By Quint Forgey
Marco Rubio announced at an August Republican debate that if the 2016 race to the White House was a resume contest, Hillary Clinton would become America’s next commander-in-chief.
It’s a statement he is now perhaps regretting.
In an election marked by extraordinary candidates with visceral, grassroots messaging on both sides (#FeeltheBern), Clinton’s greatest asset remains her industrious lifetime of public service. The 68-year-old former Secretary of State is embracing her experience and not shying away from the wrinkles that come with it. She’s “your abuela,” remember?
It’s not a foolproof strategy.
Fiercely ambitious up-and-comers such as Ted Cruz and Marco “New American Century” Rubio are highlighting their youthful vitality and many Americans’ distaste for another installment in the Bush-Clinton dynasty.
Seeking to counteract perceptions that she represents ways of politics past, Clinton has found success in characterizing the mainstream GOP’s stances on social issues as retrograde and dangerous for American women. It’s a tactic that can be traced back to 2012, when senior staff on Barack Obama’s re-election campaign called out Mitt Romney for policies harkening back to a “Mad Men” era.
Clinton’s attacks against Donald Trump, however, are of a much fiercer variety. They’re warranted, too, especially after Trump admonished Clinton for using the restroom during a televised debate and claimed she was “schlonged” by Obama in 2008.
For Clinton, there’s no downside in branding the real estate mogul as a straight-up chauvinist – a label many in Trump’s own party have tossed around since his August social media tirade against Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.
Trump’s response to Clinton dovetailed with his stock strategy for deflecting campaign criticism with a brash, media-consuming blitz of an offense.
He has called out Bill Clinton’s infamous Oval Office indiscretions and decades-old sexual abuse cases over the past week, referring to the former president as a “great abuser” with a “penchant for sexism.”
Two questions sprung from the resultant press frenzy: Are candidates’ husbands and wives fair game in the political arena, and does Trump’s argument hold water against his characterization as a sexist?
Trump’s feud with the Clintons may mark one of the rare instances of spousal demonization in electoral politics, but it’s certainly not the first.
Conservative commentators and John McCain’s presidential campaign seized upon Michelle Obama in February 2008, when she told a Milwaukee, Wisconsin crowd that “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country.”
It’s common knowledge in American politics that attacks on candidates’ husbands and wives offer little to gain and a lot to lose. They’re politically dangerous, rarely rewarding and often only serve to drum up pity for the spouse in the spotlight.
However, it could be argued that Trump’s mud-slinging holds water. It’s certainly awkward to take in Clinton’s lectures on the evils of victim-blaming when her husband has been the subject of several public sexual abuse charges over the years.
She has directly confronted this specific accusation of hypocrisy only once in her current campaign, in an awkward interaction at a December event in Hooksett, New Hampshire.
A young woman attendee asked if Clinton’s notion that all rape victims should be believed applied to Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones – all alleged victims of unwanted sexual advances from Bill Clinton.
“I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence,” Clinton curtly replied.
Unproven allegations notwithstanding, being married to a man with an infamous sexual appetite and advocating for gender equality are not mutually exclusive.
Consensual philandering is neither inherently degrading nor abusive to the women involved, as Trump would have voters believe. His re-dredging of Bill Clinton’s marital lapses may have been more valid if Hillary had instead called out the Republican frontrunner for being soft on family values.
But she didn’t.
Clinton called out Trump for a pattern of Tweets, speeches and statements with arguably sexist and certainly insensitive undertones.
Until new transcripts reveal similar statements from Bill Clinton during his time in the public sphere, Trump’s rebuttal is logically off base – an apples to oranges comparison.
And even if such evidence does surface, it would arguably be irrelevant to Hillary Clinton’s legitimacy as a candidate and to the genuineness of her own convictions.