WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump opened a sordid new chapter Tuesday in America's history of ugly political rhetoric, sharing a tweet that falsely suggests Democratic nominee Joe Biden is a pedophile.
Presidential campaigns long have trafficked in lurid accusations of extramarital affairs, drunkenness and corrupt behavior. But Trump has aimed lower, personally tapping baseless conspiracy theories to smear his opponent.
The latest outrage arrived in the retweet of an anonymous account that was suddenly granted presidential amplification seven weeks before the election.
Someone using the name "Conservative Girl" posted a video clip under the hashtag "PedoBiden." It showed then-Vice President Biden placing his hands on the shoulder of a woman and whispering to her during the swearing-in ceremony for her husband, Ash Carter, as defense secretary in February 2015.
Stephanie Carter defended Biden when the photo became a meme, praising him as "a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful."
The president's suggestion of child sex abuse echoes the ravings of QAnon, the internet conspiracy theory that falsely claims the president is battling a secret cabal of Democratic pedophiles. The president thanked QAnon last month, saying, "I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate."
Since taking office, Trump has voiced thousands of falsehoods and insults to provoke the media and excite his fans. He's gambling now that his harsh rhetoric about Biden will create doubts for undecided voters and light a spark under supporters who might not vote.
In recent days, he has accused Biden of being mentally "shot" and "on drugs," and implied that the 77-year-old will not be fit to serve within a month of taking office. Trump is 74.
The president blames Democrats for the escalation. Over the weekend, he complained bitterly about a Biden campaign ad that focused on Trump's reported remarks that U.S. soldiers buried in France were "losers" and "suckers."
"Pathetic Joe, he's a pathetic human being to allow that to happen," Trump told a rally Saturday in Henderson, Nevada. "Now I can be really vicious."