Elections may be about the future, but this campaign keeps flashing back to the 1990s.
Democrat Hillary Clinton likes to play up the economic boom of the latter part of that decade, when spouse Bill was president. She said if she wins he’d be an in-house jobs czar “in charge of revitalizing the economy.”
She said he “knows how to do it.”
Never mind that the tech bubble burst at the tail end of his tenure, cutting employment. And forget that critics left and right blame different Clinton-era policies for the serious recession seven years later.
To show her likely opponent Donald Trump isn’t such a great businessman, candidate Clinton cites the bankruptcies of four of his entities. The most famous, involving Trump’s Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, occurred in 1991; the next, the Trump Plaza Hotel in Atlantic City, went down the drain in 1992.
For his part, Republican Trump reaches back to the 1990s to exhume some vintage Clinton controversies.
A new Trump video uses recordings of interviews with women describing their willing or allegedly coerced encounters with the ex-president — Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick.
The words “Here we go again” then appear on the screen — with audio of laughter from Hillary Clinton, whom Trump calls an enabler.
But with this body of material, there will forever be more to plumb.
Trump has even added in an aspersion about Vince Foster — a White House aide whose death fueled conspiracy rumors involving Hillary Clinton.
But Kenneth Starr — the independent counsel whose findings led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment — ruled the gunshot death a suicide.
Oddly, Starr just happened to crop up in the public eye Tuesday. Appearing on a discussion panel in Philadelphia, he spoke of “deep anger” feeding an “almost radical populism” in the United States — and spoke highly of Bill Clinton, despite all that passed.
“His genuine empathy for human beings is absolutely clear,” Starr was quoted as saying of him. “It is powerful, it is palpable. . . . The ‘I feel your pain’ is absolutely genuine.”
Starr’s statements, though, might not be as useful to the Clintons in debating and deflecting the 1990s scandals as quotes from their old friend Trump that he deems no longer operative.
In August 1998 Trump said in a CNBC interview, as Clinton drew fire: “Can you imagine how controversial I’d be? You think about him with the women — how about me with the women? Can you imagine?”
In 1999 Trump said Clinton would have been remembered as a “great president” if not for the Lewinsky scandal (about which Clinton publicly lied). Trump said people would have been “more forgiving” if “he’d had an affair with a really beautiful woman of sophistication.”
In 2000 Trump also called Linda Tripp, who famously tape-recorded conversations with Lewinsky about her encounters with Clinton, “the personification of evil.”
Trump years later would call the impeachment “nonsense.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who pushed the failed case against Clinton that backfired into a huge GOP embarrassment, is now an ally of Trump, who has indicated he’d consider Gingrich for his running mate in November.
After being fined for ethics violations and losing seats in midterm elections, Gingrich was pressured out by his GOP caucus and resigned from the House in 1998.
Why bring up Clinton-related messes he’d dismissed before? The Clintons “said things about me which were very nasty,” Trump told The Washington Post.
Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton had this to say: “If he wants to go back to the playbook of the 1990s, if he wants to follow in the footsteps of those who tried to knock me down and take me out of the political arena, I’m more than happy to have him do that.”
By now, it matters little who started up the wayback machine. Our journey is underway.