March 1, 2016

Whether followed tweet by tweet, or consumed in more middle-aged fashion on cable TV loops, the Republican free-for-all is showing kids exactly how to fight a bully.

Don’t run to the authorities (the GOP party boss or the principal as it were). Don’t complain or lament the loss of higher ground, the crash-boom of our better angels.

You’ve got to give as good as you’re getting from the bully — and in the same way, fist for fist, insult for insult, mud sling for mud sling.

Any Marco Rubio or Donald Trump supporter who tells her kid to turn the other cheek, report bullying to the teacher, is an all-American hypocrite.

Here in the nation of Lincoln and Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Roosevelt — and Ronald Reagan and his 11th Commandment (thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican) — modern political discourse involves speculation on the wetting of pants, application of makeup and sweating. It means coining nasty nicknames. “Little Rubio.” “Con artist.” And this is all from the candidates themselves, not shady surrogates.

After last week’s GOP presidential debate, a Trump speech turned to skit with the real-estate developer using a prop. He shook water from a plastic bottle, mocking Rubio for sweating.

Rubio, who in the past had rejected such juvenile tactics in favor of his robotic talking points, shot back with mean-spirited, vulgar speculation that Trump needed a full mirror during the debate break to see if he had wet his pants.

Crowds roared, and the television cameras followed. Seventh-graders the world over were inspired.

“We came to the conclusion that if being a part of the circus is the price you have to pay in order for us to ultimately be able to talk about substantive policy, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Todd Harris, a senior Rubio adviser, told The New York Times.

Harris, in The Times story, noted that Rubio’s more Trump-like speeches were now being carried live on television. And if the price of admission, he added, was talking about “how Trump is a con man, with a bad spray tan,” so be it.

The only place these taunts can go is precisely where sixth-grade boys go with their bullying when they become eighth-grade boys. Sexual innuendo. Surely Rubio will bring a handful of blue Viagra pills to the next debate stage and offer them to Trump who will, blending attacks on the Cuban race and the Florida senator’s youthful looks and short stature, probably call Rubio a pool boy, perhaps with net in hand.

Better yet, perhaps each candidate will release lists of all the women they’ve bedded — with linear notes in Trump’s case, no doubt. Why don’t they just de-pants each other and end this?

I received hours of detention in middle school for saying things similar to what we’re now reporting in newspapers as part of political campaigns.

Which brings me back to Eisenhower. A humble giant. What would the man who led the invasion of Normandy, built the Interstate system and rebuilt Europe make of The Donald Trump Show.

After the success of D-Day, a reporter asked Ida Eisenhower, mother of the commander of the Allied invasion of Europe, if she was proud of her son.

“Which one?” replied Ida Eisenhower, who had seven sons — including President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Eisenhowers, in the White House, often would eat dinner on TV trays. Mamie Eisenhower liked soap operas — but not hospital-theme ones as President Eisenhower suffered a suffered heart attack in 1955.

On Jan. 17, 1961, Eisenhower delivered one of the more significant farewell addresses of any president as he warned of the rise of the “military industrial complex.”

Eisenhower also offered an observation with modern relevancy.

“If all that Americans want is security, they can go to prison,” he said in 1949.

With America’s appetite for titillation, its ears longing for the barks of the alpha dogs, the nation seems intent on living in a prison of its own making.

And we thought we were getting Trump Towers.

For my money, I’ll take Fourth Street in Abilene, Kansas, where Midwestern humility forms the foundation of Eisenhower’s boyhood home and one of the truly great American lives.