Hillary vs. Trump: Their battle over Bill Clinton

When the pot calls the kettle black, so to speak, few people pay attention to the accuser who's equally guilty of the crime. But when Donald Trump calls former President Bill Clinton "fair game" for his infidelities, you can bet many political journalists will be listening closely – and likely smiling.

The latest Trump charge gives reporters a legitimate reason to challenge Bill and Hillary Clinton on the stump, as well as Trump himself. The campaign trail gets a new injection of controversy with Trump's statement that he will go after Bill Clinton's sexual past.

Trump is a brand wizard, so why would he invoke Bill Clinton's alleged affairs, knowing he is equally vulnerable to attacks following an affair that ended his own marriage? He has to know attacks on Bill Clinton's sexual history didn't work in the past, so why would it work now, right?

Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump
Getty Images
Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump

In political campaigns, you attack where the opponent is weak, promote where you are strong and deflect where you are weak. Trump is effectively applying all three of these strategies with his latest attack on Bill Clinton.

Hillary Clinton is strong on women's issues so Trump knows he can't challenge her record on women's rights. He can keep sending his daughter on the campaign trail, advocating for his record with women, but it will never win against Hillary's four-decade (plus) career in advocating for women and children.

However, Trump instantly puts Hillary on the defensive by challenging her husband's history with women, deflecting where he is weak. Hillary can either defend or ignore, but if she ignores the attacks on her husband, she opens herself up to a new vulnerability: Why are you no longer defending your husband?

The Clinton campaign put Bill on the stump because they wanted to remind voters of the rolling 90s when the economy was great and jobs were secure. But now, instead of reminding voters of the good times, they are forced to share the stump with the other part of Bill Clinton's past.

So what should Hillary do? On the campaign trail, she should take the high road and stay away from any Trump narrative that involves her husband. Trump is toxic to many moderate voters – from both sides of the political spectrum. Yes – the right loves Trump and the left loves Bernie Sanders but those voters won't decide the general election. Hillary needs to keep her focus on the voters who will decide the general election.

As for Bill Clinton, he is the master politician, capable of talking his way out of any controversy, so it's highly unlikely the accusations of him abusing women will stick past January. If journalists do bring up his past, Bill has several legitimate outlets to transition out of the confrontation. He should bring the conversation back to his wife's track record and continue to downplay Trump as a circus act. Remind voters of the attacks Trump has made against prominent women, and then move on.

Trump did succeed in changing the narrative once again. Scan the headlines on Google or Yahoo and you will see this story trending. Trump deflected where he was weak and attacked where his opponent had a weak spot.

Maybe journalists won't question Trump over any of his alleged affairs from the 1980s because he was a private citizen then, so it isn't as relevant. But Trump is no longer a private citizen. Here on out, his character is open to scrutiny and luckily for his opponents, his track record will provide them with plenty of fodder for attacks.

Commentary by Mark Macias, head of Macias PR, a global public-relations firm, that has run media and branding campaigns for politicians, tech start-ups, financial firms, nonprofits and companies. He's also author of the book, "Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing theMedia." Follow him on Twitter @markmacias.