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Wife Wars in Politics: Not Unique to Trump and Cruz


Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are engaged in one of their most contentious battles yet — not about ISIS, not about immigration, not about policy at all. Instead, they’re fighting about their wives. (0:13)


It’s one thing to try to attack another candidate. It’s another thing to come after my wife. (0:05)

HOST INTRO 2: And while it might seem like a new low in a primary season that has already gotten more personal than usual, Katie Ferguson reports this type of political mudslinging is not so out of the ordinary. (0:11)

FERGUSON 1: If you want to know about the worst wife war, you’re going to have to go back a few years. One hundred and eighty eight, back to 1828 and the election between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. (0:11)

SWINT 1: Andrew Jackson’s wife was called a bigamist because she had been married before. (0:05)

FERGUSON 2: Kerwin Swint is the author of Mudslingers: The Twenty Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time. He says long before Trump and Cruz, the election of 1828 set a standard for just how low we can go. (0:12)


Andrew Jackson’s wife died during that campaign, and he attributed her death to the toll it took on her personally and blamed his opponents, the Adams’ campaign, for driving his wife to the grave. (0:13)

FERGUSON 3: So if it seems like this is the most mudslinging, the most negative campaigning we’ve ever had, Swint says it’s not. (0:06)


It was worse early on in our country’s history. I mean, the 1800s were the time of really intense mudslinging and some of these personal kinds of attacks. (0:09)

FERGUSON 4: Swint says it’s not rare to see these kinds of personal attacks play out during a presidential race. But they usually come from surrogates, like campaign personnel or political action committees. What’s unusual is to see them coming from the presidential candidates themselves. (0:14)


When you attack someone’s family in a personal way, that’s not looked at as okay by the public, and so you’re likely to do yourself more damage than your opponents, so there’s a good practical reason for staying away from it. (0:13)

FERGUSON 5: Doug Forand is a political consultant who advises candidates on media strategy. He agrees. (0:05)


You don’t do it because ultimately, you’re asking the voters to like you and trust you. And if they feel like you’re just not a decent human being, then they’re not likely to do that. (0:09)

FERGUSON 6: But attacks between Trump and Cruz have been escalating. Gavin Kilduff is a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, and he studies rivalries. He says between the twelve debates, six forums, and who knows how many Tweets, the candidates have come up against each other time and time and time again. (0:19)


Basically, if you find yourself competing against the same person over and over again, you develop stronger feelings of rivalry towards that person, which then have been shown to lead to basically unethical behavior, and personal attacks are a pretty similar category of behavior. (0:19)

FERGUSON 7: Kilduff says studies on rivalry — mainly on rivalries in sports — have found that animus deepens with each game that’s played. In a sport like soccer, that means– (0:11)


In the games between those rival teams, the players commit significantly higher numbers of yellow and red cards, which are often given for like, dangerous tackles and unsportsmanlike conduct. (0:10)

FERGUSON 8: And on the playing field of electoral politics, that unsportsmanlike conduct translates to trash talk. Trash talk that’s just as petty than it was in the days of Andrew Jackson, but now, is louder. Author Kerwin Swint says that social media is acting as a megaphone. (0:17)


There’s no doubt that the rise of social media has contributed to this sort of flaming effect where it’s more acceptable to talk trash about your opponents and your adversaries. I mean, Trump’s favorite tactic is Twitter, after all. (0:16)

FERGUSON 9: Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams didn’t have Twitter, but as for the mudslinging in this year’s presidential election, Swint says it will probably get worse. Because remember: Trump and Cruz — they’re technically on the same team. But when the Democrats and Republicans pick their nominees, he says we’re probably going to see more red cards.

Katie Ferguson, Columbia Radio News. (0:27)


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