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Dirty, Rude, And Childish Presidential Campaign Tactics Throughout Our History

By Jodi Smith | Politics | May 31, 2016 |

By Jodi Smith | Politics | May 31, 2016 |

While in the midst of a Presidential Election Year rife with questions concerning dick size, one nominee’s obsession with his daughter’s body, email scandals, and Bernie Bros, it is difficult to think there has ever been a dirtier campaign year. The truth is, the trail to the White House has always been paved with smear tactics, accusations, and name-calling.

1. Ronald Reagan Stole Jimmy Carter’s Debate Notes - 1980

Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were set to have a last debate before the Presidential Election. At this point, the actor and incumbent were very close in poll numbers, so it was important to really nail this debate. Carter had his team create a book for the occasion, filled with facts and points to memorize. It even had jokes.

Carter’s team realized that a copy of the debate materials was missing. Coincidentally, one of Reagan’s staffers found a copy of Carter’s debate book and provided it to the nominee. Reagan used it to prep for the debate and was able to destroy Carter with the efficiency of one who knew exactly what his opponent was going to say before he said it. Reagan went on to win the election, proving that middle school election tactics from Nickelodeon tween shows is a viable strategy.

2. John Quincy Adams Calls Andrew Jackson’s Wife A Wench, Which Wasn’t The Worst Insult Lobbed - 1828

Adams was the incumbent running after a less than celebrated term, so he got to slinging mud without a second thought. Jackson, a less than desirable man with a violent temper, killed a man in a duel in 1806, making easy fodder for a smear campaign. However, Adams’ campaign chose to also focus on Jackson’s wife, Rachel.

Rachel was married before she wed Jackson, so she was called a dirty wench, an adulteress, and basically a skeevy whore. In retaliation, Jackson claimed Adams sold a maid of his wife’s to the Czar of Russia as a concubine. Jackson’s camp gleefully referred to Adams as a pimp and reveled in using it often.

The war of childish insults continued with: “General Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which number General Jackson is one!” Jackson was also taken to task for the ordered execution of six soldiers for their abandonment of post.


In the end, Jackson was able to win the Presidency, though both nominees seemed like real assholes.

3. Abraham Lincoln Basically Calls Stephen Douglas A Short Bitch - 1860

Like the great Penis Size Debate of 2016, Presidential hopeful Stephen Douglas’s height was a subject of great amusement in 1860. Though Presidential Candidates now travel to lots of towns to sway voters in person, clogging up commerce as they go, the tactic was seen as kind of lame in 1860. Douglas did not care and chose to travel from D.C. to New York, shaking hands and kissing babies, under the guise of visiting his mother.

After it took a month for him to reach New York, Lincoln decided that the best retaliation would be to create a “Missing Child” flyer for Douglas.

“Left Washington, D.C. some time in July, to go home to his mother… who is very anxious about him. Seen in Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, Conn., and at a clambake in Rhode Island. Answers to the name Little Giant. Talks a great deal, very loud, always about himself.” [Neatorama]

The 5’4” Douglas didn’t shy from slinging insults right back at Lincoln, calling him “hatchet face” and other delightful insults. Which is hilarious, you guys. Elect Douglas President of Middle School Insults!

4. Lyndon Johnson Sets Out To Destroy Barry Goldwater - 1964

Johnson set up “the 5 o’clock club” to use pop culture as a weapon against Goldwater’s reputation. Among the many insanely genius tactics was a coloring book for children that depicted Goldwater in Ku Klux Klan robes. Another was a book filled with Goldwater jokes called You Can Die Laughing. The saboteur group took it even further by writing letters to advice columnist Ann Landers expressing great fear of a Goldwater presidency. Probably the most egregious plan was sending CIA agent E. Howard Hunt to pose as a volunteer in the Goldwater Campaign HQ. Hunt would then send Goldwater speeches to Johnson in advance.

5. Thomas Jefferson Calls John Adams A Hermaphrodite - 1800

Jefferson was actually Adams’ Vice President at the time of the election, so you know it was super awkward around the White House. Jefferson decided that hiring a writer to talk shit about President Adams was an acceptable tactic, birthing the ingeniously ridiculous assertion that Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Adams had his own team ask the tough question: “Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames… female chastity violated… children writhing on the pike? GREAT GOD OF COMPASSION AND JUSTICE, SHIELD MY COUNTRY FROM DESTRUCTION.”

I think that Jefferson and Adams actually created Internet comment sections, you guys.

Jodi Smith is a Senior Reporter, Film & Television at Pajiba. You can email her or follow her on Twitter.