Donald Trump’s insults against Hillary Clinton prompted the Democratic presidential front-runner on Tuesday to lambaste her Republican counterpart as a bully.
“We shouldn’t let anybody bully his way into the presidency because that is not who we are as Americans,” Clinton said at a town hall in Keota, Iowa, one day after Trump told a rally in Michigan that "she was favored to win, and she got schlonged" by President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, using Yiddish slang for male genitalia. He also called her late return from a restroom break during Saturday night's Democratic debate “disgusting.”
While Clinton didn’t directly address Trump’s language, she didn’t shy away from noting that she’s often been the target of attacks. “You are looking at somebody who’s had a lot of terrible things said about me,” the candidate said in response to a young girl’s comments about being bullied, which came at the tail end of a question-and-answer session. “You just say it and you send it around the world.”
Clinton often makes similar comments, but they had new resonance Tuesday in light of Trump’s latest broadside. After downplaying her gender and trailblazing role in her 2008 race for the presidency, Clinton has fully embraced it in this time around, using it as a rallying cry for women voters, and not hesitating to call out perceived sexism.
For Clinton, Trump's attacks have the potential benefit of putting her in a position from which she has tended to have political success.
"She's great at being the victim," Jeb Bush, one of Trump's Republican rivals, told reporters Tuesday in Berlin, New Hampshire. "This enhances her victimology."
Trump's attack recalls a series of unlikely political pivot points for the former first lady. One notable instance came in her first debate as a candidate for elective office when her Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate, Rick Lazio, infamously walked across a debate stage, wagged his finger and demanded she sign a campaign finance pledge. In the same debate, moderator Tim Russert elicited gasps from the audience when he asked Clinton a blunt question about her husband's infidelity. As happened in 2008, when Clinton beat back a surging Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary after a rare teary moment on the campaign trail, her moments of vulnerability often turn to her political advantage.
Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist, called Trump's attack "misogynistic" and predicted it will rally women to Clinton's side.
"It reminds the women who love her so much of the kinds of things that professional and successful women have to go through every day. So it solidifies and strengthens her core female vote, which is fantastic for her," McMahon said. "She's no stranger to [these attacks]. And no one handles it more adroitly than Hillary Clinton does. We saw it in 2008, we saw it in 2000 when she ran against Rick Lazio, and we're seeing it today. It's a reminder that she's at her best and strongest when she's under attack."
From a Machiavellian political standpoint, Trump's attack isn't without its upsides in the topsy-turvy Republican primary. It pits him squarely against Clinton for a pre-Christmas news cycle before voters tune out for the holidays, creating a veneer that the two are already nominees facing off in a general election.
(Contributing: Kevin Cirilli)