This sort of thing isn’t entirely new, though it is rarely the candidate who engages in this behavior. I’m reminded of how GOP dirty-trickster Lee Atwater helped George H.W. Bush defeat Bob Dole in the 1988 GOP primary, using similar techniques. As author John Brady recounts in his book, “Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater,” Atwater had a theory that “adults could be divided into two groups: the overly mature and the childlike.” “The overly mature,” Brady continues, “are inflexible and over-serious, making them highly vulnerable in politics, particularly in the age of television. [Bob] Dole was the mature type, Atwater the child.”
“It didn’t take Atwater much research to see that Dole was hypersensitive about attacks on his wife. Replaying old charges against her in Iowa, Atwater was able to get under the senator’s skin. He kept Dole’s blood boiling with the letter that accused him of starting the dirty campaigning, and he upped the pressure with the perfectly timed ad that mocked Dole’s record. Although Atwater was the one pushing buttons, Dole’s outburst to [Tom] Brokaw — his message to Bush was ‘Stop lying about my record!’ — focused all the attention on him. … Atwater, a genius at one-upmanship, now stood back. Dole could only respond with more sourness, compounding the problem and leading to electoral suicide.” Hillary, like Dole, is an adult. Trump, like Atwater, is a kid.
Now, imagine you are the Clintons. Do you want some childish joker bringing up your past personal peccadilloes? No, but it’s not about hurting the Clintons politically; it’s about hurting them personally — and trying to get them to commit an error in response.
Hillary might not even be the primary target. It might be Bill. Bill Clinton is a master politician when he’s fighting for himself, but as we’ve seen in the past, this skill doesn’t seem to be transferable when he’s helping his wife campaign. There is a chance that Trump may be trying to get under his skin — trying to goad him into making mistakes.