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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is, well, quite a character.

So far, he has admitted that he has smoked crack, purchased illegal drugs after being elected mayor, might even have been “hammered” in public and partied in the mayor’s office. He wrapped it all up with an incident in which he knocked down a female lawmaker after racing across a crowded chamber, bruising the 60-something-year-old grandmother’s lip. For that last bit, he “sincerely” apologized. He was thereafter stripped of many of his powers.

Here’s the thing. Ford’s popularity remains above 40 percent, according to the Toronto Sun, citing a new Forum Research poll. Rep. Trey Radel of Florida, charged last week with misdemeanor cocaine possession, might want to take notes.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan sure didn’t mince words the other day when he said that he was fascinated by the fact that some opposition to the controversial Common Core academic standards was coming from “white suburban moms” who fear that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.”

Ouch!

His, ahem, “audience” didn’t take kindly to that observation and the calls for his resignation came quickly and loudly. Duncan conceded, “I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret …” He might have tried a slightly less controversial euphemism like “soccer moms.” Or held that thought entirely, on the basis of it simply being wrong. Oh well, hopefully lesson learned.

Good news, Republicans: Rep. Paul Ryan is riding to your rescue.

The Wisconsin congressman and 2012 vice presidential candidate has announced that he is embarking on a program to steer his party away from the angry and insular tea party movement and toward the more inclusive approach of his mentor, the late Jack Kemp, a former Bills quarterback and Hamburg congressman.

So here’s the question: Does this qualify as a Nixon-goes-to-China event, in which a politician does something necessary but unexpected by his base, or is it a ruse in which Ryan – whose politics mesh nicely with those of the tea party – paints a pretty face on policies that the middle of the country has repeatedly rejected?

For Republicans who want to win back the White House, it will pay to be skeptical.