When Donald Trump said he would be as combative as president as he was in Tuesday’s news conference in which he attacked reporters for pressing him for details on how he distributed money he raised for veterans, presidential scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson said she believed it.
Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has for decades studied presidential campaigns and discourse. Her 1993 book, “Dirty Politics: Distortion, Distraction and Democracy,” is among scores of books, academic papers and publications she has written.
On Tuesday, Jamieson said she could not think of another major presidential candidate in U.S. history who had been as personally and repeatedly vindictive in public toward his rivals and opponents as Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.
“Not the individual name calling, not the impugning the integrity of individuals. Go back to FDR, and the attacks on the rich. Or Truman and the attacks on Congress,” she said, referring to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served from 1933 until his death in 1945, and President Harry S. Truman, who succeeded him.
“Those were attacks on institutions, not impugning the integrity of the individuals,” Jamieson said.
And Jamieson said that at his age Trump is unlikely to change his style of public rhetoric.
Meena Bose, a presidential scholar and political science professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, said she also could not think of any presidential candidate who unleashed personal attacks as often as Trump, though she said several major candidates in the past have used inflammatory rhetoric.
“The 1952 presidential campaign was quite contentious,” Bose said of the race between Truman, the incumbent Democratic president, and war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican candidate.
“Truman was very critical of what he viewed as Eisenhower’s lack of knowledge of politics, but those were not the sustained personal attacks we have seen in the 2016 campaign,” Bose said.
In the nation’s first few decades, surrogates did the campaigning for presidential candidates, Jamieson said. Party-controlled newspapers and anonymous pamphlets levied brutal personal attacks and rumors, many of them spurious, about rivals.
The candidates themselves said nothing.
But Jamieson noted that “You have had presidents who have been highly vindictive.”
In private, Republican Richard M. Nixon delivered diatribes about individuals, went on anti-Semitic rants and plotted illegal activities. Those comments and actions were only revealed when his secret tapes were made public during the Watergate scandal.
Yet, Jamieson said, “Nixon’s public rhetoric was far more constrained.”
About Trump, Jamieson said, “His rhetoric is counterpunching.” She added, “If someone is a compulsive counterpuncher, you have to wonder what happens when [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un criticizes him.”
On Tuesday, Trump called an ABC correspondent a “sleaze,” and said political reporters were “unbelievably dishonest.” Last week, Trump identified the American-born federal judge who is presiding in a case involving his Trump University a “Mexican” and called him “a hater of Donald Trump.”
When a reporter asked him if this was how it would be in the White House press briefing room if he becomes president, Trump said, “Yes, it is. It is going to be like this.”