WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s efforts to drag Hillary Clinton down by focusing on her husband’s misconduct may be a relatively new strategy for him, but it’s not for the advisers whispering in his ear.
If it seems odd for a Republican presidential nominee who is facing a wave of accusations about sexual misdeeds to be picking a fight about sexual misdeeds, the Clinton fixation of four of his top advisers offers one possible explanation.
Some of them have been waiting a quarter-century to more deeply explore accusations that the former president has assaulted women.
Trump is “surrounded by people who have been obsessed with bringing down the Clintons based on pseudo-scandals for years,” said David Brock, an ally of Hillary Clinton who as a former Republican operative spent much of the 1990s hunting down dirt on the Clintons. “For people with longstanding Clinton animus, they’re probably gleeful that even though this is a losing strategy, this is what he’s decided to do to close out his campaign.”
It was the Clinton campaign itself, back in the 1992 presidential race, that coined the phrase “bimbo eruptions” to deal with multiple allegations of extramarital affairs by Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton helped the campaign keep a lid on the controversy, going on television to stand by her husband and working behind the scenes to discredit his accusers.
Flash forward to Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was impeached by the House in 1998 for lying about his relationship with the White House intern, but the Senate voted not to convict him and he has managed to repair his image with his post-presidential philanthropic work.
The right has long harbored a grudge that the Clintons have managed to build a political dynasty in spite of the allegations.
Keith Appell, a longtime conservative consultant, said many people feel Bill Clinton’s misconduct has never gotten a full airing. He called the current discussion fair game because there’s “very legitimate proof that Hillary enables her husband for sheer political ambition.”
Now, Republican operatives are seizing the moment, using Trump as their megaphone.
Chief among those pushing Trump’s new approach is his longtime friend and sounding board Roger Stone, who co-authored a book published in October 2015 called “The Clintons’ War on Women.”
In a moment that seemed ripped from that tome, Trump displayed three Bill Clinton accusers at a brief press conference before Sunday’s debate in St. Louis and then seated them in the audience. Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey say Clinton forced himself on them decades ago. Paula Jones filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him in 1994, which he paid $850,000 to settle without apologizing or acknowledging culpability.
Before and during Bill Clinton’s presidency, the issue of sexual abuse allegations “never got the news coverage it deserved at the time because the media was much more narrow and more controlled,” Stone said in an interview Thursday. “It’s a new day.”
And, yes, he said, having a publicity-savvy major party political nominee showcasing the women’s claims certainly helps.
Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, counts Stone as a mentor.
She has another tie to the issue: Back in the 1990s, her future husband, George Conway, wrote the Supreme Court brief that cleared the way for Jones’ civil suit against the president. Clinton’s denial of his affair with Lewinsky during a deposition in the Jones case led to his impeachment trial.
Another key Trump adviser, deputy campaign manager David Bossie, cut his teeth in politics by going after the Clintons. He was executive director of a group that in 1992 sought to charge callers $4.99 to listen to tapes of alleged conversations between then-candidate Clinton and Gennifer Flowers, a model and actress Clinton admitted having a sexual encounter with. She said she’d been his mistress for 12 years. Bossie went on to investigate the Clintons’ Whitewater land deal.
During Hillary Clinton’s first run for president in 2008, Bossie’s group, Citizens United, produced a movie about her, including riffs on her “vindictiveness” in covering up her husband’s affairs.
A gleeful Bossie told AP in an interview in late May, when he was leading an outside group attacking Clinton, that his history of Clinton research gave him “an enormous vault of material to work with.”
“Nowhere in their campaign plan of two years ago did they see they were going to have to defend Hillary Clinton’s support of women as a general election matter,” Bossie said. He joined the Trump campaign three months later, bringing along his decades of Clinton immersion.
Steve Bannon has picked up the Clinton haranguing in more recent years, using the media company Breitbart News as a repository for every scrap of information and gossip about Bill Clinton. The former chairman of Breitbart, he’s now the chief executive officer of Trump’s campaign.
The Bill Clinton-heavy approach began in earnest after recent revelations of a 2005 tape in which Trump is heard bragging about kissing women without consent and grabbing their genitals.
Appell said Trump is “responding in kind” by pointing the finger at Bill Clinton
Still, he says, the strategy might not pay off on Election Day.
“As fascinating as some of this might be, it is not what closes the deal with voters,” Appell said. “Over the next three weeks, what will close the deal is telling people what you’ll do for them.”