Here are but two headlines from the last few days:
From Fox News:
Trump attacks DeSantis 4 times more than Biden, as 2024 race heats up
Trump has attacked Biden far less than DeSantis in recent days
Then there was this headlining editorial from the New York Post:
Trump can dish out — but his whole team whines when he’s slammed
There are more like these two, but they will suffice to ask the question.
Have any of the people writing this nonsense read American history? Are they up on the history of American presidential elections in both primaries and general elections? Apparently not.
Former President Trump is targeting his presumed primary opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. And his detractors shriek as if they’d seen a mouse.
Memo to Trump critics: races for president have always — say again always — resulted in Candidate A and allies attacking Candidate B. And vice versa. But since this basic fact of American history is mystifyingly unknown or simply ignored by whining Never Trumpers, let’s hop in the time capsule and travel back through various presidential elections.
• 1800: This featured rivals President John Adams against one-time friend and now bitter rival Vice President Thomas Jefferson. The Jefferson forces labeled Adams a “hermaphrodite” (someone who has both male and female reproductive organs). Adams’ side labeled Jefferson as an atheist and dangerous. Jefferson won. Two years into what would be his first term, Jefferson was accused in an opposition editorial of using one of his slaves, Sally Hemings by name, as his “concubine.” Six years earlier, the same paper, then allied with Jefferson, accused rival Alexander Hamilton of having an affair with a colleague’s wife.
• 1828: This was a showdown between the patrician President John Quincy Adams — son of the former president — and Gen. Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Over there at thought.com is this summary of that Adams-Jackson election showdown:
[B]y the time the votes were cast, both men would have wild stories circulated about their pasts, with lurid charges of murder, adultery, and procuring of women being plastered across the pages of partisan newspapers.
• 1844: This election featured Democrat James K. Polk versus the Whig Party’s Henry Clay. Princeton historian Sean Wilentz described this election between the two as follows:
In the South, Democrats played racist politics and smeared Clay as a dark-skin-loving abolitionist, while in the North, they defamed him as a debauched, dueling, gambling, womanizing, irreligious hypocrite whose reversal on the bank issue proved he had no principles. They also pitched their nominees to particular local followings, having Polk hint preposterously, in a letter to a Philadelphian, that he favored “reasonable” tariff protection for domestic manufactures, while they attacked the pious humanitarian Frelinghuysen as an anti-Catholic bigot and crypto-nativist enemy of the separation of church and state. To ensure the success of their southern strategy, the Democrats also muffled (incumbent president) John Tyler.
• 1884: This was a pitched battle between Republican former Secretary of State James Blaine and Democrat Gov. of New York Grover Cleveland. Wikipedia reports this:
The issue of personal character was paramount in the 1884 campaign. Blaine had been prevented from getting the Republican presidential nomination during the previous two elections because of the stigma of the “Mulligan letters”: in 1876, a Boston bookkeeper named James Mulligan had located some letters showing that Blaine had sold his influence in Congress to various businesses. One such letter ended with the phrase “burn this letter”, from which a popular chant of the Democrats arose – “Burn, burn, burn this letter!” In just one deal, he had received $110,150 (over $1.5 million in 2010 dollars) from the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad for securing a federal land grant, among other things. Democrats and anti-Blaine Republicans made unrestrained attacks on his integrity as a result. Cleveland, on the other hand, was known as “Grover the Good” for his personal integrity; in the space of the three previous years he had become successively the mayor of Buffalo, New York, and then the governor of the state of New York, cleaning up large amounts of Tammany Hall’s graft.
