Spreading rumors that one of your opponents is dropping out of the presidential race moments before the Iowa caucuses start? Calling your rival a vulgar name on the eve of the New Hampshire primary because he doesn’t support torture as much as you do? Child’s play when compared to what could happen between now and the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina on Feb. 20.
It’s no secret that U.S. presidential elections have a long history of questionable, or downright dirty, campaign tactics that in hindsight seem like something straight out of fiction, but the Palmetto State stands apart when it comes to mudslinging.
Shortly after winning the New Hampshire primary in a rout, billionaire Donald Trump said he was ready for underhanded attacks.
“We’ve already had dirty tricks in this campaign, so I’m ready for whatever they want to throw at me,” he said during an interview with CNN.
Trump’s massive Granite State victory could put him on a collision course with Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), the winner of the Iowa caucuses who hopes to duplicate his formula for success by turning out South Carolina’s evangelical voters.
Of course, Trump doesn’t think that’s why Cruz won the Hawkeye State: after the caucuses he accused the Tea Party darling of stealing the election because his camp told Ben Carson supporters that the retired neurosurgeon was dropping out of the race.
Cruz has countered that his staffers were merely circulating a CNN report, but the bad blood persists. The two hopefuls are reportedly hoping to meet face-to-face in South Carolina to clear the air.
If the powwow doesn’t work, the allegations against Cruz will no doubt continue, but such maneuvers would be par for the course in South Carolina.
In 2000, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) clobbered then-Texas Governor George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary and was favored to win in South Carolina. Then a fake telephone poll suggested McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock and Bush went on to win the primary and eventually the presidency. In 2007, voters across the state opened their mailboxes to find a Christmas card suggesting former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was pro-polygamy.
Lines of attack are already appearing among the 2016 field, where Tuesday night’s results essentially clogged what might have been an exodus of White House hopefuls.
Candidates like Ohio Governor John Kasich, who finished second to Trump, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who racked up a fourth place finish, feel invigorated, while Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), who hoped to turn his third-place finish in Iowa into a runner-up trophy in New Hampshire but came fifth, is desperate to eke out a win.
In a Republican primary that has been dominated by national security, it’s not surprising that the new round of criticism revolves around the military, especially when you consider that South Carolina boasts 8 military bases and almost 60,000 veterans.
Bush’s campaign is already spreading materials that point out Kasich’s support for Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), suggesting it would weaken the U.S. military.
“I think it’s a sad situation when you’ve got to rely on negative to move voters, which they haven’t been able to do, as opposed to articulating a positive vision,” Kasich, a former member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday on ABC’s Good Morning America.
There is also chatter that Trump’s Vietnam War draft deferments may boil up as an issue. Cruz could also be under fire for his recent comments that it would be “nuts” to make women sign up for Selective Service despite the suggestion coming from the chiefs of the Army and Marine Corps. Rubio has already come out in favor of the idea.
GOP leaders can only hope that the next ten days of jockeying don’t bloody their eventual nominee too much and provide ammunition for either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the general election.