The Trump campaign is bringing up Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers to push back against criticism of Donald Trump’s treatment of women, as the battle for female voters turns into a mud-slinging contest.
Talking points circulated by the campaign instructed Mr. Trump’s surrogates to mention women who either had affairs with Mr. Clinton or accused him of rape and unwanted sexual advances to counter Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s accusations of sexism and misogyny.
“Mr. Trump has never treated women the way Hillary Clinton and her husband did when they actively worked to destroy Bill Clinton’s accusers,” reads one of the talking points, which were first reported by CNN.
“Are you blaming Hillary for Bill’s infidelities? No, however, she’s been an active participant in trying to destroy the women who have come forward with a claim,” says another.
A third talking point says Mrs. Clinton “bullied and smeared women like Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky.”
The issue of womanizing is eternal with Mr. Clinton.
In his 1992 presidential race, deputy campaign chairwoman Betsey Wright coined the term “bimbo eruptions” as something the Clinton team had to confront. As recently as this month, Colin L. Powell’s hacked emails were released, showing that in 2014 he offhandedly assumed that Mr. Clinton was “still d—-ing bimbos at home.”
Ms. Flowers revealed a 12-year affair with Mr. Clinton in 1992, and he eventually admitted to a sexual encounter with her after years of denials.
In a radio interview last year, Ms. Flowers said Mr. Clinton’s affairs were legitimate campaign issues for his wife and that Mrs. Clinton is “an enabler that has encouraged [Mr. Clinton] to go out and do whatever he does with women.”
“She always got things on the back of her husband,” Ms. Flowers said on the Aaron Klein Investigative Radio program. “I think it’s a joke that she would run on women’s issues.”
Ms. Jones was an Arkansas state employee who accused Mr. Clinton of sexual harassment when he was governor. She also has accused Mrs. Clinton of being complicit in her husband’s sexual misconduct and purposely turned a blind eye to her accusations.
“She knows the truth would come out and it would destroy her political career,” Ms. Jones said this year in an interview with Breitbart News.
Ms. Lewinsky was a White House intern with whom Mr. Clinton had an Oval Office affair. The president lied about it under oath and was impeached as a result.
Ms. Lewinsky, who suffered some of the worst public humiliation of any of Mr. Clinton’s mistresses, avoided being dragged back into the political fray when she delivered a speech Thursday at the Financial Times in London as part of her campaign against online abuse.
However, she referred to how the story of her affair with the president first broke online by the Drudge Report, calling it “a click that reverberated around the world.”
In a 2014 essay in Vanity Fair, Ms. Lewinsky called her relationship with Mr. Clinton consensual and blamed the “abuse” she suffered on the Washington establishment, including the Clinton administration, in which Mrs. Clinton was a key player.
“I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position,” she wrote. “The Clinton administration, the special prosecutor’s minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck, in part because it was imbued with power.”
Kathleen Dolan, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who researches female voter behavior, said Mr. Trump stands to gain little by bring up the adultery issue.
“I’m quite puzzled by Trump’s willingness to go down the road of Bill Clinton’s infidelities because it allows him to be seen again attacking a woman,” she said.
What’s more, the attacks could make Mrs. Clinton appear to be victimized again by having to relive the humiliation of her husband’s behavior in the Oval Office, said Ms. Dolan.
Mr. Trump, who is with a third wife, also invites attention to his own marital infidelities.
“He may want to try to put that conversation on her as an illustration of her judgment. But I think he opens the door to so much more that blows back badly on himself,” said Ms. Dolan. “I find all of his veiled attempts to raise that really poor strategy.”
The former president’s womanizing has always been close at hand for Mr. Trump, who early on warned that he wasn’t afraid to use it against Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Trump was blindsided in his debate Monday when Mrs. Clinton accused him of calling 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” when she gained too much weight. All bets were off.
Attacking Mr. Trump for his treatment of Ms. Machado when he owned the Miss Universe pageant followed repeated attacks for his treatment of women, including calling various women dogs, pigs and slobs, usually in spats with fellow celebrities or in the context of reality TV.
But it was powerful ammunition for Mrs. Clinton, who has made her bid to make history as the first female American president a centerpiece of her campaign. She is relying on strong support from women, who already tend to vote Democrat.
Mrs. Clinton had a 9-point advantage among female voters in a Rasmussen Reports national survey released Thursday. Mr. Trump had an identical advantage among men in the poll, which was conducted after the debate.
Overall, the survey showed the race in a statistical dead heat. Mrs. Clinton edged out Mr. Trump, 42 percent to 41 percent, a 1-point gap that is less than the poll’s error margin for a four-way matchup that included Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson at 7 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein at 2 percent.
After the debate, in which Mrs. Clinton was generally deemed the winner, Mr. Trump almost immediately raised the adultery issue by saying he was too much of a gentleman to mention it on stage.
He also brought up Ms. Flowers before the debate, threatening in a Twitter post to bring her as a guest after Mrs. Clinton gave a front-row ticket to billionaire businessman and Trump foe Mark Cuban.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a top Trump surrogate, dropped Ms. Lewinsky’s name as soon as he got into the spin room after the debate at Hofstra University in New York.
“The president of the United States, her husband, disgraced this country, what he did in the Oval Office. And she didn’t just stand by him. She attacked Monica Lewinsky,” Mr. Giuliani told reporters. “And after being married to Bill Clinton for 20 years, if you didn’t know the moment Monica Lewinsky said that Bill Clinton violated her that she was telling the truth, then you’re too stupid to be president.”