“Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican,” is the eleventh commandment established by ex-President Ronald Reagan, the hero all presidential candidates aim to emulate. Still, the maxim is being mostly ignored during the present primary. As the defining moment approaches, the tone of the debate stoops lower and lower.
The presence of millionaire Donald Trump is a central factor causing the discussion of opinions and proposals to turn into verbal aggression against immigrants, China, and anyone he chooses to blame for the country’s problems, and into personal insults against his competitors.
Today, when a significant amount of delegates in 13 states is at stake ‒ between primaries and caucuses, ‒ the level dropped even further, to a point during the weekend when the conversation veered on to Marco Rubio’s large ears and Trump’s small hands. In general, on top of the “liar” label that for weeks the three favorites ‒ Trump, Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz ‒ have exchanged, the accusations of con man against the magnate, of having stage fright against Rubio and cheater against Cruz have been added. Ohio Governor John Kasich is the only one maintaining a civil tone.
The success of this aggressive, even insulting tone within Republican populism is not a surprise, as it reflects the language of intolerance that dominated the Tea Party, led to demeaning attacks against Obama, and is prevalent among the Party’s majority in Congress. Today’s primary is only the result of an internal process within the GOP that has been gestating for years.
U.S. history has seen several chapters in which presidential candidates and their people have insulted each other mercilessly. Epithets of this sort were used in 1828, when candidate General Andrew Jackson’s mother was accused of being “a common prostitute brought to this country by British soldiers.” During Thomas Jefferson’s election, it was said that “rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced.”
There is much at stake in a presidential election, and attacks – including negative publicity – yield results. Still, the current climate in the Republican primary surpasses anything imaginable. This will exhaust whoever ends up being chosen as the candidate and harm anyone seeking the vote of the U.S. electorate come November.