On his way to the Republican party nomination, Donald Trump routinely denigrated his opponents. Trump called his fellow frontrunners “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted” and mocked Carly Fiorina’s appearance: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?,” he told Rolling Stone magazine. Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” Now Trump is attempting to undermine the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by calling her “Crooked Hillary.”
Trump is hardly the first politician to use insults and accusations to win an election. Some trace the tactics of personal attacks back to Newt Gingrich. When he was campaigning to be the Republican Presidential nominee in 2012, the New York Times White House correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg described the combative approach he’d perfected in the 1990s.
“Mr. Gingrich, Democrats and Republicans here agree, emerged as one of Washington’s most aggressive practitioners of slash-and-burn politics; many fault him for erasing whatever civility once existed in the capital.”
The hostile language Gingrich used against political opponents was codified in a 1990 memo which encouraged Republicans to “speak like Newt” and use words like “radical,” “pathetic,” “sick” and “traitors” when describing Democrats. He most famously used his tactics against Bill Clinton when he was one of the leading advocates for impeachment. At the time Gingrich attacked Democrats for destroying family values (though he later admitted to having extramarital affairs with two successive wives during those years.)
Whether or not it was Gingrich who spearheaded the descent, the political discourse in Washington has never recovered from those contentious days. The government shutdowns in 1995, 1996 and the most recent shutdown in 2013 are a result of the inability of the two parties to reach a consensus. In general, the invectives across party lines has been a constant in the last twenty years of U.S. politics.