This just in: Donald Trump won’t go after Bill Clinton’s sex scandals at the next debate.
At least, that’s what he told Page Six.
“I want to win this election on my policies for the future, not on Bill Clinton’s past,” Trump emailed the New York Post’s Richard Johnson, who had asked about whether Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey or Juanita Broaddrick might come to Sunday’s debate. “Jobs, trade, ending illegal immigration, veteran care, and strengthening our military is what I really want to be talking about.”
It’s fitting that campaign news now breaks on the tabloid’s gossip page. Perhaps Trump was just trying to psych out Hillary Clinton in saying he might raise the former president’s sexual misconduct in St. Louis, having stopped himself from saying something “extremely rough” in the last debate. Or maybe it’s a shift in tactics.
But it drives home how much of the campaign coverage in this latest stretch has been about Trump and women.
And that, in part, is why we keep hearing about Howard Stern and his many Donald interviews over the years. And those are excerpts the Democrats would love to keep pushing out there.
Clinton played the card in the Hofstra debate, saying Trump had referred to women as “pigs” and “dogs” and laying the Alicia Machado trap. (The former Miss Universe, by the way, has stopped talking about Trump and accused him in a statement of “attempting to revive slanders and false accusations about my life, in order to humiliate, intimidate, and unbalance me.”)
And the Clinton camp is giving heavy rotation to an ad that shows the faces of young women looking in the mirror over audio of Trump saying things like “she ate like a pig” and, from the Stern show, “a flat-chested woman, it’s very hard to be a 10.”
The polls show Hillary with a 20-point lead among female voters, so this is a pivotal question. It’s no accident that Trump is pitching a major child-care proposal, with Ivanka front and center.
The thing about Trump’s Stern interviews—and his locker-room talk at “The Apprentice,” according to the AP—is that he viewed himself as entertaining people.
Can some of the comments he made be defended in the context of the 2016 campaign? Of course not. Obviously Trump wouldn’t have made them if he had envisioned a future in politics. Nor would the Clintons have shown up at his wedding.
If you like Trump, you wave this away as a guy doing shtick and someone who promoted women in his business empire. If you can’t stand Trump, you believe these blasts of the past are the unvarnished Trump, a man who discusses women in crude fashion.
Stern has developed into a terrific interviewer of media and musical celebrities at Sirius XM, though even in the ’90s he chatted up Christie Whitman (who kept her promise to name a New Jersey rest stop after him if she was elected governor). But in the sessions with Trump there was plenty of raunchy talk about women’s bodies and, uh, desirability.
This prompted Virginia Heffernan to unload on both men at Politico:
“Stern has long had a devilish talent for lulling guests into a false sense of security—and then luring them into rhetorical traps…
“What comes across in old tapes of the show, resurfaced recently by BuzzFeed and other outlets, is that Trump, like many of Stern’s guests, was often the one being played. By nailing him as a buffoon and then—unkindest cut—forcing him to kiss the Howard Stern ring, Stern and his co-anchor, Robin Quivers, created a series of broadcasts that today showcase not just Trump’s misogyny but his ready submission to sharper minds.”
First, Stern wasn’t sandbagging Trump, he was amusing his male-heavy radio audience. And Trump was no neophyte but a guy who regularly made news in New York’s tabloids and, by 1996, owned the Miss Universe pageant.
“A lot of that was done for the purpose of entertainment, there’s nobody that has more respect for women than I do,” Trump told KSNV.
In another twist, Stern went after CNN for running this headline: "Howard Stern says Trump backed Iraq War in 2002"—as if he were disclosing some kind of private conversation.
What Stern had actually done is tell listeners how struck he was when his name came up in the presidential debate. The reason was the much-replayed interview from 2002 in which he asked Trump if he favored invading Iraq and the businessman replied with a lukewarm “I guess so”—now undercutting Trump’s argument that he opposed the war beforehand.
"I got so upset because, let's face it, tapes from our show featuring Donald Trump have been used in the campaign," Stern said."And the other day I was talking to Robin [Quivers] on the air, and I said to her, 'Yeah, you know it was really surreal sorta laying there in bed watching them mention my name on the debate… So, then there was a big screaming headline on CNN: 'Howard Stern Now Confirms'….I said nothing new.”
The question of Trump’s attitude toward women, which famously came up at the first Fox debate, will continue to resonate through Election Day. And this remains an uphill climb for the GOP nominee. But I would say the old Howard Stern interviews and Rosie O’Donnell battles are baked into the cake, and anyone who’s upset by that was already not voting for Trump.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.