The other day, Bill Clinton held court at a bookstore in or near Chappaqua, New York, where he and Hillary live. According to a report in a local newspaper, Clinton told his fellow shoppers that he had “received” a phone call from president-elect Trump the day after the election. Clinton said that Trump had been cordial, “like it was 15 years ago” when the Clintons and Trumps were on friendly terms.
Someone then asked Clinton whether Trump is smart. Clinton responded “he doesn’t know much.” Then he added, “one thing he does know is how to get angry white men to vote for him.”
Trump responded via Twitter. As to the claim that Trump called the ex-president, Trump stated: “Wrong.” Clinton eventually agreed in a tweet that it was he who called Trump.
As to who knows what, Trump responded that Clinton “‘doesn’t know much’ . . .especially how to get people, even with an unlimited budget, out to vote in the vital swing states (and more).”
Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution characterized this incident as another example of Trump abandoning the “unwritten rules, otherwise known as norms” that are supposed to govern presidential behavior. In response to the obvious fact that Clinton started the spat, Mann said that Clinton “didn’t go out and make a public statement; it was a conversation in a book store.” “Usually, you ignore that kind of thing,” he said.
I don’t think there is a “usually” here. When was the last time an ex-president publicly said that an incoming president doesn’t know much, other than how to be a demagogue?
The most relevant precedent I can think of is the relationship between George H.W. Bush and Clinton. In the 1992 campaign, Clinton and his crew savaged then-president Bush. In a conspicuous display of disrespect, they constantly referred to him as “Bush” rather than “President Bush.”
Yet the defeated president has always been respectful to his victorious rival. The two seem to have enjoyed a pretty warm relationship over the years.
Does anyone imagine that Clinton would have been gracious to Bush in defeat?
Trump’s lack of class is obvious. It has been on display for a year and a half in the political sphere and for decades elsewhere.
Bill Clinton’s egregious lack of class, including that displayed in the confines of the Oval Office, has been in plain view for decades too. Somehow, it gets overlooked or excused by establishment figures and the mainstream media.
As entertaining as they may be, let’s hope we are spared from future squabbles between the ex-president and the new one.