Here we are, in familiar waters: decade-old comments from Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump have embroiled his campaign in controversy. How he moves forward from here will make or break this election. From where I sit, there’s only one way forward.
Trump’s 2005 conversation on a hot mic is the end of his outreach to women. After a career of promoting women ahead of men – the first female construction manager on a New York City skyscraper, the first woman to manage a major party’s presidential campaign, and much more – he’s caught demeaning women behind the scenes. And there's not enough time to fix it with positive campaign tactics.
A sincere apology is not enough to stop the bleeding. As a result, today his campaign is at DEFCON 1. Without a bold move, it's quite reasonable to believe this could be the end. (I don't think so.)
Never mind it’s the mindless chatter sometimes heard in bars and locker rooms across America; this kind of talk on tape can kill a candidacy. Similarly, when offensive emails forwarded by 2010 GOP candidate for governor of New York State Carl Paladino were revealed, our campaign team was rocked. We never really got away from the scandal.
But there’s significant contrast between the two friends, Paladino and Trump. First, Paladino’s emails came out in the first week of our come-from-behind campaign. Trump’s damaging comments have emerged in the final month of a very close race.
Second, but more important: we had no proof Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo was caught up in similar objectionable behavior. We couldn’t push back. In Hillary Clinton’s case, her husband’s past lands them both right in the same scandal soup where Trump floats today.
While Donald Trump’s words on an 11-year-old recording certainly insult many Americans, the Clintons abused several innocent women for real. The Trump campaign must gear up to feature that behavior now. The only remaining path to victory is pulling the Clinton brand into the same muck Hillary’s campaign has dumped Trump.
Going after Bill for his many consensual affairs is not the right move. Exposing his innumerable infidelities will make Hillary a sympathetic figure, cementing her support among women.
But Bill Clinton, a classic predator, wasn’t just sleeping around; he is alleged to have committed sexual assaults and even rape. Today, his victims like Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey are eager to speak publicly. More importantly, they are also credible witnesses to Hillary Clinton’s threats and bullying tactics to shut them up.
There is no time to waste and, make no mistake, only Donald Trump can carry this message. In 1992, the Bush family refused to speak boldly about Bill Clinton’s predation. (Meanwhile, the Clintons were peddling rumors of a Bush 41 affair.) As director of media affairs on Bush-Quayle 92, I was told very clearly that the Bush family "would not win this way." Staffers were even told trafficking in the information would be a career ending offense.
We know how all that worked out: by refusing in 1992 to tell the world of Bill Clinton's sexual offenses and Hillary's attacks on his victims, we face them again in 2016.
The few 1992 Bush supporters brave enough to talk about Bill’s zipper problem never broke through; if the candidate wouldn’t talk about it, the Clinton-complicit media rationalized giving the story no play. And it’s still true today: even though Broaddrick, Jones and Willey are willing to talk, none of the mainstream media covering Trump and Clinton closely have given them the time of day.
At Sunday’s St. Louis debate, Donald Trump must expose Hillary’s threats against her husband’s victims, just lay out the case for all to see. Say the names of Bill's victims and expose her role as his enabler. Better yet, fly Broaddrick, Jones and Willey to the debate and seat them in the front row.
Don't put them in the spin room, where the media will eat them alive. Play it safer. Instead, the Trump campaign should host a Monday morning, post debate press conference featuring Trump standing quietly alongside Bill’s victims. Let them tell their stories, featuring Hillary’s bullying across the tableau of her husband’s crimes against women. Move their story to the millions of voters who don't know the nineties.
After the first wave of Trump-driven media stories, the candidate and campaign must pivot immediately to the issues: Jobs, the Economy, Trade, Security, and Immigration. As he has done quite successfully, Trump can light the fuse, explode the issue, then turn to spend his time focused on what matters most to voters.
Following Trump’s lead, a SuperPAC must step in directly after his post-debate press conference to conduct a battleground state tour and ad campaign featuring Broaddrick, Jones and Willey. However distasteful the investment, Republican donors must fuel the effort to assure women voters (and their men) know that in the pantheon of cads, Bill Clinton is a rapist, Hillary Clinton helped him, and Donald Trump talked like he was in a locker room.
Make no mistake: with just 30 days left, Bill’s victims will not gain wide media coverage in time if Trump doesn’t personally carry this message. History will show that any half step toward getting this vital message out was a step toward Republican defeat.
Finally, the timing of this attack indicates this is probably not the last nor the worst. Hillary Clinton is firing her entire arsenal on Donald Trump – everything, no matter how false and defamatory. Holding anything at all back in response would be campaign malpractice. The evidence is there; the victims are ready to help. It’s time to rain down Hell on the Clinton campaign.