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Friday, October 20, 2017

Pinch yourself, hard.

The unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible is happening.

People are actually feeling empathy for Ted Cruz.

What does this say about our beloved America? Into what kind of weird cosmic rat-hole have we let ourselves be dragged?

One of the coldest, most despised figures in the Senate, Cruz is endeavoring to appear human. The same snide jerk who led the costly, unpopular Republican shutdown of the government is now warming hearts for the way he rushed to the defense of his wife, Heidi.

For this Frankenstein turn of events we can thank Donald Trump.

In case you hadn’t heard, the spouses of the two GOP presidential front-runners were the hot topic in the race last week. Second were the terrorist attacks in Brussels.

The wife feud ignited when an anti-Trump super PAC republished a naked photo of Melania Trump, a former model.

Before you stop reading and go Google the picture, you should know that the anti-Trump super Pac is called Make America Awesome Again. It is run either by hapless idiots or evil geniuses.

Cruz adamantly asserts he had nothing to do with the political ad featuring the future Mrs. Trump, posing 16 years ago for the British edition of GQ magazine. The Melania photo was supposedly dredged up to target Mormon voters, who would be so offended by her nakedness that they’d turn to Cruz instead.

The idiot theory holds that some bozo working for this PAC actually stood up and said: “Hey, I’ve got a fantastic plan to stop Donald. Let’s publish a picture of his incredibly beautiful wife with no clothes on!”

However, the genius theory says this ad wasn’t really designed to stir up the Mormons. It was meant to provoke the Big Orange Trumpster.

Under any other circumstances, Trump would have been elated to see a nude photo of Melania splashed all over the media and Internet. He brags about her physical attributes to just about anyone with a microphone.

And if he had a serious brain under that teased monkey pelt on his head, he would have laughed off the ad, printed up T-shirts with the picture and started selling them at his rallies.

But no, that would have been way too cool, way too smart. Instead, Trump impulsively launched into one of his spluttering Twitter attacks, threatening to “spill the beans” about Cruz’s wife, Heidi.

Nobody knew what on Earth Trump was babbling about. Heidi Cruz is an executive at Goldman Sachs in New York, and one of her husband’s top fundraisers.

Rather, his next move was to re-tweet a nasty post by one of his followers. It was an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz positioned side-by-side with a glamour shot of Melania. The meme caption: “No need to ‘Spill the Beans.’ The images are worth a thousand words.”

And with that Trump once again answered the question that many millions of Americans wonder daily: Could he possibly be more loathsome?

Cruz shrewdly responded by taking the high road, or what passes for a high road in this gutter-fest of a campaign:

“Donald, real men don’t attack women,” he tweeted. “Your wife is lovely, and Heidi is the love of my life.”

Aw. Meet sweet, calm, tender Ted. Where’s he been hiding all these years?

After seeing his wife coarsely mocked in public, he reacts with a gentle scold, a compliment to Mrs. Trump and reiteration of his own devotion to Heidi.

Trump ends up looking like a pig, while Cruz ends up looking almost like a gentleman.

If you’re Donald, it must feel like you’ve been schooled.

Cruz’s denials notwithstanding, he is more than slippery enough to have masterminded this whole scenario, knowing Trump would overreact in the lowest, meanest way.

That’s the genius theory — Cruz knew in advance about the nude Melania attack ad, and he threw it out there as bait.

The idiot theory says Cruz didn’t know — it was simply a campaign screw-up that turned into a golden gift.

Either way, presidential politics has entered a new rodent phase that can only drag us deeper and dirtier. November can’t come soon enough.

OK. Now go Google that silly photo if you want.

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)

(c) 2016, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a campaign event at Lakeside Plastics in Oshkosh, Wisconsin March 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich