Dirty Political Tricks From American Politics Done Dirt Cheap

Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz is taking heat for dirty tricks allegedly orchestrated by his campaign. The tactics used by the Cruz campaign are reminiscent of those used in previous political campaigns, sometimes without even the knowledge of the candidate.
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Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz is taking heat for dirty tricks allegedly orchestrated by his campaign. The tricks range from photoshopping an image to make it appear that one of his opponents, Marco Rubio, is gleefully shaking hands with President Barack Obama, to allegedly creating a counterfeit Facebook profile for conservative U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), where Gowdy disavows his past support for Rubio and announces he now backs Cruz. It is also alleged that Cruz's campaign tried to fool supporters of opponent Ben Carson by informing them that the retired neurosurgeon had dropped out of the race.

Political skullduggery is not a novelty in American Politics. Sometimes the tricks are quite juvenile. In 1970, 19-year-old Republican political operative Karl Rove, who later became the chief campaign strategist for George W. Bush, broke into the campaign office of Allan J. Dixon, the Democratic nominee for State Treasurer of Illinois. He then pilfered Dixon's campaign stationery. Learning when Dixon had scheduled a rally, Rove proceeded to advertise: "Free beer, free food, girls, and a good time for nothing" on Dixon's stationery. Rove then distributed the homemade flyers at rock concerts and homeless shelters, inviting these people to the rally. Dixon won the election and Rove eventually apologized for his actions.

Dirty tricks can sometimes backfire on the trickster. In 2010, Florida Republican State Legislative candidate Greg Brown, along with his bride, stole his opponents campaign signs from lawns. His opponent, Doug Bronson, caught the couple on video camera stealing the signs.

In 1950, Time magazine reported that U.S. Representative George Smathers (D-FL) made the following charge about U.S. Senator Claude Pepper (D-FL) while campaigning to defeat him in the 1950 Democratic Primary:

Are you aware that the candidate is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to have practiced nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a wicked thespian in New York. He matriculated with co-eds at the University, and it is an established fact that before his marriage he habitually practiced celibacy.

Smathers denied making this statement and offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove he made it. No one could prove it. Smathers won the election.

The alleged tactics used by the Cruz campaign are reminiscent of those used in previous political campaigns, sometimes without even the knowledge of the candidate. In 1888, after his razor-thin victory (winning the Electoral Vote but not the national popular vote), President-Elect Benjamin Harrison said to Republican National Committee Chairman Matthew Stanley Quay: "Providence has given us victory." Quay later opined to a newspaper reporter: He ought to know that Providence didn't have a damn thing to do with it. Harrison will never know how many men were compelled to approach the penitentiary to make him President."

Incumbent President Grover Cleveland was locked in a whisker-close battle with Harrison. A Harrison supporter, George Osgooby wrote a letter using the alias "Charles F. Murchishon." He claimed to be a naturalized citizen born in Britain. Osgooby mailed the letter to the British ambassador to the U.S., Lionel Sackville West, requesting advice regarding whom he should vote for. West wrote back, suggesting he should vote for Cleveland. President Cleveland was held in high esteem by the British for his support for reducing the protective tariff on British goods imported into the U.S. When the letters were published, some Irish-Americans, indignant at the British for their treatment of the Irish, turned against Cleveland and helped put Harrison over the top.

The Kennedy family is notorious for the use of political legerdemain. In 1946, after entering a race for an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, future President John F. Kennedy used a clever tactic to muster an electoral advantage. A popular candidate in the race was Boston City Councilor Joe Russo. To siphon support from Russo, the Kennedy campaign persuaded and bankrolled a custodian domiciled in the district, who had no political experience or political aspirations, to enter the race. His name was also Joe Russo. The City Councilor Joe Russo complained that someone had "seen fit to buy out a man who has the same name as mine." But the city councilor had no recourse, and John F. Kennedy won the race.

When John F. Kennedy (a Roman Catholic) sought the Presidency in 1960, his campaign, led by campaign manager and brother Robert F. Kennedy, won plaudits for their victory in West Virginia, which was about 95% Protestant. This stunning victory was not only the result of indefatigable campaigning, but also the result of implying that Humphrey had sought draft deferments because he was "a political organizer whose services were needed (as a civilian) during WWll." The Kennedy campaign dispatched surrogate Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., whose father's name reached near demi-god status in the state, to suggest that Humphrey had been a draft dodger during World War ll. The accusations were mendacious. In actuality, Humphrey failed his medical examination because of a hernia.

