Sixteen years ago, during the Republican primary campaign, John McCain went into South Carolina with a five-point lead over George W. Bush, having enjoyed a decisive victory in New Hampshire. A certain party with no official links to the Bush campaign organised a phone poll, asking: ‘Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?’ (McCain had taken his adopted daughter, who was born in Bangladesh, on the campaign trail.) It worked like a top for the Bush team. McCain lost the South Carolina primary by eleven points and never recovered. While the smear campaign was underway, during a break in a televised debate between the two candidates, Bush took McCain’s arm and assured him that he, Bush, would never countenance a dirty manoeuvre. ‘Don’t give me that shit,’ McCain told him. ‘And take your hands off me.’

When Donald Trump said the other evening that Bush dropped the ball on 9/11 and ignored serious intelligence that an attack on the World Trade Center was imminent, he was correct. When he said the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a colossal mistake and based on lies perpetrated by the administration about weapons of mass destruction, he was correct. But he was speaking in South Carolina, not Cambridge, Massachusetts or the San Francisco Bay area. The studio audience booed Trump heartily.

It isn’t easy to determine who’s the most vile or freakish of the Republican candidates still standing, but if I were an operative for Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz I would urge them to embark on a smear campaign against Donald Trump, perhaps borrowing a phrase from Jack Kerouac. In On the Road, he describes Roland Major (the character based on Allan Temko) as a ‘choleric, red-faced, pudgy hater’. Trump’s five thousand dollar suits can’t begin to hide that he’s overweight. He is certainly choleric and filled with hate, directed more at those who get in his way than at Mexicans or Muslims, who are simply convenient to scapegoat among the Republican electorate, especially somewhere like South Carolina, which is down there with Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama as one of the most bigoted states in the union, and goddamn proud of it, too.

Why does the Donald become red-faced so quickly and easily? I wonder what his medical chart looks like. Perhaps someone might ‘get hold of it’. I can’t imagine what would happen with President Trump getting on a flight to Jerusalem or Moscow and having it out in a head-to-head with Netanyahu or Putin, both of whom are at least as vile as, but immeasurably cleverer and more treacherous than Trump. Might not Trump simply explode, his dun comb-over exploding like the cap of a volcano, blood spurting forth from his skull like lava? It’s something the voters in the primaries ahead might consider when placing their votes.

Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, one of the longest-serving senators in American history, an unrepentant racist his entire career, died at the age of 100 in 2003. In his younger days, he was affectionately known by his constituents as ‘Sperm Thurmond’, I suppose for his active ‘social life’. Six months after his death, an African-American woman named Essie Mae Washington-Williams came forward and announced that she was his daughter, born on 2 October 1925. The Thurmond family did not deny it. Essie Mae had been treated with kindness – even as a family member – by the Thurmonds over the course of her youth. She was simply asked not to discuss it in public. Washington-Williams published her autobiography in 2005; it was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. She died, aged 87, in 2013.