Let the mind games begin: Trump invites Bill Clinton’s ex-lover to first presidential debate with Hillary
Who is going to win? Who is going to choke? The pressure is intense for Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton - phenomenally different candidates - who clash in their first debate on Monday
Gennifer Flowers, who revealed a sexual relationship with Bill Clinton in the 1990s, is saying she will attend Monday’s debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as Trump’s guest.
Flowers’s assistant confirmed the decision to BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski Saturday afternoon, and Flowers herself told the New York Times in a text message, “Yes, I will be there.”
The decision was the latest play in a bizarre bit of gamesmanship between the Clinton and Trump campaigns over the debate. Clinton’s camp confirmed last week that they would invite billionaire Mark Cuban, a Trump antagonist, to the debate.
“Just got a front row seat to watch @HillaryClinton overwhelm @realDonaldTrump at the ‘Humbling at Hofstra’ on Monday. It Is On!” Cuban tweeted.
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) September 23, 2016
The two billionaires have feuded regularly in recent years. At a July campaign stop for Clinton, Cuban called Trump “bats--- crazy.”
On Saturday, he taunted Trump on Twitter: “Donald. Remember when you told me on the phone we were ‘Bobbsie Twins’ and I laughed?”
And Trump tweeted that he might invite Flowers - first in a tweet that misspelled her name as “Jennifer,” which was deleted within minutes, quickly followed by a repeat. Both tweets also mentioned Cuban’s ‘Apprentice’-like TV show, which was cancelled in 2004: “If dopey Mark Cuban of failed Benefactor fame wants to sit in the front row, perhaps I will put Gennifer Flowers right alongside of him!”
Despite the confirmation from Flowers, the Trump campaign said on Sunday that Flowers would not be not actually be at the debate. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN that the Trump campaign had not formally invited Flowers.
Stakes are as high as they get since there are just six weeks until the November 8 election. Polls show a close race, with Clinton, 68, enjoying an edge.
As many as 90 million Americans, some estimate, will be glued to their television to catch the showdown.
Many analysts say debates usually don’t win a candidate the election but can well lose it for them. A single sentence, or the slightest slip, can do serious damage.
Plenty of American voters will have made a decision by now, to be sure. Most have.
But nine per cent by some estimates still don’t know who to vote for, after a long campaign in which bitter attacks have often replaced substance.
Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri responded: “Hillary Clinton plans on using the debate to discuss the issues that make a difference in people’s lives. It’s not surprising that Donald Trump has chosen a different path.”
It also remains to be seen whether the Commission on Presidential Debates, which organises the debates, would allow either Cuban or Flowers to sit in the front row. Commission co-chairman Frank Fahrenkopf said, before the news about Flowers, that attempts to distract the candidates with guests will be discouraged.
“We are going to frown upon - I will tell you this right now - whether or not a Republican or Democrat or anyone else attempts by use of tickets in placing people in a front row or not to try to impact the debate. It is wrong,” Fahrenkopf said.
“We would frown upon Mr Cuban being in the front row if his purpose is to somehow disrupt the debate; likewise, if Mr Trump was going to put someone in the front row to try and impact things.”
Flowers said during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign that the two of them had engaged in an affair over a dozen years. The allegation, which Clinton denied at the time, threatened to ruin his campaign.
In 1998, Bill Clinton acknowledged under oath having a sexual encounter with Flowers, though he disputed details of her account.
On Saturday, the New York Times endorsed Clinton, who ahead of the debates has been cloistered with aides and her papers at home in Chappaqua, north of New York, even practising with relatives playing Trump.
She has been focusing on his psychological profile, with a goal to get Trump to crack, to show that he can’t control himself and lacks the even-handed temperament a president needs.
If he reacts by attacking, Trump also risks losing women’s votes; he already has a harder time with women voters, and they make up 53 per cent of those who turn out. And any slip is sure to be a TV news sound bite.
Clinton’s campaign released a long list of lies it attributes to Donald Trump ahead of the debate.
Trump in turn says preparations are “going very well,” trying to at least appear relaxed. Friday he won the endorsement of former conservative rival Senator Ted Cruz.
Trump seems unwilling to train with a Hillary stand-in. But he has watched videos of his opponent in previous debates.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse