CNN’s Begala, Bash Downplay Clinton Sex Scandals; ‘Nobody Wants to Talk About’ That

After NBC’s Democratic co-moderator Andrea Mitchell wanted to know from Bernie Sanders in Sunday’s debate about whether or not he regretted bringing up Bill Clinton’s sex scandals, the post-debate analysis on CNN saw panelists Dana Bash and Paul Begala (a former Clinton aide) less than pleased with the issue and did their best to downplay its significance in the 2016 race. 

Host Wolf Blitzer gave CNN political commentator and former Clinton adviser Paul Begala the first crack at this part of the debate since “you served in the White House under President Bill Clinton” and “remember those days” when Clinton’s transgressions were first exposed. 

After Begala first boasted that “[v]ery few people probably spent more time with him during that period than I did,” the man now running a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC railed against what he deemed “a totally unfair question” even though “I love Andrea Mitchell.” 

Begala argued that while he thinks Mitchell is “a great journalist,” bringing this issue up was “[t]otally unfair” but believed that Sanders “knocked it out of the park” with his answer attacking the media for bringing it up (even though it was an attendee of an Iowa town hall that asked him about it on January 8).

Referring to “my old partner James Carville,” Begala paraphrased “one of his old laws” as being “if there's something too dirty or vile to raise in a campaign, don't worry, some journalist will do it and that's what happened here.”

“It had no place in the debate. These two wanted to debate Wall Street and guns and Iran and taxes and health care and nobody wants to talk about something like that,” Begala lamented. 

Moments after (and some disagreement by fellow panelist S.E. Cupp), Blitzer posed to chief political correspondent Dana Bash the chances that whoever the Republicans nominate would bring it up and Bash responded that: “I don't know that anybody else really would because I'm not sure that anybody else thinks it would work. I mean, look, there are a lot of people who were around, maybe around this table, who were around in the '90s[.]”

She later added that when it first happened: “Republicans tried to make it an issue and it didn't work, so why is it going to work 20 years later with his wife? I just don't see it.”

Taking a slightly different tone, CNN political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson pointed out how Republicans could still bring this up in the general election if Clinton’s nominated, but with a different angle from when it first went down in the 1990s:  

[I]t looks like Republicans want to go somewhere else with this, which is if Hillary Clinton is such a great feminist, if she's sort of such a great role model for women, if she's such a champion of women, then what was her sort of role in demonizing those women or not standing up for them? So, I think that would be something that possibly comes up now in a different way because we are in a different period in terms of how we talk about women and how they are treated in the workplace than we were in the '90s. 

Commenting on that possibility, Bash responded: “I think the question about whether or not she played a role in demonizing the women is totally fair game. I think questioning, you know, why she stayed — like who cares?”

The relevant portion of the transcript from CNN’s post-Democratic debate coverage on January 17 can be found below.

CNN’s Democratic Debate Special
January 17, 2016
11:25 p.m. Eastern

WOLF BLITZER: Paul Begala, you served in the White House under President Bill Clinton. You remember those days. 

PAUL BEGALA: Very few people probably spent more time with him during that period than I did. Morning, noon, and night. What Bernie said was mild compared to what Bill Clinton said about himself. This is a totally unfair question and I love Andrea Mitchell. She's a great journalist. Totally unfair question. Bernie, I thought he knocked it out of the park. He is not going at Hillary or her husband personally. He wants to run on issues, he's going to run on issues. I thought that was true. I did think — look, this was Carville, my old partner, James Carville, one of his old laws, if there's something too dirty or vile to raise in a campaign, don't worry, some journalist will do it and that's what happened here. I'm sorry. No, it had no place in the debate. These two wanted to debate Wall Street and guns and Iran and taxes and health care and nobody wants to talk about something like that

(....)

BLITZER: Dana, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, will Republicans — the Republican opposition, whoever the Republican nominee is, will they be reluctant to talk about Bill Clinton and transgressions during the course of the campaign? 

DAVID AXELROD: What about Donald Trump? Would he — 

DANA BASH: Everybody would except Donald Trump. Yes. I mean, you know, he's doing it now. I don't know that anybody else really would because I'm not sure that anybody else thinks it would work. I mean, look, there are a lot of people who were around, maybe around this table, who were around in the '90s[.]

(....)

BASH: Real quickly, when it was Bill Clinton's problem, almost in the moment, Republicans tried to make it an issue and it didn't work. So why is it going to work 20 years later with his wife? I just don't see it. 

(....)

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: But, you know, the reality is you do have Donald Trump who did bring up this topic about Bill Clinton's infidelities and indiscretions and to me, it looks like Republicans want to go somewhere else with this, which is if Hillary Clinton is such a great feminist, if she's sort of such a great role model for women, if she's such a champion of women, then what was her sort of role in demonizing those women or not standing up for them? So, I think that would be something that possibly comes up now in a different way because we are in a different period in terms of how we talk about women and how they are treated in the workplace than we were in the '90s. 

BASH: I think the question about whether or not she played a role in demonizing the women is totally fair game. 

HENDERSON: Yeah.

BASH: I think questioning, you know, why she stayed — like who cares?

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is the Managing Editor of NewsBusters for the Media Research Center