, he will need some wins on Tuesday: Vermont (a dead cert), Massachusetts, Minnesotta, Oklahoma (southern but very white), and a good showing in Texas. The danger of a near wipe-out on Super Tuesday would not be to the nomination only, but to the prospect of keeping the campaign going all the way, in order to keep pushing Clinton to the left and to lay the base for a movement beyond. Without some wins, the campaign will start to look forlorn and quixotic, reminiscent of the Kucinich campaigns of years past, the very last thing intended.

Wow, all this actual politics over Saturday and Sunday got real boring. Especially watching from Vegas. This was a town to watch the Republicans from, the crazed process of selecting a candidate for a party that is now something of a childish fantasy outfit matched by an entire city that gave itself over to childish fantasy some decades ago. The process is part of a worldwide one, which can be put simply: the right is cracking up. From the triumphant arrival of Thatcher/Reagan through the neocons, to now, their politics has been founded on a contradiction — the idea that you can use the state to preserve traditional values, while letting a free-market economy undermine the “groundedness” of these traditional values. The project was always riddled with contradiction: if values are traditional, why do you need the state to enforce them? If you believe in the transformative effect of the free market, why do you believe you can simply dictate which areas of society it will leave untouched? The right had a good run with this, and 9/11 gave them an extra boost. But they created their own opposition.

The pathetic collapse of the Australian right, this minuscule group of senators, pundits and think-tank guppies without a real social base, is evidence of this, a complementary process to the rise of Trump, whose arrival marks the transition of the neocon right fantasy into something else. By Friday, the hashtag #neverTrump was in circulation; by Saturday, Marco Rubio had retweeted it. Small gesture, of great significance, because it suggests that Rubio would not fall in line behind Trump should he win the nomination. Doubtless, he could wiggle out of it if he needed to, but signing up to “never” is a big gesture.

The drive to further exclude Trump was assisted by … Donald Trump, who retweeted a Mussolini quote (“Better to live like a lion for one day than a sheep for 30 years” or some such), which was a bit of a silly gotcha, since the sentiment itself is not inherently fascist. Mussolini probably also said “pass the bolognese” at some point, doesn’t make it an invocation to murder and oppression. Still, the fact that it was tweeted from an account labelled “Il Duce” might have been a bit of a clue.

Far more serious was Trump’s initial refusal to disavow an endorsement by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan “Grand Wizard”. Trump, with the commitment of an absolute populist, refused to disavow it on Sunday morning’s Meet The Press, saying that he didn’t know Duke, and wouldn’t denounce groups “until I know something about them”. Duke? Whom Trump had denounced in 2000? The KKK? Unknown?

The refusal and delay in his eventual disavowal may do no damage with his hardcore base — though it will give some pause — but it puts the Republican Party in an absolutely impossible position. Now they appear to be all but writing off the chance of stopping Trump, and then writing off the election. Their real worry now is that a Trump candidacy would infect House and Senate races — and there is a chance the Senate can return to Democratic control. If, as presumed, the existing Senate refuses to confirm a Supreme Court justice, and the White House and the Senate falls to the Dems, then it’s all over for the Republicans. A liberal justice in Scalia’s old spot would cement a liberal majority in the court for decades.

Yes, if, if, if. But hey, it’s Vegas, baby. The whole process of selecting candidates thusly is a huge game, a giant craps table. Wasn’t what it was. Sadly, neither is Vegas (with the exception of the El Cortez, to which the Crikey desk has just been relocated, a place that goes back to 1941 and hasn’t been renovated since 1974, brown floral carpets, and burnt orange light fittings). What used to be a place where the green baize of the blackjack and roulette tables was surrounded by ranks of slots and cool bars has now become a sort of machine in which no moment of space or time can be left devoid of a gambling opportunity. Increasingly the tables have video croupiers, running touch-screen games. In front of each seat at the bars there’s a tabletop video slot. There was a time when you could linger at the bar over a $4 margarita and chat with the hookers as they came up and gave you 10 minutes of talk before rolling out the price list. The town is gone, the desert oasis is a giant slot machine living off past glory, denying present reality, and the Republican Party is in the same state. The Hooters owl flies at midnight. Vegas, baby, Vegas.

