Quick Takes

* Here is the big international news today:

Belgian counterterrorism police raided an apartment block in Brussels on Friday and arrested Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in last year’s bloody terrorist attacks in Paris, after a shootout that left him wounded, European leaders said…

Police say Abdeslam drove a car to Paris from Brussels, where he lived, as part of a plan to participate in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded at least 368 others. But he fled the scene, possibly after shedding a suicide vest. Seven other attackers died, including one of his brothers. The Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for the assault.

* Most prognosticators have dismissed the possibility of Democrats re-taking a majority in the House this November. While that is still a veritably impossible long shot, according to the Cook Report, the prospect of either Trump or Cruz at the top of the ticket makes it slightly less so.

The Republican Party’s stranglehold on the House of Representatives may be crumbling, according to a new analysis by the Cook Political Report.

While the GOP has its largest House majority in more than eight decades, Donald Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) at the top of the ticket could seriously jeopardize the majority that has been built.

In its analysis of congressional races, the Cook Political Report moved 10 races Friday closer to Dem favor with the assumption that Cruz or Trump could have a major affect on down-ballot races from Virginia to California.

* Since I tend to appreciate anyone who challenges conventional wisdom, I found this article by by Jonathan Bernstein to be interesting. Riffing off a recent post by Kevin Drum where he presents data showing that American voters aren’t actually that angry, Bernstein writes:

My view is that Trump is doing well precisely because things aren’t particularly bad for the U.S. right now. In difficult times, voters take their responsibilities more seriously, and wouldn’t embrace the buffoonery of a reality-television star. People can indulge in Trump’s fantasies in a period of (more or less) peace and (sort of) prosperity…

Of course, this isn’t a joke. Some real bigots are on Trump’s bandwagon — no surprise given his rhetoric. And some voters are genuinely furious about the nation’s direction. There’s some evidence that voters going through personal hard times are more drawn to Trump.

Overall, however, the Obama years haven’t resulted in recession, soaring inflation or a foreign misadventure with major American casualties — in other words, anything that produces serious political reaction. Barring that, an entertainment version of politics has some appeal. And Trump puts on a good show.

In other words, this is one of those times when a totally ironic, “Thanks, Obama” might be appropriate.

* Steve Benen reminds us that in this election we’ll see something that we haven’t witnessed in a very long time: a POTUS who is very active on the campaign trail. In case you’ve forgotten why that hasn’t been the case for a while, here’s a bit of history:

In 2008, then-President George W. Bush was deeply unpopular; John McCain went out of his way to downplay any connections with the incumbent of his party; and Republicans in general urged Bush to effectively hide as much as humanly possible.

In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton was extremely popular, but Al Gore was eager to break free of Clinton’s shadow. The sitting vice president generally asked Clinton to stand aside, which he did.

In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan was relatively popular, despite being tarnished by the Iran-Contra scandal the year before, but health issues made it difficult for the Republican icon to campaign aggressively in support of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Reagan delivered a notable convention speech, but was not a prominent voice on the campaign trail.

In 1976, former President Richard Nixon was considered a national disgrace. At his party’s insistence, he made no campaign appearances.

In 1968, then-President Lyndon Johnson supported Hubert Humphrey, but generally in a behind-the-scenes capacity.

* This weekend Obama will do something no other sitting president has done in nearly 90 years – travel to Cuba. Ben Rhodes wrote a post about his agenda, which will include not only a bilateral meeting with Raul Castro and state dinner, but also a meeting with Cuban entrepreneurs, a meeting with civil society members, a speech to the Cuban people and attendance at an MLB game.

* Finally, if – like me – you are beginning to imagine what a Clinton/Trump contest will look like, the folks at Blue Nation Review compiled a mash-up to give you some idea.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .