Looking for a historical precedent for 2016's nasty presidential campaign

News 8's Kevin Reece has more.

In a presidential debate that got more personal than perhaps any other debate before, the reviews are in.

On the WFAA Facebook page, viewer comments included people calling Clinton and Trump “two absolutely ridiculous candidates" who "both live in glass houses" in a "disgusting and appalling election" participating in a “pathetic” debate.

Has America ever seen anything like it?

“Probably not, in public,” said UT Arlington political science professor Allan Saxe. But he, along with a fellow debate-watching expert across town, reminded us of a couple of points of context.

"In the 19th century, there were very personal debates and campaigns,” said political science professor Cal Jillson at SMU.

Jillson pointed to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as an example. The year was 1800, Adams was running for re-election against Jefferson, his own vice-president.

Jefferson’s camp publicly described President Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character.” Adams' camp responded by accusing Jefferson of fathering a mixed-race child with one of his slaves.

"We now know that that was true,” Jillson said of the accusation against Jefferson. “But that was considered to be a way-below-the-belt charge back in the day.”

And Saxe brought up another topic to consider, perhaps in Trump's favor.

He said to think about President Harry Truman. While Saxe says Truman was a great president, he says Truman was not necessarily good with words in an off-the-cuff public debate.

"They viewed [Truman] as a man who was not prepared to be president. He was a politician," Saxe said. "And, by the way, he could curse, too, a couple of times!"

But while each expert downplayed the outlandishness of the latest debate, they agreed on two things: Trump is way behind in the polls.

“He solidified his base of 40 percent, but he didn't grow it at all," Jillson said. "And 40 percent doesn't win you a presidential election."

They also agreed debate No. 3 should be a doozy.

"On Oct. 19, it could be wilder than the second one,” Saxe said.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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