Ever since Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump launched his first attacks on Bill Clinton last month, the media has hemmed and hawed about whether the former president is fair game in the 2016 campaign.
He isn’t on the ballot, after all, but he has been on the campaign trail, on behalf of wife Hillary Clinton, the Democratic favorite. Does that mean she should have to answer for his sexual indiscretions? Some in the press have said yes, while others have said no.
If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women's card on me, she's wrong!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2015
And Hillary Clinton just settled the question once and for all during Sunday’s debate in Charleston, S.C. — probably without meaning to do so. Here’s what she said about the role that Bill Clinton would play in her administration:
I’m going to have the very best advisers that I can possibly have, and when it comes to the economy and what was accomplished under my husband’s leadership in the ’90s — especially when it came to raising incomes for everybody and lifting more people out of poverty than at any time in recent history — you bet.
I’m going to ask for his ideas, I’m going ask for his advice, and I’m going use him as a goodwill emissary to go around the country to find the best ideas we’ve got, because I do believe, as he said, everything that’s wrong with America has been solved somewhere in America.
Well now. Hillary Clinton has said before that she would take advice from her husband — which is logical and unsurprising, seeing as she’s married to one of only 43 people who have ever held the office she currently seeks. But her response to a question about Bill Clinton’s function, posed by NBC moderator Lester Holt, suggested something more formal. She said she’d use him as an “emissary,” sending him around the country on White House business.
When Holt asked if Bill Clinton would have a “real policy role” or be limited to chatter around the kitchen table, Hillary Clinton replied that “it’ll start at the kitchen table; we’ll see how it goes from there.”
Her response came across partly as playful banter between spouses — the audience applauded her “we’ll see how it goes” line — but it also left the impression that Bill Clinton could be fairly active in his wife’s administration.
Fine. But that puts him in a different category. He’s not just a supportive husband who happens to be a former president. He’s potentially a future White House representative and someone who could have the next president’s ear as she shapes economic policy. That means he ought to be vetted and that Hillary Clinton’s decision to include him among her advisers should be scrutinized.
If another Democratic candidate said that he or she planned to deploy Bill Clinton as an emissary and to consult him on economics, that choice would surely get a thorough examination from the press. The standard should be no different in this case.
The door was already ajar for the media to parse Bill Clinton’s history in this race. Hillary Clinton just kicked it wide open.