Lee Atwater’s home state: dirty tricks thrive there

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Lee Atwater has been dead for some time, but his legacy lives on.

The late Republican Party operative — a South Carolina native — was known as an aggressive campaigner. He was so aggressive, in fact, that many observers called him “dirty,” “mean-spirited,” “cheap.”

The GOP presidential dog-and-pony show is heading into the Palmetto State, where it appears to be quite likely that the nastiness that has punctuated the party primary campaign just might get whole lot nastier.

Oh, I remember some of the recent history relating to South Carolina.

Dirty tricks await the candidates

Perhaps the most memorable hatchet job occurred in 2000, when U.S. Sen. John McCain, fresh off his Republican primary victory in New Hampshire, ran into a dirty-trick buzzsaw.

Someone floated a bogus rumor that Cindy McCain — wife of the former Vietnam prisoner of war — had a “drug problem.” Then came another falsehood, that Sen. McCain had fathered an African-American child out of wedlock.

McCain blamed the dirty tricks on Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s campaign. It rankled McCain so badly that at one GOP debate that year, McCain told Bush to “take your hand off” the senator’s arm.

Lee Atwater was known as a tough-as-nails operative. He died of cancer in 1991. Wherever he is today, I’m quite certain he’d wish he could return to take part in what is likely to become a bloodbath.

It’s the South Carolina way.

So much for southern gentility.

 

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