John F. Kennedy denounced the charge, averring that the allegations were "done without my knowledge and consent and I disapprove of the injection of this issue into the campaign." Roosevelt later withdrew his charge against Humphrey, but the damage was done. Humphrey was running a shoestring campaign against Kennedy's unlimited resources. In fact, Humphrey allocated funds he had saved for his daughter's college education to pay for his last television advertisement. In addition to failing to inoculate himself from the draft dodging charges, Humphrey could not overcome Kennedy's infinite campaign spending.

In the General Election that year, Kennedy employed the services of Dick Tuck, a noted dirty trickster. After Kennedy debated Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon, Tuck paid a senior citizen to wear a "Nixon for President" button and to approach Nixon after the debate in the presence of the media and tell Nixon: "Don't worry son! He beat you last night, but you'll get him next time." Kennedy eked out a victory over Nixon.

After winning the Presidency himself in 1968, Nixon became the perpetrator of, and accomplice to, numerous dirty tricks. His Presidency was toppled as a result of the Watergate Affair, where he tried to cover-up his re-election campaign's role in a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for dirty tricks in that administration.

Nixon and his coefficients were obsessed with enfeebling their potentially formidable opponents for re-election. Former Alabama Governor George Wallace had run for President in 1968 as the nominee of the American Independence Party. Nixon wanted to purloin and monopolize the populist blue-collar conservative message that Wallace had preached in 1968. He feared Wallace would become either the Democratic nominee or would again be the American Independence Party nominee, and would once again become the tribune of the message.

To stop Wallace, the Nixon forces subversively tried to have him defeated in his 1970 bid to recapture the Alabama Governorship. Accordingly, Nixon ordered his lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, to clandestinely funnel $100,000 to Wallace's opponent, incumbent Democrat Albert Brewer. Brewer defeated Wallace in the primary, but did not garner the requisite majority of the vote to avoid a runoff with Wallace. In the Runoff election, Kalmbach secretly sent a $330,000 donation to Brewer. However, the scheme proved feckless as Wallace won the General Election comfortably. Wallace then ran for President two years later, but his campaign came to a halt when he was shot and paralyzed at a campaign rally in Laurel, Maryland.

In 1972, much of the Democratic establishment was aligned with U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME). The Nixon campaign feared Muskie would muster the nomination. To prevent this possibility, they tried to derail his candidacy before the New Hampshire Presidential Primary. They wanted to run against the insurrectionist candidate George McGovern who was well to Muskie's left. Shannanagators in the Nixon campaign penned a letter written to the Editor of the influential Manchester Union Leader. It was published just two weeks prior to the New Hampshire Primary. The letter-writer alleged in the missive to have asked Muskie how he could represent African-Americans as President when there were so few African-Americans in Muskie's home state of Maine. This letter went on to state that Muskie had responded: "No Blacks, but we have Canucks." (A derogatory term for French Canadians who have a large representation in Maine).

The letter proved effective in that Muskie challenged the letter-writer and the newspaper by standing outside its headquarters and branding the paper's editor, William Loeb, "A gutless coward." It was reported in the media the next day that Muskie cried, though some observers maintain that the water on Muskie's face was from snowflakes. However, after the incident some New Hampshire voters began questioning if Muskie had the temperament to be President.

Consequently, many Muskie supporters defected to McGovern. While Muskie won the primary, he garnered an underwhelming 46.4% of the vote. Muskie never reclaimed his early electoral momentum. He dropped out of the race in late April, telling news reporters: "I do not have the money to continue." McGovern eventually pocketed the nomination.

The Cruz campaign is under fire for its use of dirty tricks. Dirty tricks, however, are ingrained in American politics, and this year is certainly no exception. In 1973, Nixon advisor Patrick J. Buchanan told the U.S. Senate Watergate Committee: "To me, there's room in American politics for pranksters and hecklers and the like but they can get to where they cross the line."

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