On Eve of VP Debate, MSNBC Reminisces About Hammering Dan Quayle

On the eve of the vice presidential debate, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Monday reminisced about a favorite target of the liberal media veterans: Dan Quayle. Going back 28 years, Mitchell rehashed, yet again Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s attack during the 1988 vice presidential debate that Quayle was “no Jack Kennedy.” 

Mitchell recounted the spin against the Republican, “Almost immediately [after being named George H.W. Bush’s running mate], there were concerns about Quayle, about how he got into the National Guard during Vietnam and whether he was experienced enough to be vice president.” 

At the actual debate, “Quayle was asked the question again and again.” Using archival footage, a nostalgic Mitchell continued: 

TOM BROKAW: Surely you must have some plan in mind about what you would do if it fell to you to become president of the United States as it has to so many vice presidents just in the last 25 years or so. 

ANDREA MITCHELL: As he struggled to answer, Quayle made a fateful comparison. 

DAN QUAYLE: I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy when he sought the presidency. 

MITCHELL: Benson and Kennedy were both elected to Congress in the late '40s, around the time Dan Quayle was born. Benson had a response ready and he pounced. 

LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy. 

For those too young to remember, this was the type of contempt Quayle was met with: 

"We're supposed to be dispassionate, reporters. And of course, we aren't. We try to report objectively, and so I'm a little reluctant to say it: I find it very difficult to believe that eventually, conceivably, Dan Quayle would sit down and negotiate with Mikhail Gorbachev. It doesn't seem to make sense...And yet, you take a look at polls today, and apparently he did very well with those who believe that he is a decent possibility as Vice President."
-- 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace on Late Night with David Letterman, October 6, 1988. 

As it turns out, the premise that Bentsen’s zinger was built on was grossly inflated: 

"It was Lloyd Bentsen who said to Dan Quayle `I knew John Kennedy, and you're no John Kennedy.' It was one of the electrifying moments of the campaign. At the Kennedy Library, just outside Boston, they went through all the files. They couldn't see much evidence Lloyd Bentsen knew John Kennedy very well. But it certainly was an effective campaign ploy for him."
- Tom Brokaw in convention coverage, July 16, 1992.

A transcript of the segment is below: 

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Andrea Mitchell Reports
10/3/16
12:45pm ET 

ANDREA MITCHELL: Vice presidential debates provide a fascinating sideshow every four years. Think Bush/Ferraro, Cheney/Edwards, Biden/Palin. And tomorrow, for the first and only vice presidential debate, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence. But no VP face-off debate generated more sparks than the one 28 years ago this week when JFK's name was evoked in what was probably the most memorable put-down in debate history. John F. Kennedy had been gone 25 years when he played an unforgettable role in this vice presidential debate. 

LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no jack Kennedy. [ Cheers and applause ] 

ANDREA MITCHELL: But the story really begins seven weeks earlier. 

TOM BROKAW: NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell has been told by a highly reliable source that Senator Dan Quayle, a 41 year-old Republican from Indiana, will be vice president bush's choice as his running mate for vice president in the fall campaign. 

MITCHELL: Bush introduced an enthusiastic Dan Quayle at a New Orleans river boat rally. 

DAN QUAYLE: We will win because America cannot afford to lose. 

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Great, Danny, well done. 

MITCHELL: At 41, Quayle was about the age of Bush's eldest son and was new to the national spotlight. 

QUAYLE: The question is whether we're going to go forward to tomorrow or we’re going to past to the back. 

MITCHELL: Almost immediately, there were concerns about Quayle, about how he got into the National Guard during Vietnam And whether he was experienced enough to be vice president. 

QUAYLE: I know, perhaps, as much about national security as anybody with few exceptions. 

MITCHELL: He'd be going up against Michael Dukakis's running mate, Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, a decorated World War II veteran and a former presidential candidate himself. Bentsen was 26 years Dan Quayle's senior. 

MICHAEL DUKAKIS: Nobody ever asked the questions about whether or not Lloyd Benson would be qualified to be president of the united States. 

MITCHELL: When the debate came, Quayle's readiness was number one. What would he do if something happened to Bush and he became President? 

QUAYLE: First I would say a prayer for myself and for the country that I'm about to lead. Then I would assemble his people and talk. 

MITCHELL: Quayle was asked the question again and again. 

BROKAW: Surely you must have some plan in mind about what you would do if it fell to you to become president of the United States as it has to so many vice presidents just in the last 25 years or so. 

MITCHELL: As he struggled to answer, Quayle made a fateful comparison. 

QUAYLE: I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy when he sought the presidency. 

MITCHELL: Benson and Kennedy were both elected to Congress in the late '40s, around the time Dan Quayle was born. Benson had a response ready and he pounced. 

LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy. 

QUAYLE: That was really uncalled for, Senator. 

BENTSEN: You're the one that was making the comparison, Senator. 

MITCHELL:  Fairly or not Benson had scored a direct hit. [From 1988] Dan Quayle needed to dispel widespread concerns among voters about his qualifications. While he was clearly very well coached, what is not clear is how well he scored in his effort to be presidential. [Back to 2016.] Democrats declared the victory. 

DUKAKIS: I said he was a star of the show and he was. Wasn’t he? 

MITCHELL: But in the end, it didn't matter. Dukakis himself stumbled badly a week later in his debate. Bush road Ronald Reagan's coat tails to a decisive victory and Dan Quayle became vice president. 

QUAYLE: So help me god. 

MITCHELL: There is a Reagan postscript to this. He didn't like Benson's "You're no JFK" put down. 

RONALD REAGAN: I thought the remark was a cheap shot and unbecoming a senator of the United States. 

MITCHELL: But four years later when the Democrats nominated William Jefferson Clinton then former President Reagan said this: 

REAGAN: This fellow they have nominated claims he's the new Thomas Jefferson. Well, let me tell you something: I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine. And, governor, you're no Thomas Jefferson. 

MITCHELL: So, the bottom line, it doesn’t always matter who wins or loses vice presidential debates. But we’ll be there tomorrow to watch it all. 

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