Can this presidential campaign get any weirder?
Sensing nothing left to lose, according to reports, Republican hopeful Donald Trump’s campaign is going for broke with a scorched earth strategy, intended to make a “Bill Cosby” out of Bill Clinton.
Just as Cosby went from national hero to national pariah after a parade of women charged him with decades of sexually predatory acts, Team Trump hopes to do the same to the former president.
Yes, I know, Bill Clinton’s not running. His wife is. But the Trump campaign aims to smear her as an enabler of sexual violence.
“We’re going to turn him into Bill Cosby,” Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon told Trump staffers, according to a report by Bloomberg’s Josh Green — who quotes two unnamed Trump advisers who were present. “He’s a violent sexual predator who physically abuses women who he assaults. And she takes the lead on the intimidation of the victims.”
One could question whether, with all due respect to the accusers, Team Trump believes in protecting the constitutional rights of the accused. But this particular ploy of resurrecting accusations that were investigated but never prosecuted — even by special Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr — at least 20 years ago is not designed to debate our criminal justice system. It is intended to tar the Clintons with crimes against women, a group that turned heavily against Trump even before the new allegations came out.
The new strategy began as a defensive move. Before the second presidential debate, Trump was revealed in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” hot-mic video as boasting about using his celebrity status to go after women like a sexual predator. He apologized for what he called “locker room talk” and accused Bill Clinton of doing worse as president.
He also appeared on debate night with three of Bill Clinton’s most prominent accusers — Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones — plus Kathy Shelton, who argues that Hillary Clinton, as an attorney, questioned Shelton’s credibility in the 1970s while representing a man she says raped her.
Ironically, just as Team Trump was about to launch a scorched-earth assault against the Clintons in the final weeks of the campaign, Trump was confronted with new charges, this time of sexual assault by multiple women.
They said they were provoked into going public in much the way that Cosby’s accusers had been — by Trump’s denial during the debate that he had laid his hands on any actual women.
Trump responded to the new charges with forceful denials and, once again, new charges against the Clintons and the allegedly compliant media.
With his polls having shrunk to little more than his hardcore base of supporters and Election Day fast approaching, Trump and his campaign have pretty much abandoned efforts to reach out to undecided swing voters. Instead, their hope is to discourage wavering young women, in particular, who might be turned off enough to stay home instead of voting for Hillary Clinton.
As someone old enough to remember the 1990s quite well, I don’t think that trick’s going to work any better than the partisan pursuit of President Clinton did.
Now, in the final days of a contest between two candidates with the highest disapproval ratings of two nominees in memory, we can expect the alley fight to get uglier. Yet a ray of sunshine — and sanity — appeared later in the week. First lady Michelle Obama gave a speech on Hillary Clinton’s behalf in New Hampshire that seemed to put an overdue moral compass on this competition of scandals.
She put aside her prepared speech, she said, because the idea that “a candidate for President of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women” is “not something that we can ignore” or sweep under the rug “as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season.”
“We have everything we need to stop this madness,” she said to enthusiastic applause. “We have knowledge. We have a voice. We have a vote.”
We also have a remarkably poignant and powerful voice in Michelle Obama. It is no wonder that many people wish that she was on the ballot. But this First Lady has made it clear that she’s had it with Washington’s political circus, an attitude so sensible that, to me, it only makes her sound more attractive for the job.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.