The media-based battle and the evolution of political mudslinging
Two competitors stand tense and ready in separate corners of the octagon, preparing for combat. They are both sweating heavily and breathing hard, tired from previous engagements. They are worthy opponents. One is a 5-foot-8-inch Texan with a soft twang in his voice and a perpetual look of mild disappointment on his face. The other is a 6-foot-2-inch New Yorker with a mean streak that won’t quit and hair that appears to have quit long ago. What are their names? Sen. Ted Cruz and ultra-wealthy businessman Donald Trump. The impending smack down is not one of physical strength, but one of wits, passive-aggressiveness, and strategic hashtags.
The date is March 22, and contender Donald Trump makes the first move, tweeting, “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a GQ shoot in his ad. Be careful, lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!” Trump came out of left field and went straight for the jugular.
Within the tweet, we see derisive wording (lyin’ Ted), a misguided accusation (about the use of provocative GQ photos featuring a partially nude Melania Trump in what Trump believed to be a Cruz-approved ad, but what was actually an ad produced by an anti-Trump super PAC in Utah), and finally, a vague and bizarre threat (“I’ll spill the beans!”). Which beans, Donald?
This question was not left unanswered for long. On March 23, a frail, sickly-looking, semi-human blob named “The Enquirer” entered the octagon and began to scream, “Ted Cruz cheated on his wife five times with vague and unnamed women!”
Following this unforeseen outburst, Cruz administered a counterblow in a desperate attempt to fend off Trump and the humanoid “Enquirer” blob. Cruz tweeted: “Pic of your wife not from us. Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you’re more of a coward than I thought. #Classless.” Ol’ Ted pulls us into the big leagues now, bullying Trump with the word “coward” and throwing out a scathing hashtag—a truly valiant effort.
A few tweets and several sexist memes later, judges have not yet determined a winner. Cruz and Trump, though both gallant fighters, are not the first to have entered the octagon.
The 1828 presidential race is widely regarded as one of the dirtiest in history, and contenders didn’t use a single hashtag.
A similar smack down occurred in ye olde octagon in 1796 when Alexander Hamilton accused Thomas Jefferson of having relations with one of his slaves. #Classless. (The accusation turned out to be true, but that is beside the point). A smack down of monstrous proportions occurred during the 1828 presidential election when accusations of infidelity, illegal gambling, and international prostitution involving the Czar of Russia flew through the debate chamber and across news headlines. The 1828 presidential race is widely regarded as one of the dirtiest in history, and contenders didn’t use a single hashtag.
Politics and the media have always had a close, slightly dysfunctional relationship, but the advent of internet culture has ramped the dysfunction up to a new level. Social media allows voters to directly connect with candidates on a level that didn’t really exist before. For example, smack downs like the one between Cruz and Trump now happen out in the open where everyone with a phone can see and respond to the arguments. Voters in 1796 couldn’t throw shady tweets at Thomas Jefferson, or Photoshop Alexander Hamilton’s head onto pictures of dinosaurs and caption them: “This man ate my son.” Sure, impassioned voters could talk trash around local taverns, or maybe sketch up a rousing political cartoon, but they didn’t have nearly as wide of a reach as today’s media-savvy, impassioned voters. The internet has allowed political mudslinging to evolve from accusing an opponent of sleeping around to accusing an opponent of sleeping around and Photoshopping his face onto Nosferatu.
Mudslinging and bizarre accusations have been a part of American elections since before light bulbs existed—I think we can handle the addition of a few memes to the process.
Can we take politics seriously with all these wild allegations, memes, and hashtags floating around? The short answer: yeah, probably. Mudslinging and bizarre accusations have been a part of American elections since before light bulbs existed—I think we can handle the addition of a few memes to the process. Introducing social media to politics can make for some great smack downs, dank memes, and—most importantly yet least hilariously—the active and dynamic involvement of constituents in the election process. To stay sane, just sit back and try not to take the sweaty people bullying one another in the octagon too seriously.