With less than a week until the first presidential debate, both candidates are hunkering down for some final practice sessions. They'll carefully review tapes of their own performances, as well as those of their opponents.
But these presidential debates don't exist in a vacuum; they're part of a long chain stretching back (at least) to the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960. And over the past half century, candidates have landed some real zingers. Here are the five past debate lines most likely to be quoted, referenced, or paraphrased next Wednesday:
1. Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
Ronald Reagan's famous one-liner said it all in 1980, and it just about sums up Mitt Romney's argument now. The Obama team knows this (in fact, they've already cut an ad referencing it), and they'll no doubt be ready to respond. Look for this line to be front and center.
2. You're no Jack Kennedy.
Lloyd Bentsen's famous smackdown of Dan Quayle in 1988 will be behind many of Obama's responses: Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan. And Barack Obama is no Jimmy Carter.
3. There you go again.
The Gipper is on here twice because he's the all-time presidential debate champ. Either Obama or Romney can use this line. Romney if Obama blames Bush too much. Obama if Romney hammers him over aspects of ObamaCare which mirror RomneyCare.
4. Where's the beef?
Walter Mondale's devastating putdown of Gary Hart in the 1984 Democratic primary might just surface again when Obama attacks Romney's tax plan for a lack of details and specifics. But beware: Wendy's tried to revive this line last year, and it didn't work so well.
5. Judge Douglas is playing cuttlefish.
Okay -- this line is not actually from a presidential debate, and there's no video because it happened a century and a half ago. But Abraham Lincoln's putdown of Stephen Douglas set the gold standard for zingers. Here's the CliffsNotes version: A cuttlefish throws out a cloud of ink to distract its pursuers. Lincoln claimed Douglas was doing the same by obfuscating. On Wednesday, look for both candidates to claim that the other is throwing up smokescreens. But don't look for a direct reference to the cuttlefish -- it doesn't have quite the cultural resonance it did back in Lincoln's day.
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