Would Democrats have supported Bill Clinton in 2016?

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Story highlights

  • Issac Bailey: Bill Clinton squeaked through Lewinsky scandal, but 2016 campaign should remind Dems of vulnerability
  • He says Trump exposed GOP's weakness; Republicans had to forfeit nearly everything good about themselves to support him
  • Bailey: Democratic Party should examine itself for the same kind of weakness that could allow a Trump-like figure to rise

Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)Would the Democratic Party have supported Bill Clinton for president in 2016?

The answer to that question would be more important and revealing than re-litigating why the party supported him in 1992 and 1996, and even after he lied under oath -- and on national TV, wagging his finger at us -- during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
    Issac Bailey
    Back then, it was easier to cite examples of other presidents' scandalous behavior, like that of John F. Kennedy, to blunt any talk that private foibles could affect public performance in the White House. But the fact is, Clinton's private shortcomings eventually almost sunk his presidency, despite his enormous political talent, affecting the country in ways that are still not fully understood.
    During that period, Osama bin Laden was declaring war on us while President Clinton was being derided for launching missiles to try to kill the man who would eventually lead the most lethal domestic terror attack in our nation's history.
    He was wagging the dog to change the subject, his critics claimed (and some supporters likely thought). He also launched a national conversation on race relations whose presence was also overwhelmed by his personal scandal. The Republican Party took it too far, with impeachment and unproven rumors of other ugly conduct.
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    But Bill Clinton's private behavior provided the GOP lots of ammunition. I can't help but wonder where we would be in the war on terror or race relations if a hyper-partisanship fueled, in part, by Clinton's personal faults hadn't taken hold.
    In the aftermath of the rumors of sexual misconduct, allegations of sexual assault and confirmed adulterous behavior by the former President (who left office with a high approval rating, just the same), the country changed. We now openly and relentlessly examine rape culture and the mistreatment of women by powerful men, and much of that discussion is led by Democrats and liberals.
    Just ask Nate Parker, the director and actor who saw an old allegation of rape, for which he was found not guilty -- and for which he said he was falsely accused -- derail the success of his potentially groundbreaking movie about Nat Turner and likely curtail a once-presumed Oscar-nomination.
    Or ask Bill Cosby, who allegedly spent much of his adult life abusing and assaulting women but is only over the past few years being held to account -- when he is an old man and after he's made his fortune and a name for himself.
    Given this new climate, Democrats should ask themselves if they would vote for Bill Clinton today.
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    Why? Well, this has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton's chances this year and everything to do with the Democratic revulsion with Donald Trump. Each man and woman in a relationship has to make personal decisions about how to handle the indiscretions of a partner. No one should judge Hillary Clinton for staying with her husband or criticize another woman who in the same situation might have filed for divorce. That part of marital life is and must remain private, not for public consumption.
    But the rest of us must contend with how and when to weigh personal faults when it comes to determining who should lead us, because as the story of Bill Clinton makes clear, they do matter. (Barack Obama, for example, thankfully did not have such problems either before he was elected or during his two terms in office.)
    If Democrats would vote for Bill Clinton today, despite what we know about his personal behaviors -- which remind us of Trump's -- it simply shows that the revulsion they feel about Trump is more partisanship than principles. And it shows they understand the bind Republicans find themselves in better than they let on.
    Though Republicans brought Trump on themselves and are suffering the consequences of their own decisions and actions, there is logic behind their struggle. It is simply fact that a Hillary Clinton presidency is more likely to take the country in a political direction most conservatives and Republicans don't want. It is also fact that the shape of the Supreme Court for the next generation or two hangs in the balance, and Republicans know this, no matter what they think about Trump.
    It's just that the Republican Party has to forfeit just about everything good about itself to support Trump in any way.
    If Democrats would still support Bill Clinton in 2016 for the presidency (which is not the same as admiring his post-presidential work), it proves that the gap between the two parties is not as wide as some Democrats are self-righteously claiming.
    A man like Trump took advantage of an opening in the Republican Party, one fueled by anger and the disillusionment of millions of Republicans who fear a browning America. That's why bigotry and misogyny are at the core of his appeal -- and not a turn off -- to a significant segment of the GOP.
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    That doesn't mean a different man, an as-yet-identified Democrat or left-leaning independent, who presents a different kind (but still very real) of danger won't be able to take advantage of Democrats in the same way that Trump has taken advantage of the GOP, the next time around.
    Instead of gleefully watching the GOP's destruction, the Democratic Party would be wise to examine itself for vulnerabilities to such a Trump-like figure who could expose them in ways they today likely don't even think is possible.