Into the mosh pit: Republican campaign talk gets nastier

WASHINGTON -- In 2011, eyebrows shot up when former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin used a salty acronym -- WTF -- to mock the policies of President Barack Obama.

See Full Article

How quaint.

Five years later, Donald Trump has blown right past acronyms. He's in a profanity-laced campaign for the Republican nomination that has seen multiple candidates hurl insults and disparaging remarks at one another and their critics.

In recent days, Trump has publicly lip-synced the F-bomb, blurted out the S-word more than once, hurled an offensive term for coward at rival Ted Cruz and fired a steady string of put-downs at other candidates whom he labels pathetic, liars, losers, nasty, evil and more.

While Trump started it, other GOP candidates have jumped right into the rhetorical mosh pit, readily trading versions of "liar, liar" in Saturday night's venomous debate.

Cruz has said Trump is "losing it," called out his "Trumpertantrums" and dismissed the billionaire's insults as "hysterical."

Before exiting the race, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie predicted that he could beat Hillary Clinton in a debate, promising, "I'll beat her rear end on that stage," and tormented fellow Republican Marco Rubio as a fragile "boy in the bubble."

Even Jeb Bush, whose 90-year-old mother recently complained that he was too polite, belatedly joined in.

Bush, a favourite target of Trump's taunts, tweeted back: "You aren't just a loser, you are a liar and a whiner." This, after weeks of calling him a "jerk."

It's not that politicians are typically paragons of proper speech and etiquette. They've just tended to keep their name-calling and coarseness off-mic.

Now, it's on the podium -- and by design.

"There's a general taboo-breaking that allows more and more of it to happen faster and faster," says Robert Lane Greene, author of "You Are What You Speak," a book about the politics of language. "The first time somebody does it, eyebrows go up and people get concerned, but then the next person doing it is less eye-opening."

The Democratic nomination contest has been tame in comparison with the Republicans: Hillary Clinton complained of a "low blow" when Bernie Sanders said she was a progressive only on "some days." Sanders, in turn, rejected Clinton's accusation that his campaign had engaged in an "artful smear" by insinuating that she was beholden to Wall Street.

As for the GOP campaign, Greene sees the coarseness of the GOP campaign as evidence that "the contest to become the alpha male in the room has become more obvious this time than in previous elections."

That seems to be just fine with the voters who have put Trump at the top of the polls and handed him a victory in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

About a quarter of Republican voters in New Hampshire said "telling it like it is" was the most important quality to them in selecting a candidate, and two-thirds of those voters went for the potty-mouth guy who tells it like no one else.

"He's real, right?" said Joanne Galvin, an independent voter from Pelham, New Hampshire, explaining her vote for Trump. She dismissed his use of a vulgarity about Cruz at a big rally by saying Trump was simply repeating what someone in the audience had shouted out.

Trump has offered a similar defence and promised he'll tone things down if he gets closer to the presidency, saying, "when you're president, or if you're about to be president, you would act differently."

Asked during Saturday's debate about his penchant for profanity, Trump pledged to knock it off, saying, "I will not do it again ... Not using profanity is very easy." But he also made clear he has no intention of reining in his personal attacks and insults.

A super PAC supporting Bush is hoping Trump's language is a turnoff to South Carolina voters. It's running a radio ad in the state that strings together clips of Trump's expletive-deleted language and then asks, "Is this the type of man we want our children exposed to? The time is now for South Carolina to end the Trump charade."

Trump frames his blunt language as a harmless rejoinder to political correctness run amok, telling one TV interviewer, "Every once in a while you can have a little fun, don't you think?"

But Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on political communication, said Trump has "hijacked" political correctness to justify his routine use of personal attacks. That's causing other candidates to mirror his tactics and creates a worrisome diversion from a needed discussion of ideas, she said.

Harking back to 1988, she recalled when Republican presidential contender Bob Dole stepped over a line when he snapped at GOP primary rival George Bush to "stop lying about my record."

