Hillary Clinton claimed last week President Trump was a sexual assaulter, based on his own statements and accusations by multiple women. It very well may be the worst thing she has ever said about him.
Clinton called Trump many things before — dangerous, impulsive, divisive — as she campaigned against him during the 2016 presidential race. The occasional insult or two. In her book about the election, she called him a “creep” who “bragged about sexual assault,” referring to a 2005 hot-mic video in which Trump told another man that he aggressively kissed and groped women without permission.
But in an interview with 77 WABC on Friday, even the host seemed taken aback by Clinton’s escalated rhetoric.
“You’ve just said you have a sexual assaulter in the White House,” Rita Cosby told Clinton. “How could you say that about President Trump?”
“Based on the very credible statements that have come forward from, I think now, a dozen women,” Clinton said, referring to accusations such as a woman who claimed that Trump reached under her skirt in the 1990s and a reporter who said he forced his tongue down her throat in the 2000s.
“And, really, based on his own words,” Clinton added.
Trump is a big believer in asymmetrical retaliation — “hit ’em back five times harder than they ever thought possible,” as he once put it.
But having just been called a sex criminal by Clinton, what could he accuse her of that he hadn’t already said?
He has suggested many times that she’s a criminal. He has called her the devil and a terrorist organization founder, a beneficiary of voter fraud, wife to “the WORST abuser of woman in U.S. political history,” and several times threatened to jail her if he became president.
So come Saturday morning, as Clinton’s radio interview spread through the news, Trump reached into his arsenal and found only superlatives. He called Clinton “the worst (and biggest) loser of all time.”
Leaving aside the merits of Clinton’s accusations, it was a bit of an anomaly to see her go darker than Trump for once, after so many confrontations on the campaign trail.
A more typical example of Clinton-Trump dynamics can be seen in how they reacted to last year’s release of a 2005 video in which Trump brags in private about grabbing women’s genitals and using his celebrity to have his way with them.
The Washington Post broke news of the tape in October 2016, a month before the election, and unleashed a tidal wave of condemnation and speculation that Trump’s campaign was doomed. He was probably never more vulnerable, and Clinton never stronger.
Two days later, in the midst of this scandal, Trump faced off against Clinton for a debate — and somehow took the offensive.
Clinton didn’t go easy on Trump, exactly. She called him unfit for the White House and said of the tape: “What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women.”
But despite these “flashes of ire,” The Post wrote, Clinton was restrained in her comments for most of the night, leaving Trump to go on the attack.
The candidate quickly apologized for his “locker room talk” in the video and then gleefully dug into Clinton, interrupting her and calling her a liar and worse. By the end of the debate, Trump had accused Clinton of attacking women on her husband’s behalf and threatened to jail her over her conduct as secretary of state.
That was standard candidate Trump and standard candidate Clinton. He played the aggressor all the way up to Election Day.
In her book about her loss, “What Happened,” Clinton reflected on her restraint during that debate, and in general.
“He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled,” she wrote. “It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit Pause and ask everyone watching, ‘Well? What would you do?’ Do you stay calm, keep smiling, and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly, ‘Back up, you creep, get away from me.’ ”
“I wonder, though, whether I should have chosen option B,” she wrote. “It certainly would have been better TV.”
In the same book, Clinton demonstrated that she may have learned her lessons. She mentioned the 2005 videotape at least half a dozen times, always noting that Trump had “bragged” about or described sexual assault — though she never quite called him a sexual assaulter.
And then two months after her book went on sale, Clinton went on the radio and upped the ante.
“The Republicans are led by a man who admitted to sexually assaulting women,” she told 77 WABC, prompting headlines nationwide.
And the man who had already accused her of everything under the sun could respond only with old insults.