So it turns out there’s video of Donald Trump calling Paula Jones a “loser” in the late 1990s. This should — at least theoretically — cast more doubt on the likelihood that Trump will attack Hillary Clinton, in the high-profile setting of one of the remaining debates, for enabling her husband’s affairs, as his campaign has been hinting he might do.
Trump’s disparagement of Jones has been incorporated into this new video compilation of Trump’s comments about Bill Clinton’s sexual past, which was created by the crack Post video team, and comes a little after the 20-second mark:
“Paula Jones is a loser, but the fact is that she may be responsible for bringing down a president indirectly,” Trump said.
That’s from an interview with Chris Matthews on August 27, 1998, just days after Bill Clinton admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Bill’s initial false denial of sexual relations with Lewinsky came in a deposition related to Jones’ lawsuit against him, which alleged that as Governor of Arkansas, he had made inappropriate advances towards her, and was ultimately settled for $850,000 with no admission of guilt.
The interview in which Trump called Jones a “loser” was originally flagged by Glenn Kessler, and the Post video team unearthed the footage itself.
“It’s sad because he would go down as a great President if he had not had this scandal. People would have been more forgiving if he’d had an affair with a really beautiful woman of sophistication. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were on a different level.”
The careful reader will note that in these instances, what Trump expressed distaste with was the pedigree, status, and/or looks of the women, not the affairs themselves. You’d think that if Trump hits Hillary at one of the upcoming debates as an enabler of Bill’s affairs or criticizes her for participating in smearing the women, as his campaign’s own talking points for surrogates do, a well-prepared moderator will confront Trump with his own past quotes denigrating those very same women.
What’s more, the above video also shows in another way just how ludicrous the Trump campaign’s posture on this whole thing has been. The Trump campaign keeps talking about how restrained he was at the debate for not bringing up Bill’s affairs, a sudden outbreak of decorum that is being attributed to Chelsea Clinton’s presence in the audience. But of course, as the video shows, Trump said in May that Hillary is “married to a man who was the worst abuser of women in the history of politics.” Trump has brought up Bill’s affairs on national television numerous other times, too.
Granted, those other times, Chelsea was not seated in the audience staring right at him. But if anything, the fact that Trump blinked in that situation illustrates he may recognize the danger in bringing this stuff up in front of Chelsea or Hillary, as opposed to in other settings, where he is willing to do it. Presumably even Trump is dimly aware of how horribly it could play for him if he does this in front of Chelsea or Hillary. In reality, the campaign is doing this as a way to get the media to talk about the idea that the Clintons’ past history should somehow undercut the Hillary camp’s constant drumbeat of attacks on Trump as a misogynist, as a way to muddy up those charges. But that doesn’t mean Trump himself will do it to Hillary’s face.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Trump bringing up these affairs. Bill is a public figure who is playing a major role in the campaign to elect his wife president. All of this is “fair game,” as it were, for Trump or anyone else. It’s also true, as Dylan Matthews argues, that changing norms around sexual harassment could lead some voters, particularly young ones, to see Bill’s behavior (and perhaps Hillary’s role in defending him) in a far more serious light today, as allegations of sexual assault, rather than harassment.
But even Trump has to know that no one will take it seriously if he, of all people, tries to persuade a debate audience that Bill’s sexual scandals outraged him. A recent Post poll found that 60 percent of Americans already believe Trump is biased against women, and among college educated white women — a crucial constituency that Trump must improve among — that number is a shade higher than that. And beyond the fact that Trump has spent the last year spewing insults from TV screens across the country, Trump responded to the news of Bill’s affairs at the time by personally belittling the victims. If Trump chivalrously stands up for their honor against the scheming team of Bill the adulterer and Hillary the enabler, most swing voters — particularly women — will just grow even more annoyed with him, or will just shake their heads and laugh.
Trump must know this. Right?