One has attacked the other as a “slime ball”, “leaker” and “liar”. The target of his tirade has mocked his former boss’s personal appearance and suggested there was no certainty over what really happened in a Moscow hotel room.
Over the past few days, a no-holds-barred fight has played out between Donald Trump, and James Comey, the former FBI Director whom the president fired last May.
The battle comes barely six months ahead of midterm elections that will test the Republicans ability to hold control of the House of Representatives under Mr Trump’s leadership.
Mr Comey, whose memoir will be published on Tuesday, said he was not sure whether Mr Trump had been compromised by the Russians. He has also taken more superficial shots at the president’s “orange” skin and general appearance.
In response, Mr Trump targeted Mr Comey on Twitter on Monday for the ninth time in four days, alleging that the former FBI chief had “committed many crimes” during his time in government service. Officials at the White House and Republican National Committee have also sought to undermine Mr Comey’s credibility.
“Comey’s PR tour reaffirms that his true higher loyalty is to himself,” said Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, on Twitter, making a play on the title of Mr Comey’s new book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.
“The only thing worse than his history of misconduct is his willingness to say anything to sell books," she added.
Which side is seen as winning the fight between the president and his former subordinate seems to depend largely on partisan loyalties of the audience.
But the ranks of the Republicans show signs of nervousness. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s announcement that he was retiring from Congress last week made him only the latest of a series of senior party figures bowing out from fighting November’s elections.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published on Monday showed Democrats to have a four percentage point lead on a generic ballot over Republicans — down from 12 percentage points in January. However, a separate poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News gave Democrats a 7 percentage point advantage over Republicans.
Historically, there have been occasions when voters have changed their mind about a sitting president amid a swirling controversy, says David Greenberg, a presidential historian at Rutgers University. Ronald Reagan’s approval numbers fell during the Iran-Contra scandal, as did Richard Nixon’s during Watergate. Conversely, however, Bill Clinton’s supporters rallied around him during the Monica Lewinsky scandals. “People perceived it as a rightwing attack.”
Yet despite the slight fluctuations in the generic congressional ballots and Mr Trump’s own approval numbers, the two main camps — those who firmly support the president and those who firmly despise him — have wavered little.
“What’s fascinating as always is nothing changes,” said Lary Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “People are in their foxholes and they are not going to get out and cross across the DMZ [demilitarised zone].” The American people and their political opinions, he added, appeared to be entrenched “in cement”.
Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent, said the personal attacks on Mr Trump were likely to distract from the more serious question of Russia’s involvement in the presidential election.
“By kind of personalising it, that bigger and more important point has been diluted a little bit,” said Ms Rangappa, now a senior lecturer at Yale's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. “It’s going to encourage people to retreat to their political cocoons.”
Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats in November to take control of the House. Most polls forecast that they will take a minimum of 16 seats, while some forecast them winning more than the necessary 24. According to the Virginia Center for Politics, 25 House seats are currently toss-ups; while 19 lean Republican and 7 lean Democratic.
“The way I describe it is you have a Democratic tidal wave and a Republican sea wall, and in the House the tidal wave looks taller than the wall,” said Charlie Cook, editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
Republicans are facing a steeper challenge in the House, given the wave of Republican retirements, he added. More than 40 Republican House members have already announced they will not seek re-election, compared to fewer than 20 Democrats, giving Republicans a tougher map to defend come November.
“The more open Republican seats there are, the worse things are for them, and the worse things are for them, the more additional [lawmakers] choose to retire,” said Mr Cook. “Individually few of these matter a whole but collectively they add up. When members see a wave coming, they run for the exit.”