By Jonathan Easley - 12/28/15 04:43 PM EST
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends his donations to veterans Sanders blasts Clinton at Calif. rally for rejecting debate Michelle Fields warns Clinton camp: 'Don’t treat Trump as serious candidate’ MORE has unleashed a series of scathing attacks over Bill ClintonBill ClintonMichelle Fields warns Clinton camp: 'Don’t treat Trump as serious candidate’ Trump on '90s suicide of top Clinton aide: ‘Very fishy’ The Trail 2016: Dems struggle for unity MORE’s past marital infidelities in an attempt to rob Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSanders blasts Clinton at Calif. rally for rejecting debate Michelle Fields warns Clinton camp: 'Don’t treat Trump as serious candidate’ Sanders steps up his attacks in homestretch MORE of the argument that she’s strong on women’s issues.
Trump has been moving in this direction since first sparking controversy last week for remarks that many interpreted as sexist, saying that Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” by President Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary race and mocking her for returning late to the stage at the last debate because she had been in the restroom.
The controversy appeared poised to blow over until Clinton lashed out at the Republican front-runner, saying he has long exhibited a “penchant for sexism.”
Clinton’s rebuke opened the floodgates for Trump and his surrogates, who have spent the days since accusing Clinton of “playing the woman’s card,” accusing Bill Clinton of having a “terrible record of women abuse,” and accusing her of bullying other women to keep them silent to “hide her husband’s misogynist, sexist secrets.”
“I actually turned her exact words against her from that standpoint,” Trump declared on "Fox & Friends" on Monday.
Trump supporters say the line of attack is perfectly timed to benefit him on several fronts.
The controversy has kept him in the headlines over the slow holiday news period and could help give voters the impression that Trump is closing in on a one-on-one match-up with Clinton in the general election.
Trump is also conjuring Bill Clinton’s lowest moments in office at a time when the former president preparing to take on a more visible role in his wife’s campaign.
And it’s red meat for Republican primary voters, who have so far been dazzled by Trump’s willingness to tread where few others dare to go.
“Republicans are always complaining that their candidates don’t fight, that they wimp out when things need to get messy,” said Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan administration official who supports Trump for president.
“This is something establishment candidates don’t do, and it’s why a lot of people are fed up with them,” he continued. “Trump’s response has been to go after people without hesitation, and conservatives love him for it. So here we are. This is what he does.”
Trump isn’t the only GOP candidate to ding Bill Clinton for his past transgressions. Rand PaulRand Paul 5 takeaways from the rush for campaign cash Paul calls for end of gun-free zones The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE has condemned the former president’s “predatory” sexual behavior and accused him of using the Oval Office to take advantage of Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern with whom he had an affair.
But Trump’s platform is orders of magnitude larger, and the businessman is the only candidate to extend the attack to include Hillary Clinton by accusing her of bullying Bill Clinton’s accusers into silence.
The line of attack is being met coolly by some of the Republican Party’s most influential women, who warn that the personal nature of the attacks make them out of bounds, unnecessary and risk alienating female voters in the general election.
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said Monday that as a former president, Bill Clinton’s record is fair game. But she also argued that Trump is taking the wrong tack in fighting back against the “war on women” narrative.
“You’re not going to beat Hillary Clinton by attacking Bill Clinton,” Fiorina said on "Fox & Friends." "You’re going to beat Hillary Clinton — I’m going to beat Hillary Clinton — by attacking her track record and her lack of trustworthiness. Of course she’s going to play the woman card, that’s what she does. And the way to deal with the woman card is to attack her track record.”
Republican strategist Ana Navarro, a Jeb Bush supporter, echoed that sentiment, saying there’s no need to be “dragging decades of Bill Clinton’s sexual history on national TV today.”
“Leave it alone, for God’s sake,” Navarro said on CNN over the weekend. “If Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton has worked out their marriage and have worked out their situation, that’s their business, not ours. I think there’s plenty, plenty to pick on, plenty to scrutinize her on, plenty to ask her about that are policy-related issues.”
And Katie Packer Gage — a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign whose consulting firm, Burning Glass, works with conservative female candidates on campaign messaging — said the attacks will benefit Trump in the short term while hurting the Republican Party in the long term.
“This may play well with primary voters who want the candidates to attack Hillary over Bill’s peccadilloes, but it won’t work with women in a general election,” Gage said.
“We’ve done research and focus groups, and the people we’re trying to reach in the general election — women, soft Democrats and Republicans and independents — they recoil at this,” she said. “It causes them to come to Hillary’s defense. They don’t blame Hillary for Bill’s indiscretions. It’s bad strategy and it hurts the party.”
Some Republicans also have a problem with Trump as the messenger.
He has faced allegations of misogyny and sexism throughout the campaign and has provoked backlash this year for crude remarks about Clinton, Fiorina, and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
“It’s laughable for Trump to be calling anyone else a pig,” Gage said.
Trump's favorability rating was deep underwater among female voters in a CNN-ORC poll released earlier this month, with 34 percent having a positive view of him, compared with 61 percent who viewed him negatively.
The Clinton campaign is looking to stay above the fray.
Christina Reynolds, Clinton’s deputy communications director, told The Hill in a statement that the former secretary of State “won't be bullied or distracted by attacks he throws at her and former President Clinton.”
“But when his insults are directed at women, immigrants, Asian-Americans, Muslims, the disabled, or hard working Americans looking to raise their wages – Hillary Clinton will stand up to him, as she has from the beginning,” Reynolds said.
Democrats, meanwhile, view Trump and all of his incendiary remarks as a gift that will keep giving, even if he’s not ultimately the general election candidate.
“I’m sure it’s charging up Republican voters for him,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “It’s also charging up Democratic voters and women to get behind Hillary. Donald Trump raising this is the best thing that could happen. It makes the whole thing partisan and outside the mainstream.”
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz warned that Republicans can attack the popular former president at their own peril.
She suggested that Democrats intend to use Trump’s remarks as ammunition as they move forward with the “war on women” attacks. She singled out Ted CruzTed CruzSanders steps up his attacks in homestretch 5 takeaways from the rush for campaign cash Carson: 'I would not want to be on the ticket or in the Cabinet’ MORE and Marco RubioMarco RubioNorth Korean official calls Trump idea of meeting 'nonsense' Senate candidate taunts Sanders: Why don't you endorse Alan Grayson? Carson: 'I would not want to be on the ticket or in the Cabinet’ MORE, both White House hopefuls, saying they similarly “prescribe to policies that are harmful to women.”
“It’s really outrageous the depths and how low he has allowed the campaign to sink and the rest of the Republican field is going along with him,” Wasserman Schultz said Sunday on "Meet the Press."