Before the first US presidential debate, Donald Trump threatened to rattle Hillary Clinton by inviting Gennifer Flowers to the event, one of many women alleged to have had an affair with her husband, Bill Clinton.
During the debate, he threatened to drop more bombshells about the former president’s well-publicized infidelities: “I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family,” Trump said during the debate. “And I said to myself I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate, it’s not nice.” (He later told a group of reporters that “everything I wanted to say I got out, except for the transgressions of Bill.”)
Trump seems to think that Bill’s extramarital affairs cast Hillary in a negative light. That is, his womanizing reflects poorly on her character.
It’s an odd position for Trump to take. His affair with Marla Maples started when he was still married to Ivana Trump, something that was immortalized in New York’s tabloid press. Explaining the nuances of the situation to Marie Brenner at Vanity Fair in 1990, Trump said:
“When a man leaves a woman, especially when it was perceived that he has left for a piece of ass—a good one!—there are 50 percent of the population who will love the woman who was left.”
And in The Art of the Comeback, Trump wrote, “If I told the real stories of my experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women, this book would be a guaranteed best-seller.”
Trump’s defense of his own indiscretions is that he wasn’t running for president at the time. But now that he is the Republican candidate, voters are being asked to judge him on his character, his self-professed superior temperament, and policies.
If it seems a double standard to criticize Clinton for having a cheating husband while being a cheating ex-husband, there is also the reality of Trump’s candidacy itself: he fathered five children with three women, one of whom he publically cheated on. No female candidate could pull that one off.
On Saturday, Trump stepped up his accusations claiming it’s not just Bill who cheats: at a rally in Pennsylvania, he suggested that Hillary had also strayed. “Hillary Clinton’s only loyalty is to her financial contributors and to herself,” Trump said. “I don’t even think she’s loyal to Bill, if you want to know the truth.”
While he provided no evidence of any infidelities, it was attached to a long string of ad hominem insults including that Hillary is crazy, should be in prison for her role in having a private email server as secretary of state, and couldn’t even stand up to bad trade deals or Russian president Vladimir Putin because “she can’t make it 15 feet to her car,” a reference to her collapsing at a 9/11 ceremony because she had pneumonia. (Trump then imitated Clinton pretending to fall over).
There may be a strategy to Trump’s seemingly erratic threats and insults. Vox suggests that Trump’s campaign may be hoping that millennial women, many of whom were too young to remember the Monica Lewinsky affair, along with Bill’s denials, the blue dress his halfway admission and ultimately his impeachment, may suddenly see Bill Clinton in a less favorable light.
Whatever modern women may think about married people cheating on each other, Clinton had sex with a subordinate, which is also known as sexual harassment. No doubt many millennial and non-millenial women will find fault with that, as well as various claims of sexual assault by the former president and allegations that Hillary Clinton played a role in attacking the women who accused her husband.
But Bill is not running for president: Hillary is. And her view of women who are not sleeping with her husband seems pretty evolved to voters: she has fought for the rights of women, poor women, single moms and parents, for a good part of her career. Her temperament has been well tested, and she does not seem to fly off the handle on Twitter at 5 am after someone insults her (if she did, Twitter would probably break down).
No one in this presidential election comes off lily white when it comes to marriage and the many compromises people make in it.
But much like Trump criticized Lester Holt, the moderator of the first presidential debate, for interrupting him without acknowledging the 51 times he interrupted his opponent, Trump seems comfortable making an issue of Bill Clinton’s infidelities while disregarding his own. Let’s see what women voters think about that.