Be that as it may, now that the Trump campaign is asking us to all credit his super-human self-restraint, maybe we should recall that only a few months ago, he publicly accused Bill Clinton of “rape.” Back in May, Trump and Sean Hannity had this exchange about Bill’s past:
“In one case, it’s about exposure. In another case, it’s about groping and fondling and touching against a woman’s will,” Hannity said.“And rape,” Trump responded.
Maybe we should recall that in that same month, Trump also said this:
“Nobody in this country was worse than Bill Clinton with women. He was a disaster. He was disaster.”
Maybe we should also recall that back in January, Trump responded to Hillary Clinton’s charge of sexism by describing Bill as one of the worst abusers of women in human history:
“I think that Hillary is an enabler,” Trump said of the Democratic presidential front-runner on CNN’s “New Day.”…“She used the word ‘sexist,'” he said. “She used some words that were derogatory. How the hell can she do that when she has one of the great woman abusers of all time waiting for her at the house for dinner?”
So Trump has repeatedly done on national television what his campaign is now praising him for restraining himself from doing on the debate stage. No, those aren’t quite the same, but both times Trump did that, it made national news.
In that context, maybe we should also recall Glenn Kessler’s piece documenting that before he ran for president, Trump repeatedly said Bill’s sexual scandals were a non-issue. Even more to the point, Trump mocked two of the women in question, saying this in 1998 about Paula Jones…
“Paula Jones is a loser, but the fact is that she may be responsible for bringing down a president indirectly.”
…and this in 1999 about Bill and Monica Lewinsky:
“He handled the Monica situation disgracefully. It’s sad because he would go down as a great President if he had not had this scandal. People would have been more forgiving if he’d had an affair with a really beautiful woman of sophistication. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were on a different level. Now Clinton can’t get into golf clubs in Westchester. A former President begging to get in a golf club. It’s unthinkable.”
Back then, Trump’s position was that only loser presidents have affairs with the likes of Bill’s women, while winner presidents have affairs with more attractive, sophisticated ladies.
Now, as I’ve argued before, Bill Clinton is a public figure who’s playing a high-profile role in his wife’s presidential campaign, so really, all of this is fair game. But in the end, it’s doubtful that Trump will go here on the debate stage, since it could lead to comparisons with his own marital record, and also because he now knows first-hand that Hillary Clinton shows up to these debates prepared to respond to pretty much anything. This doesn’t seem like an exchange that would end well for Trump.
And so, the default strategy of the Trump campaign, it seems, is to inject discussion of Bill’s past into the political dialog while simultaneously trying to get the press to credit Trump for showing restraint and chivalry by not doing that himself at the debate. But Trump has been on all sides of this himself: Earlier this year, he repeatedly made Bill’s past an issue on national television, yet before that, he repeatedly dismissed it as a non-issue, and even ridiculed the status and looks of the very women he more recently cast as victims of Bill’s predatory behavior and Hillary’s supposed enabling of it.
It’s customary to respond to this kind of thing by saying Trump craftily throws so many different charges in all directions that the press just can’t police all of it, allowing some of it to seep through to the public. Trump wins again! But really, all the Trump campaign is doing is layering more absurdities on top of a whole history of absurdities, and everyone knows it.