Now that the general election matchup is settled, the Democratic Party is starting to coordinate their anti-Trump strategy and messaging. As usual, their product is almost unbelievably lame: "Dangerous Donald." Apparently that is the best slur they can come up with, so if you live in a swing state, get ready to hear that 900 times a day for the next six months.
But in the meantime, somebody else needs to actually come up with some decent Trump put-downs — something that at a minimum does not portray him as some sort of cool, leather-jacketed rebel. Elizabeth Warren has been putting together a reasonable first pass, getting in multi-day Twitter fights with Trump by ridiculing his pathetic business record and his extensive history of vile sexism.
However, there is one Democratic senator with the detailed, on the ground expertise this garbage reality show hellscape of an election requires. Someone, indeed, whose entire career has been leading up to this point. That someone is Al Franken, the junior Democratic senator from Minnesota.
The very obvious weakness of Trump when it comes to political trench warfare is that, like most bullies, he can dish it out, but he can't take it. He can utterly humiliate a gutless patrician like Jeb Bush, but it's extremely easy to bait him into undignified bursts of outrage. Alex Pareene managed it back in 2012 with a few paragraphs in Salon.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2012
On one level, Trump sort of thrives on this stuff. In the context of the Republican primary, stooping to his level of juvenility didn't work for Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.
However, the general election will be very different than the Republican primary. First, none of the other Republicans were any better than Bush at trading barbs. Marco Rubio sounded like a panicky high-schooler reading from a memorized sheet of insults his dad wrote down for him, and Ted Cruz sounds like a smug oleaginous weasel regardless of what he's saying. Anyone who's even slightly creative and self-confident ought to be able to do far better than that.
The general election will also be before a very different audience than the Republican primary electorate. Before GOP base voters, Trump's bigotry and sexism played pretty well, or could at least be looked past. But before the rest of the country, he can't afford to stoop to the vile slurs that are quite obviously right below the surface. He needs to look presidential as much as possible, and one way to throw a wrench in that effort is to bait him into saying vile stuff.
As I said, Elizabeth Warren has a good start. But Al Franken is, so far as I can tell, the only former comedian in Congress from either party. He was on Saturday Night Live for many years, and wrote several comedy books, including Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right — both genuinely funny and full of quite nasty insults. He knows this stuff backwards and forwards.
One thing Franken could do, aside from baiting Trump himself, is teach Democratic politicos how not to sound like the bloodless technocrats who have long since had the personality crushed out of them. He could knock together a few slideshows, hold a conference or two, and teach at least a few how to perform a reasonable approximation of "witty." Because it's probably best if people like Warren and Franken et al take point in mocking Trump, allowing Clinton to stay above the fray.
During his Senate career, Franken has been relatively modest and quiet, probably due to the personality-crushing mechanism (read: constant begging of rich people for money) I described above. But he surely remembers how to be mean to Republicans.
This election's GOP nominee deserves his special talents more than any other in United States history. So for 2016, let Franken be Franken.