Until then, she said, "candidates did not use the word 'lie' about each other."

It's all part of a broader trend toward informality in politics that has been going on for more than a century, says Greene.

Many Americans are drawn to Trump, Greene says, because he talks like "the guy next to them on the bar stool."

"Some people find the guy next to you on the barstool obnoxious, but a lot of Americans ARE that guy."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • A nasty Hungarian national mood rejects immigrants — and journalists

    World News CBC News
    The Goy Bikers Association of Budapest. Translation: The Non-Jewish Bikers Association of Budapest. We went looking for them as part of a report on the proliferation of extreme-right, xenophobic and anti-Semitic groups in Hungary, clothing themselves as nationalist defenders of the land. Source
  • 'We must kill the black snake': Prophecy and prayer motivate Standing Rock movement

    World News CBC News
    There is an ancient Lakota prophecy about a black snake that would slither across the land, desecrating the sacred sites and poisoning the water before destroying the Earth. For many Indigenous people gathered near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, that snake has a name — the Dakota Access pipeline. Source
  • Cheers! Birthday boy given $288 fine for dangerous Vancouver SkyTrain ride

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Most people are happy to reach another birthday, but at least one reveller who was out celebrating his 20th didn't seem to mind tempting mortality. Just after midnight on Dec. 9, Transit Police were notified of a man who was riding in between cars on a SkyTrain headed eastbound. Source
  • Toronto FC loses MLS Cup to Sounders in penalty kicks

    Canada News CBC News
    Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei came back to haunt his former team as the Sounders defeated Toronto 5-4 in a penalty shootout to win the MLS Cup and end a long, chilly Saturday night. It was 0-0 after regulation, with Frei keeping Seattle in the game with a marvellous save in extra time. Source
  • Rex Tillerson, top contender for secretary of State, is CEO with close ties to Russia

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- President-elect Donald Trump has found an accomplished American executive in Rex Tillerson, but one whose longstanding support for free trade, international law and an expansive U.S. presence in the Middle East largely doesn't fit with what Trump has pitched to supporters. Source
  • Italian President Sergio Mattarella vows quick fix to country's PM crisis

    World News CBC News
    Italian President Sergio Mattarella pledged on Saturday to act quickly to solve a government crisis prompted by Matteo Renzi's resignation as prime minister, with all major parties calling for elections as soon as possible. Before any vote can take place, however, Italy needs a new electoral law. Source
  • Crowded Nigerian church collapses, killing at least 60

    World News Toronto Sun
    LAGOS, Nigeria — The roof of a crowded church collapsed onto worshippers in southern Nigeria on Saturday, killing at least 60 people, witnesses and an official said. The Reigners Bible Church International in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom state, was still under construction and workers had been rushing to finish it in time for Saturday’s ceremony to ordain founder Akan Weeks as a bishop, congregants said. Source
  • Tanker rams into vehicles on Kenya road, killing more than 30

    World News Toronto Sun
    NAIROBI, Kenya — A tanker carrying chemical gas slammed into other vehicles and burst into flames on a major road in Kenya, killing more than 30 people and injuring 10, officials said Sunday. The vehicle lost control while going downhill on the road from the capital of Nairobi to Naivasha late Saturday, said Mwachi Pius Mwachi, the deputy director and communications officer for the National Disaster Management Unit. Source
  • 2 explosions outside Istanbul soccer stadium; 29 killed, 166 wounded [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    ISTANBUL — Two explosions struck Saturday night outside a major soccer stadium in Istanbul after fans had gone home, an attack that wounded at least 20 police officers, Turkish authorities said. One of the blasts was thought to be a car bomb and the second appeared to have been caused by a suicide bomber. Source
  • Montreal cabbie, 77, struggles to retire as ride-sharing apps devalue taxi permits

    Canada News CTV News
    Canada’s aging cab drivers fear the rise of ride-hailing apps like Uber will render their pricey government-issued operating permits worthless. Many are counting on selling them at a profit to provide a nest egg for retirement. Source