Bill Clinton, perhaps the best natural campaigner of his generation, will stump for his wife’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire on Monday. He will inject an energy into her sometimes lackluster campaign, but bringing Bill back comes with a price.
Bill Clinton made a famous 1992 campaign promise that if people voted for him, it would be a package deal that included Hillary: “Buy one, get one free.” Now Hillary is in danger of reminding voters that in voting for her, they also get Bill Clinton and what he brings with him — from the dubious dealings of the Clinton Foundation to his “woman problem” and his renowned talent for evasion (“It all depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”). Democratic primary voters aren’t likely to care much, but polls show many independent voters in a general election would be leery of the baggage the couple drags with them. In a new Quinnipiac national poll, only 23 percent of independent voters view Hillary Clinton as “honest and trustworthy.”
Donna Brazile, a CNN commentator who was Al Gore’s 2000 campaign manager, has bluntly said that “one of the most important things [Bill Clinton] can do in this election cycle is basically stay out of the way. Let Hillary Clinton make the case for herself.”
But Hillary is prone to tactical stumbles. Last month she accused Donald Trump of “sexism,” prompting the real-estate mogul to fire back. Saying that Hillary’s attack left him “no choice” but to bring up Bill’s colorful past with women, he went on the attack — over and over again. He not only brought up Bill’s 1997 affair with Monica Lewinsky, a 22-year-old White House intern, but he referenced three women who had accused Clinton of sexual harassment or worse. “I hope Bill Clinton starts talking about women’s issues so that voters can see what a hypocrite he is and how Hillary abused those women!,” he tweeted Saturday.
What Donald Trump was referring to is one of the least attractive elements of Hillary Clinton’s personality — a take-no-prisoners approach to destroying anyone who gets in the way. Her close ally Sidney Blumenthal smeared Lewinsky as a “stalker” in conversations with reporters. Hillary herself described the young woman as “a narcissistic loony toon,” according to the personal papers of Diane Blair, a close Hillary friend from Arkansas.
#share#When Paula Jones, an Arkansas state worker, and Kathleen Willey, a Democratic volunteer at the White House, accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment, minions of the Clintons systematically set out to discredit them. Ditto with Juanita Broaddrick, the owner of an Arkansas nursing home, who said Bill Clinton raped her when he was Arkansas attorney general in 1978. Indeed, Errol Louis of the New York Daily News stunned a CNN interviewer last week by noting that 14 women have accused Bill Clinton of some form of sexual abuse. That’s not up to the numbers of women accusing comedian Bill Cosby of abuse, but Bill Clinton does get his own Wikipedia page listing his accusers.
Even some liberals who opposed Bill Clinton’s impeachment on charges that he committed perjury and obstructed justice during the Lewinsky scandal acknowledge that he has a problem. Ruth Marcus, a liberal columnist for the Washington Post, wrote last week: “Clinton has preyed on [women], and in a workplace setting where he was by far the superior. That is uncomfortable for Clinton supporters but it is unavoidably true.”
In political terms, I agree that Bill Clinton’s sexual history in and of itself is unlikely to gain that much traction. As Paul Mirengoff of the Powerline blog notes: “There are dozens of lines of attack against Hillary Clinton, nearly all of which will resonate with folks who already dislike her. The trick for the GOP nominee will be to select the handful that are likely to resonate with other voters.”
But to the extent that Hillary Clinton accuses Republicans of waging a “war on women,” the history of her husband’s record with women will blunt the effectiveness of her attack. Voters may have extended sympathy to Hillary as a wronged spouse back in the 1990s, but the one-third of voters who don’t remember the impeachment of Bill Clinton well may be surprised to learn just how big Hillary’s role in discrediting Bill Clinton’s accusers has been.
As the Wall Street Journal editorial page has observed:
This September Mrs. Clinton declared that “every survivor of sexual assault” has “the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed.” But when her own access to political power was at stake, she dismissed the women and defended her husband.
Both Hillary and Bill Clinton are skillful spinners of their record, but as the campaign grinds on to the November election, some voters may weary of the potential for history to repeat itself with them. When you vote for a Clinton, you do indeed “buy one and get one free.” And both of then have shown through their past misbehavior that they carry with them a substantial danger that they will bring the exact opposite of dignity and honor to the Oval Office.