Clinton, Trump sharpen attacks
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Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms Special counsel issues rare statement disputing explosive Cohen report MORE and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' MORE have sharpened their rhetoric on race as an already negative presidential race threatens to reach previously unseen levels. 

Clinton did everything but directly accuse Trump of being a racist in a major speech Thursday that was heavily touted by her campaign, ripping the GOP nominee for retweeting white supremacist Twitter accounts and embracing voices on the outskirts of politics that represent the country's worst traditions. 

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Trump has responded by calling Clinton a bigot and a bully, arguing that she is playing to the lowest denominator by accusing he and his supporters of racism. 

This week's skirmishes portend an even more negative fall, as both campaigns have made it clear that they believe their best path to victory is by ripping down their opponent's reputation. 

“Nobody should be surprised that we are in for the nastiest election we’ve ever seen,” said Christian Ferry, Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Dem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report MORE’s former presidential campaign manager. 

“The Trump campaign welcomes the opportunity to engage in the name-calling and fierce attacks, and now the Clinton campaign is stooping to the same level.”

Clinton and Trump both are no strangers to the rough-and-tumble. 

Democrats have embarked on a summer-long mission to hammer Trump for controversial comments about the parents of a Muslim-American fallen soldier and a Hispanic-American judge. 

And Republicans have seized on the constant drip of Clinton’s private emails and revelations about her family foundation to cast her as corrupt.

But Clinton went much further on Thursday.

Her campaign teased her speech hours ahead of time by releasing a video that directly tied Trump to the Ku Klux Klan. 

Then Clinton took the stage to prosecute Trump as a conspiracy theorist who fans the flames of racism, hammering him for hiring Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon. 

“A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military,” Clinton said.

The speech took on a heavy lift.

Clinton was attempting to knock headlines about her email server and foundation woes from the front page, while calling on her base and even Republicans to join up against the perceived Trump threat.

Looking to preempt the attacks, Trump first called Clinton a bigot on Wednesday night, and then accused Clinton of looking to “smear” his followers in remarks just an hour before she spoke. 

On Friday, he dredged up Clinton’s controversial 1996 remark framing some black youths as “super predators,” comments that Clinton apologized for during the campaign.

Geoffrey Skelley, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, called the developments another step closer to the “Hall of Fame for ugliest campaign ever" between two historically unpopular candidates. 

“We’ve been building and building toward an incredible ugly campaign and now we have both candidates openly calling the other racist—I’m not really sure we’ve seen that before,” he said. 

Notably, Trump’s prominent Republican allies didn’t rush to his defense—neither House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (Wis.) nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation MORE (Ky.) made comments about Clinton framing their party’s nominee as racist. 

Republican National Committee strategist Sean Spicer criticized Clinton during an MSNBC interview on Friday, but declined to call her a bigot, saying he didn’t use such language.

“The sound of silence among mainstream Republican elected officials yesterday is stunning,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said on “Morning Joe” Friday. 

Ferry, who also served as John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Mark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally MORE’s presidential deputy campaign manager, chalked that up to not wanting to prolong the narrative on enemy territory. 

“I think it was more about people wanting to turn a focus different than to where Donald Trump wanted to be,” he said. 

“Most Republicans want to make this race about Hillary Clinton and her honesty and trustworthiness problems. Continuing to talk about other issues is only distracting from their message.” 

But there’s also concern about saddling up with Trump and the “alt-right” wing of the party embraced by Bannon and Breitbart. 

The news site regularly hammers establishment Republicans, especially Ryan. And Ryan specifically criticized Trump for a number of the controversial comments cited by Clinton, which could open him up to his own criticism if he came out to defend Trump.