Does anyone remember, about eight years ago, there was this skinny little guy running for President who kept insisting that he was going to shake up things in Washington? Does anyone remember how - despite his father having been President - this guy kept insisting that he was an outsider, not one of the Washington elite? Does anyone remember how he promised to be "a uniter, not a divider" and to bridge partisan political divides?
Does anyone remember how he got nominated?
Having run Senator John McCain's campaign for president, I can recount a textbook example of a smear made against McCain in South Carolina during the 2000 presidential primary. We had just swept into the state from New Hampshire, where we had racked up a shocking, 19-point win over the heavily favored George W. Bush. What followed was a primary campaign that would make history for its negativity.
In South Carolina, Bush Republicans were facing an opponent who was popular for his straight talk and Vietnam war record. They knew that if McCain won in South Carolina, he would likely win the nomination. With few substantive differences between Bush and McCain, the campaign was bound to turn personal. The situation was ripe for a smear.
It didn't take much research to turn up a seemingly innocuous fact about the McCains: John and his wife, Cindy, have an adopted daughter named Bridget. Cindy found Bridget at Mother Theresa's orphanage in Bangladesh, brought her to the United States for medical treatment, and the family ultimately adopted her. Bridget has dark skin.
Anonymous opponents used "push polling" to suggest that McCain's Bangladeshi born daughter was his own, illegitimate black child.