However, manufactured, irrelevant, cruel and incorrect rumors or outright falsehoods designed to damage or destroy an opponent are easily described as dirty tricks. They serve to tie up the opponent into defending against and answering false charges rather than explaining their policies and platform.
Sometimes dirty tricks are not only aimed at slandering the opponent. Dishing the dirt against your candidate's opponent can be effective at alienating voters in order to turn them off from the entire project. These tactics may reduce turnout in order to assure your candidate gains by having his/her core voters show up at the polls; thus, an operative molds the outcome by angering everyone.
Political speech is protected by the Constitution in the United States and it is rare that a wronged candidate sues for slander after an election season is concluded. Laws were introduced in the UK to prevent untrue statements being made about candidates—see Miranda Grell for a 2007 case.
Political candidates have been accused by their opponents of every sin and crime ever described, from graft and vice to bribery and communism, polygamy, drug use, spousal abuse, fascism, pedophilia, miscegenation, cannibalism, adultery, stupidity, demagoguery, mental illness and support for nudism.
The story of dirty tricks in American politics begins with the first campaign for President of the United States, in the 1790s. Thomas Jefferson hired journalist and pamphleteer James Thomas Callender to slander his opponent, Alexander Hamilton. After a falling out, Callender turned on Jefferson and published attacks on his previous employer.
As a result of post-Watergate reform legislation, such activities are strictly regulated, though other private entities still may practice what has become commonly referred to as questionable or unethical dirty tricks.
Recent nomenclature equates a Dirty Tricks Squad to any organized, covert attempt to besmirch the credibility or reputation of a candidate, individual or organization so as to render them ineffective.
It has also been regarded that the Republican Party used dirty tricks to try to remove Democratic President Bill Clinton from office, and defame him, with the Lewinsky Scandal. At the time, the Republican Party had the most seats in the United States Congress, and Republican Kenneth Starr served as the Independent Counsel and was in charge of submitting investigation reports to Congress as well. Investigations showed that Starr's investigation into the scandal was flawed and did not have convincing evidence.
In Israel, a 1990 political scandal in which Shimon Peres tried to bring down the Likud-led government and establish an Alignment-led one later became known as the dirty trick, a term coined by Yitzhak Rabin during an interview.