Was Trump-Clinton the dirtiest clash in US political history?

Presidential debates which turned nasty throughout history

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (Getty)

Monday, October 10, 2016

No matter their political persuasion, Americans seem unanimous on one thing this morning: last night's debate was pretty nasty.

From the first bell, it seemed Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were desperate to take each other down by any means necessary. Trump said Clinton should be in jail, while his rival was more than happy to turn his recently publicised remarks about groping women into political capital.

But how did the debate compare with the dirtiest debates in American history? Can we say with certainty that last night's debate plumbed new depths?

Well to find out, talkRADIO combed the annals and dredged up some of the most notorious run-ins in the history of our trans-atlantic cousins. Here's a rundown:

The guy who jumped on Hillary

Few will remember a time when it was Bill, not Hillary Clinton who was the political powerhouse of the family. But during the 1990s Bill was the most powerful man in the world, and back then he was often forced to defend Hillary, rather than the other way round.

In 1992 Bill was highly offended when Jerry Brown accused him of "funneling money to his wife's law firm for state business." Clinton exclaimed "you ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife." Not quite as cheap as last night's exchange, but close.

Was this dirtier than last night? No, not quite.

'I paid for this microphone'

In 1980, debate moderator Jon Breen tried to turn off Ronald Reagan's microphone during a debate with Jimmy Carter. But Reagan fought back, claiming he "paid for this microphone". The audience cheered and gave him a standing ovation. Trump would doubtless have approved.

Dirtier than last night? No, but still not particularly edifying

'Where's the beef'?

In 1984 Walter Mondale used a catchphrase taken from a Wendy's fast food advert, "Where's the beef?" to take down rival Gary Hart, suggesting there was no substance to Hart's ideas.

While a memorable and highly effectively piece of trash-talking, it can't really be described as dirty.

Dirtier than Trump-Clinton? Definitely not.

The slavery debate

In 1858 the then little-known Abraham Lincoln faced off against his Democratic rival Stephen Douglas in a presidential debate which hinged on the slavery question, a burning issue in the years leading up to the Civil War. 

In those dim and distant days the Republican party was the voice of progress and tolerance, while the Democrats represented America's conservative establishment - the planters who controlled the South and depended on slavery.

Some of the remarks made by Douglas are deeply offensive to the modern reader, such as his claim that "I am opposed to negro citizenship in any and every form". However in the context of the time they were fairly normal, and both Lincoln and Douglas generally behaved with respect and moderacy.

Dirtier than Trump-Clinton? Viewed from the 21st century, possibly. In context, definitely not.

The time when that guy got shot

Ok so this wasn't a presidential debate. In fact it wasn't a debate of any kind, really. But in terms of dirtiness it takes some beating, because someone died as a result.

In 1804 Aaron Burr, at the time the vice-president of the United States, challenged Alexander Hamilton, one of the country's founding fathers, to a duel after Hamilton had made a stream of negative comments against him in the media. In 21st century terms, it was a bit like Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage deciding to have a scrap over a Twitter war. Or two Ukip MEPs taking an argument outside in Brussels.

But what happened back in 1804 made last week's Ukip wrestling match look like a child's tea party. Burr fatally wounded Hamilton in the duel, bringing one of the most storied of American lives to a premature end. Burr was indicted for murder in both New York and New Jersey and the scandal ruined his political career.

We think we've found our winner.

Dirtier than Trump-Clinton? Well given that someone actually died, we reckon yes.