To go there or not to go there. That is the question.
“There” being former President Bill Clinton’s history of sexual transgressions, both proved and alleged, and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s role, or passive acquiescence, in the systematic undermining of her husband’s myriad accusers.
That’s the debate reportedly roiling the inner circle of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign team. Is it fair game — rather, is it a good or terrible idea — to inject the “Bill” conversation into the next presidential debate?
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an outspoken Trump adviser and no shrinking violet himself, cautions “no.” Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another leading Trump confidante says, go for it. A flurry of competing memos are said to be whirling around Trump Land. Both advisers had public affairs as well.
Let’s start with the fairness issue: Should Hillary Clinton be held accountable for the actions of her husband?
The answer to that clearly is, “no.” But she should be held accountable for any part she played in discrediting women who made charges against her husband, who, it has to be noted, has never been formally charged with any sex crime.
But is it a good tactic for Trump to raise these issues?
I don’t see what he has to lose, frankly. It’s not as if the New York businessman has a reputation for civility to protect. And Secretary Clinton might have a hard time justifying past statements under the bright lights of a national debate stage, like, for example, the ones she gave Esquire about accuser Gennifer Flowers “some failed cabaret singer who doesn’t even have much of a résumé to fall back on,” or about Monica Lewinsky, “a narcissistic loony toon,” in a letter that was later leaked. There are more.
Former top Clinton campaign adviser George Stephanopoulos, now of ABC News, describes Hillary Clinton in his memoir, “All Too Human,” as leading the effort to discredit Bill’s accusers. “We have to destroy her story,” Stephanopoulos quotes her as saying during a 1991 campaign strategy session on how to handle an allegation then in the news about Bill Clinton. Other Clinton confidantes have reported Hillary Clinton using words including “floozy,” “bimbo” and “stalker” in a clear attempt to disparage her husband’s accusers.
These are admittedly ugly questions, and Trump has his own issues with women. He’s said, and continues to say, terrible things about women. Just recently he tweeted insults at a former Miss Universe with whom he’s feuding — a month before Election Day!
Trump needs to be held accountable, too.
This year’s presidential race is the most unfortunate display of American politics in my lifetime and maybe of any lifetime. The tenor of the contest, especially the Republican primary, has demoralized millions of Americans and embarrassed our country on the international stage.
And yet these queries about Hillary Clinton remain genuine questions of character that need to be satisfactorily answered.
At the end of the day, for both candidates, it all must come out in the wash so that Americans can make the most possibly informed choice on Tuesday, Nov. 8, however lousy the options.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.