You may think this is the most vicious campaign you’ve ever heard about. Well, 2016 was no debutante dance. But there have been much worse presidential contests than either 2016 or 2020. Here they are in order from least to most cutthroat.
1912— The GOP is split in two by Teddy Roosevelt who goes on a progressive (not in today’s definition) crusade. Teddy was a drama queen at the best of times. But presently he takes his former protege and now president, the innocuous William Howard Taft, and turns him into an evil despot. Teddy actually says, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!”
Uh, no. He was battling against the guy he put into office. Teddy gets weirder and weirder, accusing poor Taft of all kinds of unlikely plots and conspiracies.
Who benefits? The man who went on to become the worst president in American history, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson is elected because Teddy couldn’t stand being out of the limelight.
1884— Democrat NY Governor Grover Cleveland is gaining on Republican James G. Blaine. Blaine had been hit with charges of corruption years earlier. But America had not elected a Democrat to the White House since the Civil War twenty years ago. Then it comes out that Cleveland had fathered a kid out of wedlock ten years prior. The GOP breaks into the campaign chant “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House ha, ha, ha!”
This is 19th century America and it’s a serious issue. Cleveland plays it smart, admits paternity, and shuts up about it. The GOP enlists preachers and papers nationwide to brand him a lecher and a libertine. They go after him with a vengeance. But Blaine’s corruption tops Cleveland’s indiscretions. Cleveland wins.
1800— The first hotly contested race after the American Revolution is between incumbent Federalist John Adams and Democrat-Republican (I know) Thomas Jefferson. Adams says Jefferson will make everyone become a Roman Catholic, is secretly black (?), loved the bloodthirsty French Revolution and wanted to bring it here.
Adams also pretty much said Jefferson had sex with the devil. Jefferson says Adams wants to be king, hates poor people, and will sell the country back to the British. Jefferson wins because Alexander Hamilton takes a walk on Adams.
1828— Big winner by far. It pits two stone cold crazy men against each other. Jackson likes to shoot people in duels and J.Q. Adams, the son of the president mentioned immediately above, has a look in his eyes only seen in serial killers and third wave feminists.
Jackson is the first Trumpian candidate. He’s a frontier populist, a famous general, and hates the establishment of his day. But again, he is a murder robot. Thinking America won’t like that, Adams puts out out a flyer that features six coffins. He’s trying to remind voters of the men Jackson has admitted to wasting. But voters decide that is really badass and elect Jackson in a 56%-44% double digit landslide.
See, 2020 is a picnic hamper compared to those.