Is 2016 the dirtiest election in American history? At various times Donald Trump has called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” and “crooked Hillary.” During the debates, he said he would call for a special prosecutor to investigate her emails and the Clinton Foundation. For her part, Hillary Clinton has questioned Trump’s state of mind, accused him of being a womanizer, and said he is too reckless to be trusted with the nation’s nuclear codes.
24-hour news cycle
A key factor in this election is the influence of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Virtually nothing goes unnoticed anymore. As Hillary has learned the hard way, presumed private thoughts put in an email don’t stay private in today’s age of widespread hacking.
Dirty Tricks on both sides
Neither side has an exclusive on “dirty tricks.” The Clinton campaign has a quarter century of experience in politics and is a well-oiled machine that is ready to jump on negative news stories and has not been above creating and coordinating stories to fit the needs of the campaign. What the full story is behind the mysterious appearance of the videotape of Trump’s Access Hollywood remarks about women won’t be known until well after the campaign. While there is no concrete evidence that the Clinton campaign coordinated the sudden appearance of ten women who recalled that Donald Trump had behaved inappropriately towards them at some point in the past 30 years, the timing was certainly fortuitous for the campaign.
Art of dirty tricks
A sometime adviser to the Trump campaign is Roger Stone. Stone is a longtime Republican operative who is skilled in the art of political dirty tricks. Stone has gotten credit for organizing the disruptions that led to the vote recount in the Dade County clerk’s office being halted and bringing an end to the recount of the Bush-Gore votes. Mr. Stone began his political career in the days of Richard Nixon and later worked for Ronald Reagan and both Bush campaigns. Some suspect that Stone has ties with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and has helped coordinate the steady leak of emails that are intended to embarrass the Clinton campaign.
There are books that have been written on dirty campaign tricks. One of the better known is Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns, written by Joseph Cummins. While Mr. Cummins won’t say that 2016 ranks as the dirtiest of all time, he puts it in the top five.
In terms of mudslinging, I’d say it’s in the top five of all time. It’s the worst if we go back to 1912—so the worst in about the last 100 years—because of the way the candidates themselves have made charges against each other. — Joseph Cummins
Mr. Cummins went on to say that the language used in the presidential elections of 1800, 1828 and 1876 reminds him of some of the terms being tossed around today.
Back then people were “wretches,” “hideous, repulsive vipers,” “cutthroats” and “lunatics.” Compare that to today, where John Boehner called Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh,” and Trump has referred to Hillary Clinton as the devil. — Joseph Cummins
Dirtiest election was in 1800
Most historians agree that the presidential campaign of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson holds the distinction of being the dirtiest. Newspapers opposing Jefferson warned that "murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will all be openly taught and practiced,” if Jefferson were elected.
Nasty political mud-slinging. Campaign attacks and counterattacks. Personal insults. Outrageous newspaper invective. Dire predictions of warfare and national collapse. Innovative new forms of politicking capitalizing on a growing technology. The presidential election of 1800 was an angry, dirty, crisis-ridden contest that seemed to threaten the nation’s very survival. — History Now
So, as negative as the 2016 campaign has been it won’t go down as the dirtiest in American history. It seems that America’s taste for dirty politics goes back to our forefathers and is a time tested part of our national political landscape.