Bill Clinton’s Affairs Were Part Of The Debate Conversation Whether Donald Trump Admits It Or Not

MELBOURNE, FL - SEPTEMBER 27: Donald Trump speaks to a large group of supporters at a Florida airport hanger the day after his first debate with Hillary Clinton on September 27, 2016 in Melbourne, Florida. Trump has lashed out at the debate moderator, his microphone and Hillary Clinton following the at times combative debate. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Reviews of Donald Trump's performance at the highly anticipated first presidential debate were mixed, at best. After a relatively promising start, Trump argued with moderator Lester Holt, repeatedly (and falsely) stated that he had been opposed to the Iraq War, and failed to steer the conversation toward opponent Hillary Clinton's most vulnerable subjects, like her use of a private email server, Benghazi, and her family's charity, the Clinton Foundation. Despite all this, Trump's own opinion of his performance, perhaps unsurprisingly, was more positive — partially because he is "happy" that he didn't bring up Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs.

The problem with Trump's version of events is an issue he's definitely had before: It isn't true. Trump did bring up Bill Clinton's infidelity during the debate. Even if he didn't explicitly reference Clinton's affairs, I believe he alluded to them so obviously that it was absolutely clear to all who were watching what he was trying to drudge up against his opponent.

Near the end of the debate, Clinton was asked to respond to Trump's statement that she lacks a "presidential look," and she used the opportunity to criticize his record of insulting women based on their physical characteristics. Trump responded with an odd deflection about Rosie O'Donnell — the same one he used when confronted about his past misogynistic comments by Megyn Kelly during a debate last fall — then argued that his kindness to women can be demonstrated by him not bringing up some of Clinton's "extremely rough" family matters:

You want to know the truth, I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself I can't do it. I just can't do it. It's inappropriate, it's not nice...

From my perspective, the context in which Trump made that statement made it absolutely clear that he was referring to Clinton's infidelities. Before the debate, Trump enacted a bizarre publicity stunt on Twitter. He threatened to invite Gennifer Flowers, who claims to have had an affair with Bill Clinton, to the debate. Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, later said Trump was just trying to "remind people that he’s a great counterpuncher." Regardless, the stunt was successful for Trump in that the subject of Bill Clinton's affairs were on everyone's mind heading into the first debate.

Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich argued that Clinton was trying to bait Trump into bringing up the affairs. Gingrich praised Trump for not taking the supposed bait, telling Fox News that not mentioning the affairs “showed that unlike Hillary Clinton, for whom nothing is too mean or too despicable, he actually was willing to set a standard of being decent, and I’m very proud of him.”  

However, what Trump was not saying was so obvious. Trump cannot say he didn't mention Bill Clinton's affairs when members of his own team praised him for not going into further detail about them. He may not have used the words "infidelity," or even "Bill," but it is abundantly clear that viewers knew exactly what he was talking about. 

There's absolutely no justification for praising Trump for not mentioning Bill Clinton's affairs, because he did.

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