Remember the time Republicans clutched their pearls and acted supremely offended when former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska's family got dragged into stories about the 2008 presidential campaign?
The American Thinker tut-tutted over the "abhorrent personal attacks" on Palin and her family. A column on TownHall.com listed the "despicable" ways liberals supposedly targeted the Republican vice presidential candidate. The story went so far as to blame Democrats for the Hustler porn parody film "Nailin' Palin," as if Barack Obama and Joe Biden were behind the camera and operating the boom mics.
As the campaign moved forward, the Republicans even began using the issue to squeeze more money from their donors.
But Palin herself opened her family up to attacks the moment she trotted them out on stage during the Republican convention, and began using anecdotes about her kids and husband to convince voters she was just a good old, blue-collar, freedom-loving American.
If you use your family as a campaign prop, your family becomes fair game. This has been an unwritten rule of politics as far back as anyone can remember, since before late night comedians feasted on jokes about Chelsea Clinton's looks.
Enter Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and his supposedly unaffiliated super political action committee targeting voters with a photo of Republican front-runner Donald Trump's wife, Melania. The photo, which was blasted to tens of thousands of self-identified Mormons on Facebook ahead of Utah's March 22 primary, was taken from a British GQ shoot, and features Melania lying on a bed of furs, with her private parts strategically covered.
Above the photo, meme-style text reads: "Meet Melania Trump, your next First Lady. Or you could vote for Ted Cruz on Tuesday."
The message was clear: Here's a woman of low moral character who -- gasp! -- as a model, posed for a racy photograph 16 years ago. As good Christians, you can't possibly vote for her husband.
Cruz denied having anything to do with the slut-shaming ad. Just like he denied he had anything to do with a his alleged move in New Hampshire, when his campaign reportedly spread a rumor that then-candidate Ben Carson was dropping out of the race, so Carson's voters should support Cruz instead.
While the way Cruz targeted Mrs. Trump was sexist, attacking her was not. Mrs. Trump has campaigned for her husband, and has made the media rounds as an interview subject. Likewise, he brought Mrs. Trump and daughter Ivanka out with him to stump in Iowa for the first primary.
Trump responded to the attack on his wife the only way he knows how -- with a juvenile retort, threatening to "spill the beans" on Cruz's wife, Heidi. The threat, issued via Twitter, was "liked" more than 35,000 times by users on the social media network.
Cruz, predictably, cried foul. He made noises about how "real men" don't attack each other's wives, called Trump classless, and postured as if he was above such nonsense.
But Mrs. Cruz is fair game as well. She put her job as a high-powered wealth manager for Goldman Sachs on hold to campaign for her husband, often appearing alongside him on stage or holding her own events. Behind closed doors, she's one of the Cruz campaign's most prolific fundraisers, helping her husband outdistance all other Republican hopefuls with $66 million in direct funding, and another $60 million in funding to related super PACs, according to The Washington Post.
Of course, Cruz won't miss an opportunity to cry foul, even as he's hitting other candidates below the belt. Trump isn't innocent either, and isn't doing himself any favors by behaving like a schoolyard bully. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio is the only one of the remaining three Republicans who hasn't been flinging family-related mud.
The mud-slinging shows no sign of tapering off before the GOP convention in July, but voters are smart enough to realize that when a candidate claims outrage over another candidate's jabs at his or her family, it's just more posturing.