How Don Rickles Ruled the 2016 Political Race

It's about the insults

An 89-year-old insult comic is now part of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Yes, Don Rickles, a cranky old Jewish guy from Queens, has made his way into the Republican presidential rhetoric. And it makes perfect sense, since the candidates are taking a page out of his comic playbook.

When Marco Rubio spewed a string of schoolyard insults targeting Donald Trump’s “spray tan” and “little hands,” one person came to Trump’s mind.

“I was getting along with (Rubio) very well, then all of a sudden he was told to do this by his supporters, I guess,” Trump said on Tuesday’s “Fox & Friends” show. “But all of a sudden, he became Don Rickles. And he’s not Don Rickles. Not gonna happen.”

Rickles’ response? LifeZette reached out to him for comment and his camp said, “Thanks for thinking of him, but Don will not get involved in any political discussions … even light ones. Sorry.”

But he did recently tweet a Trump wisecrack.

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It’s not all that surprising that Trump, 69, referenced the longtime comic.

Rickles was the king of insults long before Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (a reference that the millennials who have never heard of Rickles will understand).

Trump knows about the art of the deal, but he also knows about the art of the roast. He grew up in the era of the Dean Martin roasts, those TV specials that featured comics who would get together to poke fun at celebrities. The shows aired on NBC from 1974 to 1984. Don Rickles appeared on nearly every one of them. Other regulars included Phyllis Diller, Flip Wilson and Rich Little.

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And in 2011, Comedy Central put Trump on the hot seat and aired a special Trump roast, hosted by Seth MacFarlane.

Rickles’ shtick is based on being completely politically incorrect, mocking anyone and everyone, from Frank Sinatra to gays, blacks, women, fat people or any ethnic group in the audience. He would call a TV host a “dummy,” and he once said to the revered late-night king Johnny Carson, “Johnny, I’d like to say, from the bottom of my heart, nobody likes you.”

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At a stand-up gig earlier this month in Beverly Hills, Rickles, still going strong, brought onstage a Korean American man whom Rickles kept peppering with World War II Japanese jokes. “Two-and-a-half years I was running around the Philippines, looking for your uncle,” Rickles said, according to the Jewish Journal.

Then Rickles pointed to a man wearing a hipster fedora. “The guy with the hat on — it’s not Yom Kippur. Take the g**damn hat off.”

Rickles has comedy dates lined up through June. You can catch him next on March 23 in Clearwater, Florida, at the Ruth Eckerd Hall, where he’s appearing with none other than Regis Philbin.

Meanwhile, the campaign is in full Rickles mode.

Although Trump accused Rubio of pulling a Rickles, Trump is the new king of the insult. He has called Ted Cruz “a nasty guy,’’ “unhinged’’ and “a basket case.’’ Also jumping into the fray, Chris Christie called Rubio “the boy in the bubble’’ and told him to “man up.’’ Rubio called Cruz a cheater. And Jeb Bush called Trump a “bully” and a “loser,’’ adding, “The guy needs therapy.’’

Cruz has lately taken a different approach, saying, “To the parents: Would you be proud of your children if they came home and repeated the words of Donald Trump?”

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