Why Lewinsky Scandal Is a Dead End for Trump
Eric Trump thinks that his father showed “a lot of courage” during the debate by not bringing up Bill Clinton’s sex scandals: “I mean, he really took the high ground where he had the opportunity to go very, very low. And I’m proud of him for doing that.” Donald Trump praised himself for his restraint, which he attributed to his respect for the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea.
Whatever one thinks of this standard of virtue, it is one that Trump’s allies are not meeting. Top Trump supporter Rudolph Giuliani said Hillary Clinton is “too stupid to be president” because she believed her husband when he denied having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Perhaps it is unsurprising that Giuliani, who famously used a press conference to announce he was leaving his wife for his mistress, believes that a man’s adultery reflects poorly on his wife.
As it happens, I doubt that Hillary Clinton was as shocked by her husband’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as the Clintons’ official line would have it. Everyone remembers that when the story broke, Hillary Clinton did an interview with Matt Lauer in which she blamed the allegation of an affair on a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
In the same interview, Lauer asked her if her husband would have to resign if he “had an adulterous liaison in the White House and lied to cover it up.” Her answer: “Well, I think that -- if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true.” If she were really convinced of her husband’s innocence, would she really have used the phrase “proven true” twice?
Kate Andersen Brower’s book "The Residence" reported that members of the White House staff said that “Hillary knew about Lewinsky long before it came out, and that what really upset her was not the affair itself but its discovery and the media feeding frenzy that followed.” And it wouldn't have been the first time she had tried to mislead the public about her husband. According to Carl Bernstein’s biography of her, she was in charge of the campaign to discredit Gennifer Flowers for talking about her affair with Bill.
Trump aide David Bossie says that Hillary Clinton was an “enabler” for her husband’s sometimes predatory sexual affairs. That might be taking the low road, according to Eric Trump. But Bossie’s description seems reasonable to me. And while Clinton’s conduct during her husband’s scandals should not be a top issue in this campaign, it is certainly fair game.
It would also, very likely, be a dead end for the Trump campaign. Voters didn’t turn against Bill Clinton himself during the Lewinsky scandal, at least politically. They reacted with sympathy for Hillary Clinton. The passage of time does not seem likely to make the issue more potent. Nor does the identity of the people who are currently raising, and passive-aggressively raising, the issue. Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani will only get hit with a boomerang if they talk about marital fidelity. Trump's credibility on the issue is further weakened because, when he wasn’t running for president against a Clinton, he called the Lewinsky scandal “totally unimportant.”
The notion that Trump deserves credit for his forbearance presupposes that bringing up the sex scandals would help him: He has heavy ammunition but is refusing to use it. What he really has is a pop gun.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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Ramesh Ponnuru at firstname.lastname@example.org
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