The Media has been consistently confused by Donald Trump's rise in the polls because they've predicted since the summer that his trash talking would sink his campaign. Though he sounds like a belligerent New York cabbie at the end of his shift, Trump keeps garnering support despite the way he insults his opponents in debates and via Twitter.
He's savaged Carly Fiorina's looks and Jeb Bush's energy, and the foundation of his attack is the physical shtik: the shrugs, the sneers, and the delivery in that outer borough voice tailor-made for insults. I grew up in New York hearing guys like him who could yell "Hey lady, get outta the way!" and make it sound like the worst put down.
But despite Trump's business acumen, he's really a tyro when it comes to trash talk, which has a long, glorious history in American journalism, satire, and politics. Benjamin Franklin complained about it in 1771: "Libeling and Personal Abuse [have] of late Years become so disgraceful to our Country."
Here are some all-American gems which make Trump's tirades seem lame:
"If ignorance ever goes to $40 a barrel, I want drilling rights on George Bush's head."
Jim Hightower about George Herbert Walker Bush:
"He's thin, boys. He's thin as piss on a hot rock."
Senator William E. Jenner about New York's Governor Averell Harriman
"Reader, suppose you were an idiot; and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself."
Mark Twain about Congress
"He's a nice fellow but he spent too much time playing football without a helmet."
Lyndon Johnson about Gerald Ford
"[His] foreign policy experience is pretty much confined to having had breakfast once at the International House of Pancakes."
Pat Buchanan about Bill Clinton
"The moral character of Jefferson was repulsive. Continually puling about liberty, equality, and the degrading curse of slavery, he brought his own children to the hammer, and made money of his debaucheries."
Alexander Hamilton about Thomas Jefferson
"As an intellectual he bestowed upon the games of golf and bridge all the enthusiasm and perseverance that he withheld from books and ideas."
Emmet Hughes writing about President Eisenhower
"... and to you, sir, treacherous in private friendship ... and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor, whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any."
Thomas Paine writing to George Washington
Talking heads are predicting Trump would have to quiet down his rhetoric in a general election. Maybe not. Maybe he'd actually reach more people drawing on our classic American style. He may not be Winston Churchill, the master of the withering put down, but if he got an insult coach he could make America great again--in the realm of political insult.
Lev Raphael is the author of the mysteryHot Rocks and 24 other books in many genres.