“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” Trump said in a videotaped statement Friday night. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.”
This is apparently Trump’s strategy going into Sunday night’s debate in St. Louis: Go after Clinton for enabling her husband’s affairs. In other words, make people believe she’s to blame for her husband cheating on her.
Trump has used this line of reasoning in the past.
“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” he tweeted in April 2015.
The argument among many Trump supporters is that Clinton is just as guilty as her husband, simply because she stood by him and defended him during his affairs.
Blaming a wife for her husband’s infidelities is not only sexist, but it risks further alienating women ― especially women who have gone through relationship turmoil themselves.
Clinton’s friends have said that, like many other people faced with the prospect of a cheating spouse, she just didn’t believe it ― or didn’t want to believe it. In her autobiography, Living History, the former secretary of states described her thoughts when Bill first talked to her about Monica Lewinsky:
Bill told me that Monica Lewinsky was an intern he had befriended two years earlier when she was volunteering in the West Wing during the government shutdown. He had talked to her a few times, and she had asked him for some job-hunting help. This was completely in character for Bill. He said that she had misinterpreted his attention, which was something I had seen happen dozens of times before. It was such a familiar scenario that I had little trouble believing the accusations were groundless. By then, I also had endured more than six years of baseless claims fomented by some of the same people and groups associated with the Jones case and the Starr investigation.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), an outspoken Trump supporter, has said that if Clinton truly didn’t know about her husband’s affairs, it brings into question what her judgment would be like as president.
“After being married to Bill Clinton for 20 years, if you didn’t know the moment Monica Lewinsky said that Bill Clinton violated her that she was telling the truth, then you’re too stupid to be president,” he said last month.
Clinton detractors also point to her role in responding to Juanita Broaddrick, who, in 1999, accused Bill of raping her 21 years earlier. As Michelle Goldberg noted in Slate, there is again no reason Clinton herself should be blamed:
If people want to reconsider Juanita Broaddrick’s rape accusations against Bill Clinton in light of the new feminist consensus on sexual assault, they’re entitled to. But the least credible part of Broaddrick’s story is that Hillary Clinton tried to silence her. According to Broaddrick, she met Hillary at a campaign event, where Hillary said, “I want you to know that we appreciate everything you do for Bill.” Broaddrick took this as a veiled threat. Far more likely, however, is that Hillary was just offering the sort of banality that politicians’ wives are required to repeat over and over to their husbands’ supporters. If Bill Clinton really did sexually assault someone—a charge for which there is absolutely no evidence—it defies everything we know about the Clinton marriage to think he would tell his wife about it.
Neither Trump nor Giuliani are great messengers for this issue. Trump famously cheated on his first wife, Ivana, and Giuliani once held a press conference to announce he was ending his marriage to be with his mistress ― before actually breaking the news to his wife.
Trump is now being advised on his debate preparations by Roger Ailes, who lost his job running Fox News after multiple women at the network stepped forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.
As much as Trump tries to muddy the waters, there is only one candidate on the ballot this cycle who has openly bragged about committing sexual assault ― and it isn’t Clinton.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.