About a week before the 1992 presidential election, I received a call from a senior New Jersey Republican Party official. He was desperate to reach my boss, who was co-chairman of President George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign in New York.
The official, who was of good reputation, nervously told me that a New Jersey woman might be about to accuse then-Gov. Bill Clinton of rape. It had happened some years before, he claimed, and the woman was deeply and understandably ambivalent about coming forward. Could we put her in touch with a senior official in the Bush campaign?
Bill Clinton was leading in the polls by eight points.
I reached my boss on his car phone feeling very important, and a bit nauseous truth be told. I was, after all, delivering information that might swing the U.S. presidential election a week hence. Heady stuff for a 29-year-old.
To my surprise, he snapped at me the moment I began talking, dismissing the claim outright and sharply admonishing me never to call him with salacious rumors over a car phone. (A TV news story at the time had just demonstrated how easy it was to monitor cellphone calls, and I suspected that my boss believed he wasn’t only talking to me.)
In his defense, the co-chairman was a seasoned political pro well aware that last-minute “magic bullet” rumors are commonplace in the final days of losing campaigns. They are almost always bunk.
Years later, of course, several women stepped forward to claim sexual assault by Clinton, and at least one accused him of rape. None of those allegations ever stuck, and I never found out whether the woman described on that 1992 phone call was among the accusers.
I mention this because President Bill Clinton’s alleged behavior is now back in the news, courtesy of Donald Trump, indeed, courtesy of Hillary Clinton who for some strange reason insists on talking about sexism on the stump. After first warning Clinton in a Tweet not to go there, Trump, who it should be pointed out socialized with Bill Clinton as recently as this year, is now throwing jabs, calling her a hypocrite for deriding the women who claimed to have been victimized by her husband. Haymakers are sure to follow.
I can’t help thinking that Trump, of whom I am no fan, has finally found his usefulness for 2016. He can finally call out the Clintons and the Democratic Party for the terrible way they treated Bill Clinton’s accusers. The 1990s Clinton Machine destroyed many of their lives, forever labeling them “bimbos” and “liars.”
I think particularly about Kathleen Willey, the elegant former White House volunteer, who believably claimed on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that President Clinton groped her in the Oval Office in November 1993 when she came to him for help. Willey, who stands by her story, was chewed up and spit out in the weeks that followed. Feminist organizations said nothing.
I’ve often wondered how she and Juanita Broaddrick and Eileen Wellstone and Sandra Allen James and Christy Zercher, among others, have felt watching Bill Clinton go on to become a revered national and international statesman.
If Trump can give them a second hearing in the court of public opinion, maybe his candidacy is worth something after all.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.