Clinton team preps for Trump’s Bill attack

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GOP sees risk as Donald threatens to throw Bill’s affairs in Hillary’s face.

Democrats would love Donald Trump to talk about sex. And it looks as if he will.

As threats emanated from Trump Tower that the Republican nominee was preparing to name-check Bill Clinton’s mistresses — alleged or otherwise — Hillary Clinton’s aides and allies huddled hopefully in Brooklyn, eager for another opportunity to expose their opponent’s thin skin and rile up the female voters both campaigns need for the win.

Democrats know any resurfacing of Bill Clinton’s affairs can weigh their candidate down. But every time those sex scandals have come up, voters’ sympathy for Clinton has driven her poll numbers higher, and her team is counting on that again.

“It would backfire,” said Donna Brazile, the interim Democratic National Committee chair and former campaign manager to Al Gore, who navigated his own relationship to the Clinton sex scandals during his 2000 run.

Many Republicans fear that’s right — and that the consequences of getting into a sensitive topic with women and going so personally negative has the potential to reopen the down-ballot Trump bleeding that had largely stopped in recent weeks.

Asked Tuesday afternoon what he thought of Trump’s threat to bring up the former president’s past, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, “I’m glad he didn’t.”

Asked why, Thune chuckled and ducked into an elevator off the Senate floor. “The debate was over at that point,” he said as the doors closed. “Now it’s up to the American people to make up their mind.”

“What we have seen over and over again when conducting research with independents and soft Republicans and Democrats, especially women, is that this isn’t a winning message,” said Katie Packer, a GOP strategist who led anti-Trump efforts during the primary. “Most people view those issues as Bill’s weakness, not Hillary’s. They even give her a pass for attacking the women because (to quote one focus group participant), ‘What wife wouldn’t attack the other woman?’”

The format of the next debate makes this tactic even more risky. Clinton and Trump will be together in a town hall setting, a more informal, conversational forum with voters in the audience.

“They’re not undecided because they’re unaware of Bill Clinton’s infidelities,” said Kevin Madden, a GOP communications guru who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “They’re undecided because they haven’t been motivated on the personal concerns and experiences they have related to the state of the country’s economy and its security.”

Clinton’s team, rattled last December when Trump first dug up Juanita Broaddrick’s rape allegations against Bill Clinton from the 1970s, has been preparing for this attack for weeks. They’ve been watching Trump tease and telegraph hints, or tweet Saturday about inviting Gennifer Flowers to the debate only to have his campaign pretend afterward that it didn’t happen.

And Clinton allies appear to feel comfortable that Trump won’t change many minds with this line of attack — people who feel that his proclivities are an issue aren’t going to vote for her anyway, and there’s not much new information to be introduced.

“As Republicans have said before, this is a mistake that is going to blow back on him,” said Clinton campaign spokesman Glen Caplin. “He can try to distract from insulting women any way he chooses, but if Trump thinks these attacks are going to get under her skin or throw off her game, he is wrong.”

Trump, however, continues to demonstrate his own inability to avoid the bait. Clinton’s late reference Monday night to a former Miss Universe who Trump disparaged after she gained weight spiraled into another simmering controversy Tuesday, as Trump spent precious time defending his past comments, enabling the Clinton campaign to push out her story as further evidence of the GOP nominee’s sexism.

If the thrice-married Trump hits Hillary Clinton for her husband’s infidelity, he’s effectively taking her bait again. “He’s walking right into her trap,” Packer said. “She’s making the case that he bullies, degrades and humiliated women. And this will be Exhibit A.”

Trump’s supporters seem to acknowledge that what Trump did was a ploy Monday night, following his lead in attacking Clinton while claiming they aren’t attacking her.

“Bill Clinton’s past is Bill Clinton’s past, and how Hillary Clinton responded to that, and her unconscionable bad treatment of the women that he preyed upon, speaks for itself,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump. “But good for Donald Trump for not going down that path but certainly alluded to it. Most Americans know that history, so he got his point across.”

But that isn’t likely to be the last word on this from the Republican nominee.

Roger Stone, who is not officially working for the campaign but continues to advise in ways that lead to his thoughts leaping out of the candidate’s mouth, warned immediately Monday night that voters will be aware of the contents of his book “The Clintons’ War on Women,” whether or not Trump does it himself.

The attack on Clinton is “not infidelities. Not about marital infidelity, or adultery or girlfriend or mistresses or consensual sex,” Stone said by email Tuesday morning. “It’s about violence against women. Sexual assault and rape. Many credible women. Broaddrick, [Kathleen] Willey, [Paula] Jones and MANY more.”

Asked whether he is advising Trump to follow suit, Stone responded only: “I would never divulge private conversations.”

Democratic operatives are already gearing up.

They’ll note that Trump and Rudy Giuliani, whose affair during his second marriage was such a tabloid frenzy that his wife learned about their separation after he announced it to reporters, are hardly the arbiters of marital propriety. Throw in top Trump defender Newt Gingrich, and the three men have nine marriages and almost as many messy divorces among them.

“The idea that Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani are somehow going to lecture Hillary Clinton on this topic is silly if it wasn’t so disgusting,” said Guy Cecil, chief strategist for the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA.

 

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