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39 comments

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39 thoughts on “Rundle: the Republican Party crapshoot, and it’s losing bets all round

  1. graybul

    Guy, we all worry about your prolonged exposure to such insanity. Protect yourself mate and for heavens sake please go into quarantine should you become infected prior to coming home. PS All hoping Crikey has you insured, even if they can’t afford meal tickets.

  2. Shaun

    Guy,

    The Democrats didn’t lose the white working class vote to the Republicans. They lost the southern white vote. You should read this https://www.princeton.edu/~bartels/kansasqjps06.pdf

  3. Norman Hanscombe

    Don’t worry, Graybul, he’s so far advanced with P.C. delusions that further harm is unlikely.

  4. paddy

    Magnificent work there today Guy.
    So glad you found a (temporary) home in Vegas complete with bucket margaritas.
    I *really* hope that giant game of craps wins out.
    The thought of another liberal voice on the supreme court is sweet.

    But the ultimate thrill of a car crash involving the Republican majority in either house (or God be praised, even both) is truly delicious.

  5. Edward Oxenford

    Rundle writes: “Far more serious was Trump’s initial refusal to disavow an endorsement by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan “Grand Wizard”.

    The lathering furore over Donald Trump’s initial refusal to categorically distance himself from the endorsement given to Trump’s candidacy by former Louisiana Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, which Rundle uncritically parrots here, is a measure of the desperation of the establishment campaign against Trump.

    What the media, now including Rundle, in their frenzy always fails to mention of course is that Duke left the Klan in 1980 i.e. 36 years ago. Indeed, Duke’s Wikipedia entry notes: “Duke also reformed the organization, promoting nonviolence and legality, and, for the first time in the Klan’s history, women were accepted as equal members and Catholics were encouraged to apply for membership. Duke would repeatedly insist that the Klan was “not anti-black”, but rather “pro-white” and “pro-Christian.” Duke told The Daily Telegraph he left the Klan in 1980 because he disliked its associations with violence and could not stop the members of other Klan chapters from doing “stupid or violent things.”

    In 2004, Duke extended his non-violence message further by securing the agreement of a coalition of right-wing and nationalist groups to what was known as the New Orleans Protocol, which required:

    1. “Zero tolerance for violence.”
    2. “Honorable and ethical behavior in relations with other signatory groups.” and
    3. “Maintaining a high tone in our arguments and public presentations.”

    For the last 35 years, apart from also being elected as a one-term member of the US Congress, completing a PhD in history and writing a number of books, this promoter of non-violent political action has been an avid promoter of White European heritage, declaring the rights of all peoples to have pride in their racial heritage but also strenuously arguing that European heritage is under a direct threat.

    Duke is persona non-grata with the US media and its brain-addled left because he has identified the source of that threat as the racist fanaticism of Hassidic Jewry, and its accomplices in the US Jewish lobby and non-Jewish sell-outs and degenerates in the top 1%. Duke has not been afraid to expose the ways in which this partnership has subverted the US constitution and American liberty (Patriot Act, surveillance, FEMA camps etc) and moral values through its control of politics, the mainstream media and Hollywood; and its promotion of mass immigration and multiculturalism for all societies, except for Israel, where it demands strict racial purity. He has also exposed the predatory nature of this control of the US economy through the US Federal Reserve. He has been an articulate and constant critic of the cost in lives and money of US wars for Israel in the middle east, the hideous plight of the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel, and Israel’s role in terrorism including 9/11. He has exposed the lies of the official story of the so-called ‘holocaust’.

    Calling Duke out for his association with the Klan 36 years ago is a measure of the lack of any substantive counter to his exposure of these realities.

    That Trump felt it necessary to finally distance himself from Duke’s endorsement only tells us how correct Duke’s assessment of that subversion is.

