Donald Trump has repeatedly said you shouldn’t announce your plans to the enemy beforehand. But he did just that at Sunday’s debate.
The Republican presidential nominee often argues that the U.S. military should not announce its battle plans while defending what he has described as a secret plan to defeat the Islamic State, saying, “I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing.”
But as he went into the second presidential debate against Hillary Clinton, he made very clear exactly how he would attack her over allegations of her husband’s sexual improprieties.
Asked about a leaked videotape that showed him bragging in lewd terms about “grabbing” women without their consent, Trump apologized and then turned his fire on Clinton’s husband.
“If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse,” he said. “Mine are words, his was action. This is what he has done to women. [There’s] never been anybody in history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women, so you can say any way you want to say it, but Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously. Four of them are here tonight.”
Then he gestured to his guests of honor in the audience: Paula Jones, who accused Bill Clinton of sexually harassing her while he was Governor of Arkansas; Juanita Broaddrick, who claims he raped her in 1978 while he was Attorney General of Arkansas; Kathleen Willey, who says he sexually assaulted her while he was president; and Kathy Shelton, whose rapist was defended by Hillary Clinton in court in 1975.
It was a stunning moment, perhaps, but not a surprising one. Trump has been toying for weeks with the idea of bringing up Bill Clinton’s past at the debate.
In late September, in response to news that vocal Trump opponent Mark Cuban might attend the debate, Trump tweeted “perhaps I will put Gennifer Flowers right alongside of him!” Vice presidential candidate Mike Pence and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway quickly denied that Trump invited Flowers, who claimed to have an affair with Bill Clinton before he became president.
Trump stayed away from the Clinton’s marital history in the first debate, but his somewhat sedate performance was roundly considered a loss. Still, as of last Wednesday, he said he wasn’t planning on any sexual mudslinging. “I want to win this election on my policies for the future, not on Bill Clinton’s past,” Trump told the New York Post. “Jobs, trade, ending illegal immigration, veteran care, and strengthening our military is what I really want to be talking about.”
Two days later, a bombshell revelation about Trump’s own treatment of women came to light. And that’s when he seemed to rethink taking the high road. As Republican leaders abandoned the Republican nominee in droves after seeing a video from 2005 in which he brags that he can “grab [women] by the p—y,” Trump took to the internet Saturday and began retweeting Juanita Broaddrick.
Broaddrick’s tweets that Trump highlighted hinted at a future attack line, that Bill Clinton’s behavior was worse than his own:
Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani confirmed to Meet The Press the following morning that Trump would mention it at the debate. “The things she has said and that have been reported in various books and magazines and other places about the women that Bill Clinton raped, sexually abused, and attacked. Not Bill Clinton’s role, but her role as the attacker,” he said.
The same day, the day of the debate, right-wing website Breitbart (whose former chairman is now CEO of Trump’s campaign) published a video with the headline, “Bill Clinton Accuser Juanita Broaddrick Relives Brutal Rapes.” Trump tweeted out links to the piece twice on Sunday.
And if there were any lingering doubts about whether Trump would bring it up during the debate, he held a brief press conference with Broaddrick, Jones, Willey and Shelton two hours before the candidates took the stage. On the Trump campaign’s Facebook Live of the event, the caption referred to it as “debate prep.”
When reporters shouted questions at Trump about whether his recently released comments justified touching women without their consent, Jones jumped in. “Why don’t y’all ask Bill Clinton that,” she said. “Why don’t y’all go ask Bill Clinton that? Go ahead. Ask Hillary, as well.”
Back in March, Donald Trump told the Washington Post‘s editorial board, “We’re totally predictable. And predictable is bad.”
But when less than 15 minutes into the second presidential debate, he spun his defense of the leaked video and told the audience to “look at Bill Clinton,” everyone saw it coming.