Trump rebrands as an unlikely champion of women's rights
Published 28/05/2016 | 02:30
The first phase of Donald Trump's election campaign is over. He demolished the credibility of all 16 of his Republican opponents, and is now the party's presumptive candidate for the US presidency. The tactics he used to defeat his opponents may have been crude, but they were also highly effective.
In the next phase of his campaign, he will have only one adversary, who seems certain to be Hillary Clinton. Trump is already shaping up for another bruising contest. He has identified the target areas where he believes Clinton is most vulnerable. He has focused, for example, on the various disasters in US foreign policy that began when Clinton was Secretary of State. And, of course, there is also the issue of her unauthorised use of a private email server.
But Trump has now chosen to confront Clinton on what might be considered her home ground. He has accused Clinton of complicity in her husband's sexual misconduct.
Trump may seem an unlikely champion of women's rights, or advocate of sexual fidelity. He has often used gross and offensive language to describe women. He is also reported to have had numerous sexual affairs, and has even boasted about them. No wonder the revelations about his sex life promised by 'The New York Times' last week were eagerly awaited.
However, those who expected sensational disclosures were disappointed. The 'Times' article contained little new information, and nothing that was really shocking. Part of the article dealt with Trump's behaviour at the finals of the Miss USA pageant. He owns the franchise to that event, and it was alleged that he had kissed some of the young contestants on the lips.
As it happens, I filmed at the Miss USA contest some years ago when I was making a documentary about Trump for the BBC. It is true that Trump has described the event in predictably crass terms as "the perfect opportunity to look at beautiful girls and make money at the same time". However, I did not witness any evidence of improper behaviour on his part, and none of the contestants suggested anything to the contrary. I remember the response of Miss New Jersey when she was asked if she fancied Trump: "No!" she gasped in horror, "He must be, like, 80 years old!"
Trump cannot become the next US president without winning a significant amount of female support, and, according to the latest polls, he is still very unpopular with most American women. That may explain why he has turned to the issue of Hillary's alleged collusion in Bill Clinton's sexual exploits.
Throughout the 1990s, there were a sizeable number of allegations made by women who claimed to have had intimate relations with Bill Clinton. James Carville, the lead strategist in his presidential campaign, shrugged these off as mere "bimbo eruptions". But some women claimed to have been subjected to threatening sexual conduct from the future president. One of them even claimed he had raped her.
Another of those women was called Paula Jones. She had once worked as a receptionist in the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. Bill Clinton was state governor at the time, and had asked her to come to his room. Jones claimed that, when she got there, Clinton exposed himself to her and demanded oral sex.
I met Paula Jones in the same hotel some years later when I was making another documentary. I didn't warm to her on a personal level, but, on balance, I believed her story to be true.
Back in the 1990s, Jones was dismissed by James Carville as the sort of woman that emerges if you "drag a 100 dollar bill through a trailer park". Jones's claims were derided not only by Carville and the mainstream press, but also by many feminists who felt that the Clintons were sympathetic to their cause, and deserved to be protected.
Despite the denials of any improper behaviour, the Clintons eventually paid Jones $850,000 to drop her case. When I met Paula, she was convinced that Hillary Clinton was aware of her husband's activities. "She must have known what he did," she told me, "There's no way she could not have known."
Now, other women have come forward to testify against the Clintons. These include Juanita Broaddrick, who had claimed that Bill Clinton raped her. Broaddrick also claims that Hillary was aware of this alleged crime, and tried to coerce her into remaining silent.
Trump has branded Hillary Clinton as an "enabler" of Bill's alleged abuse, and has just released a campaign ad in which Jones and Broaddrick can be heard sobbing as they describe Bill Clinton's alleged sexual aggression. Their emotional testimony is followed by a soundtrack of Hillary Clinton laughing. The implication that she is cold and heartless is clearly unfair, but it packs a powerful punch.
It may seem wrong to hold Hillary Clinton responsible for her husband's alleged offences, but the Clintons have often seemed as much a political partnership as a conventional marriage. As First Lady, Hillary Clinton played a key role in the attempt by Bill's administration to introduce radical health reforms.
This time around, Hillary Clinton has announced that, if she becomes president, she plans to put her husband in charge of "revitalising the economy".
One of Trump's long-term advisers on media strategy is Roger Stone. I first met him on Trump's private jet, and it was obvious to me that he was a trusted member of Trump's inner circle.
Stone regards himself, with good reason, as a master of political spin. At the end of last year, he published a best-selling book called 'The Clintons' War on Women'. It describes in graphic detail Bill's alleged sexual misdeeds, as well as Hillary's alleged attempts to conceal them and slander the women who claimed they had been abused. I have no doubt that Stone's book will provide Trump with plenty of ammunition in the months ahead.
It seems that things are likely to get even uglier in this year's race for the White House. Trump's ratings with women can hardly fall much lower. But Clinton's can.