  6. Wexford

    Please, please tell me that these are going to be collected for publication as a book once the dice stop tumbling.

  7. mikeb

    I was in vegas recently but must have missed the Hooters Hotel. That’s a fail on my part.

  8. zut alors

    An illuminating report, Rundle continues suffering for his mission. Courage, Camille, courage.

    ‘Video croupiers’? Proof that western society is stuffed.

  9. Jaybuoy

    We are too busy carrying out our instructions in the South China Sea to concentrate on what the exceptionals are up to..

  10. Norman Hanscombe

    The last 5-6 Posts epitomise the sort of faux intellectual nonsense that thrives under the care of the Crikey Commissariat; but suggesting it be turned into a book takes the cake for asinine ideas.

  11. Venise Alstergren

    Sensationally brilliant piece of writing, Guy…”This was a town to watch the Republicans from, the crazed process of selecting a candidate for a party that is now something of a childish fantasy outfit matched by an entire city that gave itself over to childish fantasy some decades ago…” “The process is part of a …”contradiction — the idea that you can use the state to preserve traditional values, while letting a free-market economy undermine the “groundedness” of these traditional values.” Beyond superb.

    If only Malcolm Turnbull, Cory Bernardi, Andrew Nikolic and assorted cronies could A) Read, B) understand.

  12. Bob the builder

    “thusly”

    used not once, but twice.

    Time to leave the US!

  13. Norman Hanscombe

    There’s no doubt Venise that you can read and also understand material as long as it doesn’t clash with your strong emotively-blinkered prejudices, which is why I continue to hope that some day one of your competent good friends will take the risk of assisting you.
    Only then will you appreciate fully why whatever shortcomings your bete noirs such as Malcolm Turnbull, Cory Bernardi and Andrew Nikolic may have, they’re streets ahead of you at the moment when it comes to analysing intellectually demanding materials.

  14. Dog's Breakfast

    That was a hoot, Mr Rundle.

    And yes, the divisions within the right in Australia seem to be quickly moving to unreconcilable.

    The Libs may be a ‘broad church’, but anything that broad should just put up a sign saying ‘nutters welcome’.

    Which would go nicely in the USA campaigns.

  15. Dog's Breakfast

    Oops, irreconcilable!

    D’oh!

    Must read before posting.

  16. Lionel Love

    Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail indeed. Hunter S. would be proud.

  17. Sammy

    “Fat white guys who wouldn’t make the dress code at the Daytona 500”

    Brilliant

  18. Norman Hanscombe

    Is it reasonable to assume, Sammy, that since you believe “”Fat white guys who wouldn’t make the dress code at the Daytona 500” is somehow “Brilliant” that you’ve led an extremely drab life?

  19. Jack Robertson

    Graybul, we’ll take that as stage concern: what we’re enjoying is a rare moment of absolute aesthetic harmony, in which creative talent and topic are perfectly – diabolically – twinned. The US Primaries read every GR column and the shock of recognition compels it – It – to try to out-Gonzo it. If Rundle didn’t exist Trump’s team would have had to invented him.

    Sit back and savour every second. Our guy will be just fine.

  20. AR

    Very unnice, grundle – mocking the afflicted may be easy but it is low.
    However, the Hegemon has done so much to lower the tone of the world for the last 60 years that it is thoroughly deserved.
    I had hoped for something from SC but may we assume that you are charging your batteries for Sooper Toosdy?.

  21. graybul

    Jack . . Definitely tongue in cheek!

  22. Itsarort

    Haha, was it the alcohol, the pill-popping, the white-powder lines or just metabolic syndrome and hypertension brought on by ubiquitous American corn syrup, that produced this extravagant and addled fantasy? Whatever your poison Guy, these clowns deserve no better.

    Cervantes could have had fun with the OUR Donmeister, except tilting at tridents isn’t really that funny.

  23. MAC TEZ

    Thoroughly enjoying every eloquent episode, great work Grundle.