Commentator Jeff Jacoby notes that, “Not since George Washington had a candidate for president been so renowned for his rectitude.” In July the Republicans found a refutation buried in Cleveland’s past. Aided by sermons from a minister named George H. Ball, they charged that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in Buffalo. When confronted with the scandal, Cleveland immediately instructed his supporters to “Above all, tell the truth.” Cleveland admitted to paying child support in 1874 to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who claimed he fathered her child, named Oscar Folsom Cleveland after Cleveland’s friend and law partner, but asserted that the child’s paternity was uncertain. Shortly before election day, the Republican media published an affidavit from Halpin in which she stated that until she met Cleveland her “life was pure and spotless,” and “there is not, and never was, a doubt as to the paternity of our child, and the attempt of Grover Cleveland, or his friends, to couple the name of Oscar Folsom, or any one else, with that boy, for that purpose is simply infamous and false.” In a supplemental affidavit, Halpin also implied Cleveland had raped her, hence the conception of their child. Republican cartoonists across the land had a field day.
One could go on — and on and on — with details of one American presidential election after another that featured serious attacks on a candidate by the opposing candidate.
This has gone on in every presidential election cycle in American history.
In 1960, there was a battle for that year’s Democratic nomination between Democrat Sens. John F. Kennedy (MA) and Hubert Humphrey (MN) in the West Virginia primary. Wikipedia records this:
Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., the son of the former president, stumped for Kennedy in West Virginia and raised the issue of Humphrey’s failure to serve in the armed forces in World War II. Roosevelt told audiences, “I don’t know where he [Humphrey] was in World War Two,” and handed out flyers charging that Humphrey was a draft dodger. Historian Robert Dallek has written that Robert F. Kennedy, who was serving as his brother’s campaign manager, came into “possession of information that Humphrey may have sought military deferments during World War Two … he pressed Roosevelt to use this.”Humphrey believed Roosevelt’s draft-dodger claim “had been approved by Bobby [Kennedy], if not Jack”. The claims that Humphrey was a draft dodger were inaccurate, because during the war Humphrey had “tried and failed to get into the [military] service because of physical disabilities.” After the West Virginia primary, Roosevelt sent Humphrey a written apology and retraction. According to historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Roosevelt “felt that he had been used, blaming [the draft-dodger charge] on Robert Kennedy’s determination to win at any cost … Roosevelt said later that it was the biggest political mistake of his career.”
Meanwhile, the Humphrey forces were assailing JFK’s Catholic religion, the charge insinuating he would be more loyal to the Pope than America.
In more recent history, the 1976 battle between President Gerald Ford and former California Gov. Ronald Reagan had Reagan accusing Ford’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of being “almost hysterical” and accusing Ford himself of using “the cheapest kind of political rhetoric” and for promising, per biographer Jules Witcover, “pork barrel-benefits to localities.” Which is to say, Reagan was accusing Ford of buying votes.
1980’s GOP nomination battle between Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush featured Bush accusing Reagan of supporting “voodoo economics.” In 1984, the Democrats and media accused Reagan of being too old and doddering to be president.
In the 2000 George W. Bush–John McCain showdown in South Carolina, the anti-McCain forces were circulating the tale that McCain had a daughter who was black. They issued a “poll question” that read: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain … if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” Wow.
All of these examples barely touch the surface of the heated rhetoric that flows in presidential campaigns.
For Donald Trump to launch on rival Ron DeSantis is nothing but … normal. Completely normal. Trump follows in the footsteps of presidential contenders with names like Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, Cleveland, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush, and more.
In fact, the real problem is when presidential candidates don’t fight. Trump’s two predecessors as the Republican nominee — Mitt Romney and John McCain — sat back and allowed the liberal media and Democrats to get away with painting Romney as a cold and cruel business executive whose Bain Capital led a buyout of a steel company that in turn led to a woman’s death from cancer. And the self-same media that loved John McCain when he was a “maverick” GOP senator was quick to jump on him as a presidential nominee, accusing him of an affair with a woman lobbyist.
Contrary to the New York Post, the real whiners here are those who intentionally or unintentionally ignore the facts and history of presidential elections in their obsessive zeal to attack Donald Trump.
Donald Trump’s attacks on his opponent are in fact well within the mainstream of the history of American presidential elections.
So get the popcorn. 2024 is here.
And no whining about Trump allowed.