Having no aversion to rolling about in the slop-heaps of our politics, Donald Trump has spent the last two weeks dangling before voters the prospect that he will use the second presidential debate as an opportunity to dilate on Hillary Clinton’s role in her husband’s ’90s-era sex scandals. It appears, though, that Trump is interested in actually winning the upcoming debate. In an e-mail on Wednesday to the New York Post, Trump said that he “want[s] to win this election on my policies for the future, not on Bill Clinton’s past.”
As a matter of electoral strategy, this should have been obvious from the beginning. As Greg Sargent noted in the Washington Post late last month, the focus-group testing on this issue is lousy for Republicans, and has been since Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate run. Women, especially the suburban sorts in key areas such as Chester County, Pa., tend to find Clinton a sympathetic character, put through an awful situation by her lout of a husband. If Trump is to stand a chance, he needs those women’s votes, and turning his opponent into a pitiable victim isn’t the way to do it.
Of course, the fact that Trump cannot prosecute this particular case against Hillary Clinton — and Trump’s inability to do so is assuredly as much a matter of ineptitude as of circumstance — doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be prosecuted.
Notably, in the last week and a half both the New York Times and the Washington Post published long features about Hillary’s part in mitigating the fallout of her husband’s sexual wanderings. Neither report is flattering.
In 1992, Gennifer Flowers, a Penthouse model and little-known actress, claimed that she had had a twelve-year sexual relationship with the Democratic presidential candidate. The Post recalls:
In an ABC News interview, [Hillary] called Flowers “some failed cabaret singer who doesn’t even have much of a résumé to fall back on.” She told Esquire magazine in 1992 that if she had the chance to cross-examine Flowers, “I mean, I would crucify her.”
In 1998, Clinton admitted that he had slept with Flowers.
Both papers cite telling passages from ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos’s memoir of his years as Clinton’s chief adviser, All Too Human. When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, “[Hillary] had to do what she had always done before,” wrote Stephanopoulos: “swallow her doubts, stand by her man, and savage his enemies.” To an allegation from Little Rock music groupie Connie Hamzy that Bill Clinton propositioned her, Hillary responded: “We have to destroy her story.”
According to the Times, in 1992 Hillary Clinton helped make the decision to hire Jack Palladino, “a private investigator known for tactics such as making surreptitious recordings and deploying attractive women to extract information.” Palladino described his task as casting aspersions on Flowers’s “character and veracity until she is destroyed beyond all recognition.”
Notably, neither the Post nor the Times delves into Juanita Broaddrick’s 1978 rape accusation against the then-Arkansas gubernatorial candidate, so they don’t mention that just two weeks after the alleged assault, Hillary and Broaddrick met at a Clinton campaign event where, according to Broaddrick, Hillary intimidated her into silence. If Broaddrick is telling the truth — and it’s worth observing that her story has remained remarkably consistent over the decades — then Hillary’s penchant for aggressively pursuing her husband’s accusers was not simply the misbegotten task of a few especially hard years; it’s been her chosen modus operandi since the second year of her marriage.
Can all of this be chalked up to matrimonial zeal?
The mechanics of a marriage are a mystery when viewed from the outside. But Hillary Clinton’s political aspirations have never been a mystery. Since her years as first lady of Arkansas, Hillary has been willing to stoop to ever-lower depths in the interest of attaining ever-higher office. She has not hesitated to skirt the edges of morality and legality — and, having crossed either line, deploy whatever lies, deceptions, fabrications, circumlocutions, and other rhetorical paraphernalia are necessary to avoid the consequences of her actions. It stands to reason that the Lady Macbeth of Chappaqua was comfortable with the prospect of destroying the lives of her husband’s accusers because she saw that his success was a stepping stone for her own. And, of course, she was right.
Hillary was comfortable with the prospect of destroying the lives of her husband’s accusers.
Trump cannot make this case. He is not intellectually or temperamentally disciplined enough to tie together the strands that show that Hillary was less the bereft victim of her husband’s transgressions than his enabler, a “women’s advocate” with no compunction about slandering the “bimbos” who were obstacles in her way.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, or that it isn’t relevant to the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Is there any reason to believe that the same woman who crushed the women who threatened her aspirations in the 1990s will hesitate to do the same as president? Having employed an army of underlings in stamping out threats to her ambitions, will she be reluctant to employ the apparatus of the state to do the same? After the outrages of the Obama years, during which the IRS has been used to persecute everyday Americans for their political opinions, and given Hillary’s unconcern for the letter of the law during her time as secretary of state, these are hardly unreasonable questions.
Mentioning Hillary Clinton’s savage campaigns against Bill’s “bimbos” may not be good politics. But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter.
– Ian Tuttle is the Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow at the National Review Institute.