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The Story Behind the Best Debate Zinger Ever

Vice-Presidential candidates Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (left) and Sen. Dan Quayle facing off in their 1988 debate
Vice-Presidential candidates Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (left) and Sen. Dan Quayle facing off in their 1988 debatePhotograph by Steve Liss/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

For all that they’re hyped, presidential and vice presidential debates are usually quickly forgotten. But every once in a while, a candidate gets off a line so devastating, funny, or embarrassing that it lives on through the ages. Mitt Romney’s camp has insinuated that their candidate is arming himself with lines in hopes of deploying just such a “zinger”—the term of art this campaign cycle. Coincidentally, Ron Klain, a Democratic campaign operative who was involved in the deadliest zinger ever deployed, has just explained how it came to be. The line in question was Lloyd Bentsen’s devastating put-down of Dan Quayle during the 1988 vice presidential debate after Quayle compared himself to John F. Kennedy: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

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