For months, former president Bill Clinton has largely stayed out of the 2016 race, mentioned mostly in passing by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Now, following days of attacks over his sexual history from Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Clinton is escalating his public involvement in his wife’s campaign. On Monday, he heads out for his first solo campaign events with stops planned in New Hampshire, a key primary state that gave much-needed momentum to his struggling 1992 presidential bid.
But some of the less desirable moments of his past — his impeachment and decades-old sex scandals — are also re-emerging as he prepares to campaign in the Granite State.
So far, Bill Clinton has remained mum about the accusations — following the lead of his wife’s campaign, which believes their candidate comes across as more presidential by rising above what they see as Trump’s crass political tactics.
But the attacks seem to have struck a nerve.
At a campaign event in New Hampshire on Sunday, Katherine Prudhomme O’Brien heckled Clinton about her husband’s sexual history, accusing her of enabling him to mistreat women.
“You are very rude and I’m not going to ever call on you,” Clinton snapped at O’Brien, after repeated shouted interruptions by the New Hampshire state senator.
The former president, too, has been known to become heated when he feels his wife is under attack, as he did during the 2008 primary with remarks about then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama that angered black voters in South Carolina.
“I love my husband and, you know, he does get upset when I am attacked,” said Clinton, in an interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press” last year. “I totally get that.”
Just days after Clinton called her husband her “secret weapon” at a campaign event last month, Trump began aiming his fire at Bill Clinton, accusing the former president of mistreating women and his wife of enabling the abuse.
“If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she is wrong,” Trump tweeted last week.
His accusations reverberated across the campaign trail, giving fodder to conservatives who want to use the issue in the 2016 campaign.
“You see what’s happened recently and it hasn’t been a very pretty picture for her or for Bill,” said Trump, in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“Because I’m the only one who’s willing to talk about his problems.”
Clinton supporters believe the attacks will backfire, particularly in the general election. Hillary Clinton had some of her highest approval ratings in the wake of disclosures about her husband’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The former president’s public events in New Hampshire come as he moves into a more public role in his wife’s effort. After months of keeping the former president to private fundraisers, Clinton said in a December debate that she would turn to her husband for advice should she win the White House, particularly on economic issues.
Their schedules on Monday showed the degree to which the ubiquitous political couple will be able to blanket the early primary states in the next two months as Democrats also hold contests in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina.
While the former president was drumming up support for his wife in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton was starting a two-day “river-to-river” tour of Iowa, holding town hall meetings and organizing events across the state.