In his 1988 Vice Presidential debate with Dan Quayle, Lloyd Bentsen landed a still memorable blow that essentially ended the night: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Bentsen wasn’t the first to land a knock-out blow with a line or action that had nothing to do with policy. Far from it. The very first televised presidential debate is remembered for only one thing: Nixon sweating.
While I understand the power of visuals or a really good zinger, I hope Hillary focuses on policy and being presidential in the upcoming debates. Why? Because the zingers are what got Trump here. He’s been publicly ripping people since long before this election season. And he’s good at it.
There are three key reasons why Hillary should avoid the trap of going tit for tat with a guy who lives for these exchanges. First, he’s way funnier than she is; and much more used to being in the personal-attack arena (he makes Triumph the Insult Dog sound like a Yoga Instructor at a Northern California Self-Help Retreat). Second, such exchanges will only pull her down to his level. And as we’ve seen over many months, there’s absolutely no way he can rise to hers. We’ve been hearing about the coming Trump pivot. But the only pivots Trump makes are from bad to worse. And third, the road to the White House is littered with the burned out corpses of career politicians who tried to go diss for diss with The Donald. Little Marco. Lyin’ Ted. Low Energy Jeb (It may not have seemed like he was trying to rip Donald, but that’s just because he’s Jeb).
But Hillary doesn’t need anyone else as an example. She and her social media team spent a couple of weeks lobbing funny, biting, viral tweets in Trump’s direction. Those were the weeks the race tightened.
There’s one more reason that Hillary shouldn’t waste time with lowball attacks: Trump can’t be hurt by them. If he could be hurt in the way normal politicians can be hurt, he would’ve been long dead from self-inflicted wounds. He has ridiculed prisoners of war, attacked parents of soldiers killed in action, and deeply offended almost every voting block— including deplorables — on many occasions. Forget John Kennedy, this guy is no Dan Quayle. But none of it sticks to Teflon Don.
Am I suggesting that Hillary go easy on the Donald and ignore the fact that he is wildly unqualified for the job? No. She should be tough. She should be smart. She should make him seem small.
But she should leave the lowbrow personal attacks and cheap shots where they belong. In my Twitter stream.