Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Trump takes aim at Hillary’s Bill problem

Hillary and Bill Clinton greet guests at a dinner in Iowa in October.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Hillary and Bill Clinton greet guests at a dinner in Iowa in October.

Be careful what you wish for, Democrats.

Donald Trump may seem like the ideal Republican to run against. As a presidential candidate, much of what he says is crude, ill-informed, or deceptive — and often racist and sexist. In a general election campaign, his remarks would be offensive not only to women, Muslims, and assorted minority voters, but to anyone who puts thoughtful debate ahead of juvenile name-calling.

Yet some Trump declarations do ring true. For example: As Trump suggests, Hillary Clinton does have a Bill Clinton problem.

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On one hand, that’s old news. The good, bad, and ugly sides of the former president have long been part of the Clinton political equation. The new element is the willingness of the apparent Republican front-runner to call the presumed Democratic front-runner out on it, in the same way he mocks Jeb Bush for a “low energy” problem or Marco Rubio for a perspiration problem.

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Trump attacks as aggressively as possible, especially when he’s called out for his own transgressions, such as his overt sexism.

Fox News host Megyn Kelly was the first to challenge Trump on that, when she asked him during the first Republican debate about past comments in which he referred to women as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” In the aftermath of their dramatic exchange, Trump turned on Kelly, saying she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” and retweeting a follower who called Kelly a “bimbo.” He has launched numerous Twitter attacks on Kelly, especially when he’s looking for fresh media attention.

Trump has also aimed derogatory comments at other women, from Republican rival Carly Fiorina to The Huffington Post’s Ariana Huffington and model Heidi Klum. And he recently ramped up sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton, making an issue of a bathroom break she took during the last Democratic debate and saying she had been “schlonged” by Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries.

With that, Trump “demonstrated a penchant for sexism,” declared Clinton.

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“Again, I’m not sure anybody’s surprised that he keeps pushing the envelope,” she told The Des Moines Register.

She was right on both counts. True to form, however, Trump immediately pushed back, warning Clinton to “be careful as you play the war-on-women or women-being-degraded card.” On “Fox and Friends,” he suggested Bill Clinton’s issues with women would be “fair game” as Bill takes up the campaign trail for his wife.

Bill Clinton, a master politician, is a powerful advocate for his wife and the Democratic party. Recounting the good times that flourished during his years in office is a core part of Hillary Clinton’s current economic pitch.

Yet there is always the dark side of Bill Clinton’s years in office — his affair with Monica Lewinsky and the accusations of sexual assault and harassment that trailed him over the past quarter-century. Whenever Hillary Clinton criticizes Republicans for an ideological “war on women,” critics point to Bill Clinton’s even more personal “war on women.”

It’s an uncomfortable spot for liberals and feminists. To support Hillary Clinton, they must continue the old argument that issues and policy matter more than her husband’s behavior. And besides, they say, it’s Hillary Clinton, not her husband, who is running for president. She’s not responsible for his actions. But she played a role in backing them up. It’s complicated. Marital issues can be rationalized as personal, yet the Clintons’ political marriage makes them “fair game.”

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The unconventional Trump just dragged a shadow campaign issue out of the shadows.

That’s his danger to opponents — and his appeal to some voters.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.