HOLMBERG: Nasty campaigns are nothing new, but now citizens join in via social media

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RICHMOND, Va. -- The wives of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz joined their husbands in the mud of the campaign trail this week.

It's hardly new.

"There have been nasty campaigning ever since America was a nation," said political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth. "In our first election, candidates went after one other time and time again. When Andrew Jackson ran for president, his wife was a big issue."

Rachel Jackson had been previously married, and some believed she wasn't properly divorced at the time she married Andrew Jackson.

It became such an ugly campaign issue, she was literally hounded to death, Jackson believed. Even though he won the election, his wife died before the inauguration.

The Jackson campaign, by the way, accused John Quincy Adams of being a pimp.

And man, if you think the media is biased now, you should have seen us back then.

One influential journalist went after the first John Adams for being neither man nor woman, but a hermaphrodite.

"Two centuries ago, the rhetoric was just as bad," Holsworth said. "But the penetration, you might say, in terms of how quickly people could learn about what was being said was for slower than it is today."

So most didn't hear about Thomas Jefferson's suspected coziness with his slaves, or accusations that his godlessness would encourage America's wives and daughters to become prostitutes.

The mass media that arrived later would've jumped on it.

It has derailed potential presidencies, such as Gary Hart's "monkey business," and haunted others, as Bill and Hillary Clinton know.

But social media has taken it a few steps further, ushering in an era in which rumors and attacks spread like viruses, instantly, and everyone can join in.

And it's not just the candidates who are under attack. More and more, the supporters of those candidates have become the targets of smear campaigns and stereotyping by their fellow citizens.

The campaigns now pit friends against friends, neighbors against neighbors, and class, cultural, ethnic and racial groups against one another, in my view.

So in that sense, the campaign viciousness that was born with this country has worsened, at least in terms of active participation.

Will it get any better any time soon?

"We always think that it can't get worse," Holsworth said. "But then it does."