How fitting it was that the recently concluded South Carolina Republican primary got low down in the Low Country and every other part of the state.
South Carolina is the birthplace and burial place of H. Leroy “Lee” Atwater, the patron saint of modern day nasty politics, and ol’ H. Lee was surely smiling up at the candidates employing dirty tricks in order to secure the party’s nomination.
Ted Cruz had already earned the Dirty Atwater Prize in Iowa, where he announced that Ben Carson had dropped out of the race and was returning home and, by the way, would y’all Carson supporters now please vote for him?
Cruz won. He then solidified his Atwaterness in South Carolina by, allegedly, photo-shopping a picture of rival candidate Marco Rubio performing a vile act sure to sicken every Republican voter.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Kicking a kitten?
Pushing a wheelchair-bound toddler down a hill?
Not washing his hands before getting in line at the Golden Corral?
Nah, way worse: Cruz is accused of photo-shopping and mailing to S.C. primary voters a picture of Rubio smiling and shaking hands with President Barack Obama.
Egads, man. Have you no shame?
Remember the loyalty oaths demanded of U.S. citizens during the Red Scare, when it was presumed that communists lurked behind every lamp post?
Future GOP candidates may find themselves having to take an oath vowing never to raise taxes, to be willing to go to war at the slightest provocation and to have extant no known photos of themselves consorting with Obama.
Are you now touching or have you ever touched Obama?
This isn’t the first time touching – or being presumed to have touched – Obama has proven politically perilous.
Some say Chris Christie’s presidential bid flamed out because many Republicans never forgave him for hugging Obama on the airport tarmac when the president flew into New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
(Others might say it flamed out when the rest of the country saw Christie was an uncouth blowhard suspected of backing up traffic on the country’s busiest bridge to punish a political enemy.)
During a focus group session with potential New Hampshire voters last August, I watched as a roomful of people expressed displeasure with Christie for his PDA – public display of appreciation – toward the president. One woman said she could understand him being grateful for the millions of federal dollars Obama pledged to the state, but why did he have to hug him?
“I can’t get the picture out of my mind... when he just cuddled right up to him,” another woman said. Another man, who actually looked sane, said, “I never forgave him for hugging Obama.”
Christie denied that he hugged Obama – and if putting one’s arm around someone else’s waist isn’t a hug, then he didn’t – but the political damage was done. What they shared on the tarmac was more like an abbreviated bro-hug, but there is another picture of Christie with his arm around the presidential waist. Photo-shopped?
The liberal Hurricane Sandy, some angry Republicans contend, intentionally struck New York and New Jersey a few weeks ahead of the 2012 presidential election just to give Obummer a chance to look presidential.
Romney lost, they contend, because of the storm and Christie cozying up to Obama for photo-ops, not because Romney possessed not a single political belief that couldn’t be changed by a new poll.
I asked Dr. Jarvis Hall, associate political science professor at NCCU, if dirty tricks – especially those involving poorly photo-shopped pictures – work.
“The diplomatic answer is, ‘It depends.’ It depends upon who does it and how well you can hide it” if there’s any political blowback, Hall said. “As you know, once something gets out there, it’s out there, and it’s important that you respond immediately. The worst thing you can do is say, ‘I’m not going to respond’” because a smear is too ridiculous for anyone to believe. “That’s a mistake.”
If history has shown us anything, it’s that no smear is too ridiculous to be believed. Rubio shaking hands with Obama? Smiling?
Who could believe that?