This Writer Ranked American History’s Dirtiest Elections. Here’s What He Says About 2016

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On one side, Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton was a “nasty woman” and called on Russia to hack her emails. During a debate, he argued that she should be jailed. Clinton fired back. She questioned Trump’s state of mind and consistently reminded voters of Trump’s womanizing behavior. She focused on his inexperience and claimed he was too reckless to have the nuclear codes.

But things could always be worse—and they have been, according to Joseph Cummins, author of Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns. The book covers the antics and insults of every election since 1789, when George Washington ran unopposed. Cummins spoke to TIME about where 2016 fits in.

CUMMINS: 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. But this election has echoes of historical elections. In 1964, for instance, Lyndon B. Johnson and Democrats positioned Barry Goldwater as a lunatic, a clinical paranoid who you wouldn’t want to have his finger anywhere near the nuclear buttons. They’re positioning Donald Trump in that way today.




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