Donald Trump is reviving memories of Bill Clinton's affair with a White House intern and his turbulent interactions with black voters during South Carolina's 2008 primary as the ex-president campaigns for his wife in New Hampshire.
Trump's latest broadsides on the Clintons — a potential preview of a nasty, personal general election — appear to be energizing voters leading into the first primary contests. But, some observers warn, they could pose a long-term risk for Trump in his effort to succeed President Barack Obama.
"If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women's card on me, she's wrong!" Trump said on Twitter on Monday to his nearly 5.5 million followers.
"Remember that Bill Clinton was brought in to help Hillary against Obama in 2008. He was terrible, failed badly, and was called a racist!" Trump added late Monday night.
The attacks are the latest in an escalating feud between Trump and Hillary Clinton, who have been spending more time focused on each other as the first nominating contests draw nearer. Both are leading preference polls nationally — though Trump appears increasingly vulnerable in Iowa, while Clinton faces a challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire.
In taking on Bill Clinton, Trump is drawing upon two longstanding Republican critiques against the former president that have received scant attention thus far: the ex-president's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky during the 1990s, and his dust-up with black voters during the 2008 South Carolina primary.
After Obama's win, Bill Clinton noted that Jesse Jackson had won South Carolina's primary in 1984 and 1988 — victories that didn't lead to the Democratic nomination. The remarks angered many black voters and officials in the state, who viewed it as an attempt to diminish Obama, who then was Hillary Clinton's main rival.
In a phone interview with NBC's "Today Show," Trump said today that his comments about Bill Clinton were "fair game" after Hillary Clinton accused him of having a "penchant for sexism." Her remark was in response to Trump saying Clinton had been "schlonged" by Obama in the 2008 nominating contest.
"There was certainly a lot of abuse of women," Trump said, adding: "And that certainly will be fair game. Certainly if they play the woman's card with respect to me, that will be fair game."
He also said he doesn't personally believe Bill Clinton is racist and simply was recounting what was said about the ex-president at the time.
Democrats predicted Trump's comments would backfire in a general election against Clinton, who has appealed to women and minority voters at the heart of the coalition that twice elected Obama.
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said during an interview that Trump's comments on race were aimed at tamping down "black excitement and participation" in the upcoming election.
"He's trying to tarnish Mrs. Clinton and in doing so is misrepresenting what was said" by the former president, said Clyburn, who has remained neutral in the Democratic primaries.