I have to hand it to US President Donald Trump. Not only is he the rare politician to understand the most powerful, insidious but overlooked dynamic in American presidential politics, he has now become the first to fully weaponise it.
Hate? No. Height. And I feel like I'm to blame. For 32 years, I have been reporting about the effect of height on electoral success. No other journalist or political scientist ever seemed inclined to heed my research, but Trump recognises this unhappy truth: height is destiny. All too often, the taller candidate wins.
His fascination with stature has been on display over the past four years, as he has repeatedly tarred his antagonists - even those who aren't actually short - with unsubtle diminutives: "Little Marco" Rubio, "Little Katy" Tur, "Little Rocket Man" (Kim Jong-un), "Liddle Bob Corker", "Liddle Adam Schiff". (The House impeachment manager is reportedly 5ft 11in.)
But these had the feeling of mere playground taunts. Now he is expanding his epithets into rants. This month, Trump explicitly raised the issue of height as if to suggest it is central to political leadership. In a pre-Super Bowl interview, Fox's Sean Hannity asked him what he thought of candidate Mike Bloomberg.
"Very little. I just think of little. You know, now he wants a box for the debates to stand on. OK. There's nothing wrong. You can be short. Why should he get a box to stand on? He wants a box for the debates. Why should he be entitled to that? Really. Does that mean everyone else gets a box?"
Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, is 5ft 8in. His camp has denied asking for a box. On Tuesday, Trump was harping on height again with an insinuating message on his retweet of an old golf-course photo of the two of them. "Mini Mike is a short ball (very) hitter. Tiny club head speed. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!"
I started writing about this in 1988 - the year George HW Bush (6ft 2in) faced off against Michael Dukakis (5ft 8in) - because I thought it was wrong to judge candidates by their height. I never imagined anyone would take my heartfelt research and use it to diminish opponents.
Now I'm less eager to take credit for exposing this flaw in our system. I am afraid of what happens next. Granted, it can be hard to get a handle on the exact heights of these image-sensitive public figures. Trump said he was 6ft 3in, a number that still circulates in online search results, but in the televised 2016 primary debates he was clearly shorter than 6ft 3in Jeb Bush, who stood next to him.
Politico found evidence that Trump's 2012 driver's licence put him at 6ft 2in. And while Hillary Clinton was 5ft 5in in 2008, according to her spokesperson, by 2016 the anonymous brain trust of Google had decreed that she was 5ft 7in.
So Trump had a seven to nine-inch advantage over his opponent, the most since 1864 when Abraham Lincoln beat George McClellan, 10 inches shorter. Some pundits argued his unusual decision to cross the stage behind Clinton during the October 9, 2016, presidential debate was an attempt at physical intimidation. Nonsense: he just wanted to make his height advantage clear.
Since 1952, when many voters had their first chance to see presidential candidates on television, 12 of the 17 contests have been won by the taller person. And no shorter candidate has ever succeeded overcoming a deficit larger than five inches - the gap between George W Bush and John Kerry in 2004.
Heightism is wrong. The electoral bias against us short people should be exposed and eradicated. I don't have a solution yet. I rather liked the idea of boxes behind the debate lecterns, but now Trump has spoiled that. Democrats running for president, in rough order of height, include Joe Biden (6ft), Bernie Sanders (6ft), Tom Steyer (5ft 10in), Pete Buttigieg (5ft 9in), Elizabeth Warren (5ft 8in), Amy Klobuchar (5ft 8in) and, as I said, Bloomberg (5ft 8in). (© 2020, The Washington Post)