  24. Graham R

    Hooters: it is descriptions such as these that keep me signing on to Crikey each year.

  25. Norman Hanscombe

    It has to be conceded, Graham R, that between you and the two prior Posters we continue to see quaint analyses in Crikey Land.

  26. Norman Hanscombe

    That the Crikey Commissariat took so long to pass your Post #5 , Edward Oxenford, speaks volumes for the extent to which they don’t want their political prejudices to be seen by their more observant subscribers.

  27. Norman Hanscombe

    Television star Shaun the sheep shows more political savvy than his Crikey namesake, doesn’t he.

  28. browser

    Normie

    Rundle has been analysing a group of USA right wing extremists who appear to have entranced republican supporters, hopefully not the US electorate, although you appear to be besotted. You attack people for attacking dickheads like Nikolai and Bernard.
    Is it not possible that you are also a dickhead?
    Love browser

  29. Bobalot

    I always struggle to understand why Crikey pays for this rubbish.

    Guy Rundle – The poor man’s Matt Taibbi

  30. Norman Hanscombe

    That’s an easy question to answer, Bobalot. They’re desperate for anything no matter how asinine it is which they can pretend to themselves that it supports their deeply held prejudices.

  31. Norman Hanscombe

    Anonymous browser, it’s not difficult to understand why you’d disagree with people who are actually knowledgeable in these areas and share my perspective. It also explains your petulant attacks on those who don’t share your emotive prejudices. I leave childish comments such as your favoured “dickhead” to sandpit inhabitants; but if it were to be used, I’d not need to worry about who’d receive that particular tag.
    If you have the time it might help literate subscribers were you to explain what on Earth you intended by, “You attack people for attacking dickheads like Nikolai and Bernard.”

  32. Wexford

    Norman, your ripostes this morning are worthy of association with the original article!

  33. Norman Hanscombe

    There are no comments on this thread that I’ve posted this morning Wexford. They’re Posts which have been delayed by the Crikey Commissariat until today.
    I have posted this morning on other threads but Crikey (in line with its political prejudices) continues to delay what I write, possibly in the hope that by the time they release it there’s less chance of readers connecting the dots and noticing the egregious errors in material upon which the Commissariat has placed its blessings.

  34. browser

    Norman. Anonymous Browser? Do you have your address and telephone number on this site. Illiterate? Ok I should have taken more time to check my post. I should have not said dickhead but I still maintain the people you support are right wing extremists and you are also by implication. To suggest you are correct and I am not, or any one else who disagrees with you is conceit in it’s highest form. Dream along Norman.

  35. Edward Oxenford

    Norman – yes it is quite funny how long my occasional comments can take to be published. For your amusement another recent one which took about the same length of time:
    http://www.crikey.com.au/?p=536834#comment-323407
    Hope you liek it!
    Cheers
    EO

  36. Norman Hanscombe

    Thanks, Edward. I’d noticed it before and fully understand why The Crikey Commissariat wouldn’t be happy with an item requiring them to, “Please explain”.

  37. Norman Hanscombe

    Anonymous browser, few would have those details as you well know, but I do use my name and have on occasions even given my middle name of Tomas as well. Many of those whose foibles I raise know me personally and would be overjoyed to expose any factual information they thought wrong, or highlight any argument they believed to be logically unsound.
    When you’ve sorted out precisely what you believe needs to be corrected in my Posts, you have the same invitation I’ve extended to your ilk in the past.
    I do, as you recommend, often dream along, but unlike many Crikey Faithful I don’t Post material until I’ve researched it thoroughly.
    Let’s hope the Censor doesn’t make you wait any longer than is his norm before you can read it.

  38. Wexford

    @Norman, that’s interesting as I get an email notification with the comment immediately. Yesterday I went to respond to Edward Oxenford’s little rant and it wasn’t there – I’d assumed he’d deleted it out of shame!

  39. Edward Oxenford

    Shame for what Wexford? Which part of stating the facts is shameful? And could you point out where I was ranting?

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