There was a strange moment in the first presidential debate on Monday night when Donald Trump bragged—there’s no better word—about how he was doing Hillary Clinton a big favor by laying off some personal topic that he wasn’t going to mention. It was a classic “I’m not going to talk about this really bad thing, but I’m talking about by not talking about it” maneuver, and for the most part, everyone was pretty sure it referenced Bill Clinton’s famous infidelity. Here’s the text of what he said:
TRUMP: But you want to know the truth? I was going to say something…
HOLT: Please very quickly.
TRUMP: ... 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.” But she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on negative ads on me, many of which are absolutely untrue. They’re untrue. And they’re misrepresentations.
Later, in a post-debate interview with Sean Hannity, he again alluded to some unspoken personal business:
“I didn’t want to say, her husband was in the room along with her daughter, who I thin is a very nice young lady, and I didn’t want to say what I was going to say about what’s been going on in their life. So I decided not to say it. I thought it would be disrespectful to Chelsea and maybe to the family.”
Again, it seems a lot like it’s about Clinton’s sexual misdeeds. However, other lines of speculation opened, and they were at least acknowledged—if not outright endorsed—by people like Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi:
Today, Politico ran a story with the headline: “Trump deputy campaign manager calls Clinton ‘enabler’ of husband’s infidelity.” In an interview, David Bossie referenced Trump “holding his tongue,” and went on to say this on Fox and Friends:
“I think that if you look at Hillary Clinton’s background and if you look at her being an enabler, really, in the ‘90s and really attacking these women, it goes against everything that she now tries to spout as a candidate for president.”
Trump’s campaign team has been very much on message since the last shakeup, even if Trump himself has slip-ups, and it’s very unlikely Bossie would make a comment like this on television if the rules of the game hadn’t changed. Bill Clinton is no longer off-limits, and it’s very likely that they’ll try to tie Hillary in with the infamous events of the ‘90s. We’ve heard it all before—she enabled the affairs, she silenced women who said he’d raped or harassed them, etc. But we’ve never seen it brought out on a national stage, in this kind of public forum. That restraint ends now—Trump doesn’t like losing, and poll after poll show that people believe he lost the first debate. The gloves are off.