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Toxic talk: Politicians decry incivility, practice it, too

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WASHINGTON (AP) — There's a lot of scolding about smack talk in Washington these days, and whether "civility" in politics is possible — or even desirable — ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Lots of Americans got riled up over Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. Party leaders are busy branding opponents as "mobs" gone mad, and worse. Then there is President Donald Trump, an innovator in the field of broadcasting deeply personal and sometimes effective insults.

It's not likely to get better soon.

A look at the talk about how to talk:

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THE LEADER

Trump kicked off his presidential campaign in 2015 by saying many Mexicans are rapists and murderers. He scorned his Republican challengers as "lyin'," ''little" and "low-energy." He called women ugly, hysterical, even "a dog."

Critics hated his approach, but Trump is walking, tweeting evidence it can be effective. After all, as Trump reminds everyone, he won.

Now, the president is back at it in the afterglow of Kavanaugh's Supreme Court approval, calling confirmation opponents an "angry mob" of Democrats, some of them plain "evil."

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MORE THAN MEAN TALK?

Much of the back-and-forth is really about what role, if any, the nasty talk plays in real-life violence.

Republicans are circulating video of Eric Holder, former President Barack Obama's attorney general, issuing a new take on Michelle Obama's mantra, "When they go low, we go high."

"No," Holder says in the video, reportedly shot at an event in Georgia. "When they go low, we kick them. That's what this new Democratic Party is about."

Published reports say Holder later added that he's not advocating doing anything inappropriate or illegal.

Trump said Thursday on Fox News Channel that such talk is "very dangerous," even though the president as a candidate advocated for security to throw out protesters at his rallies, including "on a stretcher."

Senators, Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, have received threats. A year ago, a man shot up a GOP baseball practice and badly wounded Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. In 2011, a gunman shot then-Rep. Gabrielle Gifford, D-Ariz., in the head and critically wounded her.

"Those who are ratcheting up the conversation ... they have to realize that they bear some responsibility if this elevates to violence," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said on WHAS, a Kentucky radio station, this week.

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TRUMPIER POLITICS

Republicans trying to keep the energy flowing from the victory of the Kavanaugh confirmation are trying to define Democrats and their allies with one three-letter word: a "mob." The implication is that Democrats are too angry — over Trump, Kavanaugh and Republicans — to be given control of any part of government in the Nov. 6 elections.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday that recent protests and rhetoric by Democrats, liberal writers and others are only the first phase of their "meltdown."

It was an extended version of an election-season accusation that Democrats are condoning "mob" rule after raucous demonstrators harangued Republicans ahead of the Kavanaugh confirmation.

McConnell said only one side is "happy to play host to this toxic fringe behavior."

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PUSHING BACK

Rep. Maxine Waters, one of Trump's favorite targets, bristled over the suggestion that riled-up Democrats are the same as an angry mob.

"This president is the poster boy for what a mob protester looks like," the California Democrat said on MSNBC. "He's the one who has been violent in his speech. He's the one in his rallies have said things like this, 'I'd like to punch him in the face.'"

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump voiced that thought about a heckler. He also urged his supporters to "knock the crap out of" any protesters who might throw things, such as a tomato, and vowed to pay any resulting legal fees. In the old days, he told a rally, protesters "would be carried out on a stretcher, folks."

"That is violent talk," Waters said. "We don't have that kind of talk that's come from the women who are protesting."

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DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH

Hillary Clinton says Democrats have to be even tougher.

"You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about," she said on CNN. "That's why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that's when civility can start again."

She likened the rhetoric during Kavanaugh's consideration to other Republican attacks including "what they did to me for 25 years" as first lady, senator from New York, secretary of state and presidential candidate. Two years after Trump's victory, she notes, he still routinely brings her up, calling her "Crooked Hillary."

"You can be civil but you can't overcome what they intend to do unless you win elections," she said. Republicans are driven by "the lust for power."

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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