It’s been a long, brutal, painful election season, and with roughly six weeks to go and Hillary Clinton riding high on a debate victory, I had hoped we could coast to November and that Hillary could squeak by with a victory and we could put this all behind us.
It’s not going to happen.
Those of you who might have watched cable news last night, or spent any time on social media in the last day already have a pretty good idea of not only what’s coming down the pipeline, but what’s already spilling out all over the Pacific Ocean. Donald Trump and his campaign are attempting to turn attention away from Trump’s debate loss by refocusing the conversation on the affairs of Bill Clinton.
And it’s working. On my Facebook feed, Juanita Broaddrick is the top trending item, and cable news is all over this story. It’s also starting to bleed into the Times and the Post. It’s not something we’re going to be able to escape.
It started harmlessly enough, with pundits referring to Donald Trump’s decision not to talk about the thing that he talked about during the debate. Yesterday, Twitter annihilated Eric Trump for suggesting that his father exercised a lot of courage by not talking about that thing that he talked about during the debate.
Then last night, it got downright ugly.
Look: I think if and when the subject comes up during the next debate (or the third debate) that Hillary will acquit herself very well. She can say that “my personal life is none of your goddamn business,” and pivot during a debate. She can ignore Trump as he tries to hammer her on the subject, and let him exhaust himself looking like a hypocritical bully. In fact, Dan Savage over on The Stranger, I think, readied a great answer to the question that Hillary should consider borrowing. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a few snippets:
But if you want to talk about affairs, Donald, let’s talk about affairs. Yes, my husband has not always been faithful; again, that isn’t news. It should go without saying that his actions have, at times, caused a great deal of pain for me, for our daughter, and for all involved. It should go without saying but here I am saying it, Donald, because you want to talk about affairs.
You’ve had a few yourself, Donald. That’s not news to anyone either. You’ve bragged about the affairs you’ve had. You divorced your first wife and married one of the women you cheated on her with. For your third wife’s sake, Donald, I hope your cheating days are behind you. Because I know how painful being cheated on is and I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. It really hurts. Call your first wife, Donald, and ask her how it felt.
But I don’t think you really wanted to talk about affairs, Donald, certainly not your own. Your intent with this obnoxious line of attack is to suggest something: a woman who has been cheated on somehow isn’t fit to hold the office of the presidency. I obviously don’t believe that to be true. I wouldn’t be running if I did. But if you think being cheated on disqualifies someone from holding this office, Donald, what on earth are you doing in this race?
Because being cheated on is bad, Donald. It hurts. But cheating is worse. A decent person apologizes for cheating, which is what my husband did. A decent person doesn’t go on Howard Stern and brag about it. The American people don’t expect a perfect president. There are no perfect presidents. But the American people deserve a decent one.
Clinton is going to shine if the subject comes up during the debates, but she’s going to get creamed in the surrogate wars on cable news. I watched Megyn Kelly — who was tough but fair on both surrogates — moderate a conversation on the topic last night. It went something like this:
Trump surrogate: SEXUAL ASSAULT. RAPE.
Hillary surrogate: We’re focused on the future, on our vision for America. The affairs were 20 years ago, and we’ve already moved past that.
Trump surrogate: Alicia Machado was 20 years ago, too. SEXUAL ASSAULT. RAPE.
Hillary surrogate: This is not about Bill Clinton’s sex life. This is about the future of America.
Trump surrogate: But Hillary set up a war room to deal with what she called a “Bimbo” problem.
Megyn Kelly: Isn’t it fair if you’re attacking Trump on his misogynistic statements that they address statements that Hillary has made against women, too?
Hillary surrogate: Trump was awful in the debate.
Megyn Kelly: You know, if Trump brings this up, she’s going to have to deal with it.
Hillary surrogate: I think Clinton is better positioned to lead our country into the future.
Megyn Kelly: She can make that case, but she’s not going to be able to avoid these questions. She can’t bring up Trump’s past and not expect her past with women be scrutinized, too.
From a political standpoint, the problem here is that we liberals don’t want to talk about this. We do not. Even if it makes Trump look worse in the end, we do not want to go through Clinton’s 90’s again. We absolutely do not want to challenge anyone who has leveled charges of sexual assault or rape against Bill Clinton. In fact, if Bill Clinton were running today, we would run him the hell out of town.
But Bill isn’t running. Hillary is. She didn’t sleep with any women. She got cheated on, and I don’t know how everyone else reacts when getting cheated on, but in my past, I’ve been as angry with the dudes and women who slept with my girlfriends as much as I have been with my girlfriends. Is that fair? I don’t know. But I think it’s a natural response. Hillary’s response to being cheated on was probably also natural, even if in retrospect it doesn’t look politically good for her now. Obviously, there’s another false equivalence here: Trump’s rap sheet of misogyny is phone-book thick, while Hillary’s is limited to talking shit about the women her husband slept with.
Still, it’s dicey, and it’s beneath Hillary (and probably most of her surrogates) to turn around and get into Trump’s personal life, because to do so would continue to steer the conversation away from the issues, which is where Hillary wants to maintain the focus. But on cable news and social media, infidelities and sexual assault allegations are always going to get more play than tax plans and trade policies. Whether they want to or not, Hillary’s surrogates are going to be pushed into this conversations with little or no guidance, other than to try and steer the conversation back to the debate, or the issues. And they’re going to get tripped up, because on this question, they cannot speak for Hillary. Their only recourse is to steer the conversation elsewhere.
Ultimately, I don’t know how this is going to play out. I don’t even like talking about it. It’s gross. But for
better or worse, it’s going to be a major topic of conversation for the next few weeks, and once again, Trump will successfully dig himself out of a hole by preying upon the news cycle and the media’s short attention span. We can scream Trump Foundation! Stop and Frisk! Nuclear codes! all we want, but it won’t drown out this conversation.
For a taste of the conversations to come, skip to the 13 minute mark here: