Pundits, journalists, and real-time polls agree: The first presidential debate was a bad night for Republican nominee Donald Trump. In full spin mode, Trump campaign operatives are now grasping at straws — and, continuing on a common theme, they’re coming up sexist.
In a particularly egregious example, Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani said that Hillary Clinton is “too stupid to be president” because she didn’t know about her husband’s infidelity, continuing a grossly sexist line of attack the campaign has employed before.
“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, in a video captured by Elite Daily reporter Alexandra Svokos.
— Alexandra Svokos (@asvokos) September 27, 2016
“The president of the United States, her husband, disgraced this country with what he did in the Oval Office and she didn’t just stand by him, she attacked Monica Lewinsky,” said Giuliani.
Although Giuliani claims to be horrified at Bill Clinton’s infidelity, it’s a clear case of the pot calling the kettle ‘cheater.’
While Mayor of New York, Giuliani gave a press conference to announce that he was leaving his second wife for his mistress — before telling his current wife or his children (another interesting tidbit about Giuliani’s marital history: his first wife was his second cousin). And now, Giuliani is enthusiastically stumping for Trump, who had a highly public affair with his second wife, Marla Maples, while still married to his first wife, Ivana.
If Trump’s infidelity doesn’t disqualify him from office, and Giuliani’s infidelity doesn’t disqualify him from political prominence, it’s unclear why Clinton’s husband’s infidelity should disqualify her.
Nonetheless, instead of attacking the man who was unfaithful, Giuliani is blaming Hillary Clinton for decisions that her husband made — and suggesting that she’s stupid for being transgressed against.
It isn’t the first time this smear has reared its head this campaign and, if the Trump campaign is any indication, it won’t be the last.
While flailing toward the end of the debate, Trump made strange, vague threats that seemed to suggest he was thinking about bringing up Monica Lewinsky.
TRUMP: You want to know the truth? I was going to say something…
HOLT: Please very quickly.
TRUMP: … extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.”
After the debate, Trump said outright that he was “holding back” on Bill Clinton’s infidelities.
“I’m very happy that I was able to hold back on the indiscretions with respect to Bill Clinton because I have a lot of respect for Chelsea Clinton,” he told CNN. “And I just didn’t want to say what I was going to say…which is I’ll tell you maybe at the next debate.”
Of course, by mentioning how proud he was of not mentioning it, Trump managed to both insert the story into the news cycle and pretend to be a good guy while doing so. On MSNBC Tuesday morning, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said that because Trump didn’t mention Bill Clinton’s infidelities, Trump displayed “great temperament and restraint.”
“I have to say, certainly as a woman, I appreciated the restraint at the end — I’m not sure I would have been able to exercise it myself — but restraint is a virtue, and it’s a presidential virtue,” Conway said. “To tell Hillary Clinton, after she accused him of being terrible with women, to tell Hillary Clinton, ‘I was prepared to go rough tonight and I’m not going to do it because your husband and your daughter are here,’ that is going to grow in importance over the next couple of days as the moment of great temperament and restraint.”
Later in the interview, she was asked specifically what Trump showed restraint on.
“I think we can all finish the sentence. People did last night. They finished the sentence. They said you know, maybe he was going to talk about Bill Clinton’s record with women,” Conway said.
When host Willie Geist pressed Conway about whether Donald Trump holds Hillary Clinton responsible for Bill Clinton’s record with women, she demurred, replying, “He didn’t say that.”
By bringing up Monica Lewinsky, however, that’s exactly what Trump and his campaign are doing: They are insinuating that Hillary Clinton is somehow at fault for her husband’s actions.
The Trump campaign isn’t new to this game. On Saturday, Trump threatened to invite Gennifer Flowers, a woman who had an affair with Bill Clinton in the 1970s, to the debate as his guest to sit in the front row. Separately, a “Trump Insider” released a statement to Fox News insinuating that Flowers was a “failure” of Hillary Clinton’s.
If dopey Mark Cuban of failed Benefactor fame wants to sit in the front row, perhaps I will put Gennifer Flowers right alongside of him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2016
Trump also employed this line of attack against longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin when news broke of her estranged husband Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting scandal. Even though Weiner is not actually affiliated with the campaign, Trump implied that Clinton has bad judgment because the husband of one of her aides made a poor choice.
— Nick Corasaniti (@NYTnickc) August 29, 2016
It’s a simple concept, but one that bears repeating. Bill Clinton is responsible for his own infidelities, not Hillary Clinton. Weiner is responsible for his own infidelities, not Huma Abedin, and certainly not Hillary Clinton.
Suggesting that men’s actions reflect badly on women is a familiar sexist trope.