’90s Scandals Threaten to Erode Hillary Clinton’s Strength With Women

Posted by on Jan 20, 2016 at 7:50 am

This month, Lena Dunham, wearing a red, white and blue sweater dress with the word “Hillary” emblazoned across the chest, told voters how Hillary Clinton had overcome sexism in her political career.

“The way she has been treated is just more evidence of the fact that our country has so much hatred toward successful women,” Ms. Dunham, the creator and star of the HBO series “Girls,” said at a Clinton campaign event in Manchester, N.H.

But at an Upper East Side dinner party a few months back, Ms. Dunham expressed more conflicted feelings. She told the guests, at the Park Avenue apartment of Richard Plepler, the chief executive of HBO, that she was disturbed by how, in the 1990s, the Clintons and their allies discredited women who said they had had sexual encounters with or been sexually assaulted by former President Bill Clinton.

The conversation, relayed by several people with knowledge of the discussion who would speak about it only anonymously, captures the deeper debate unfolding among liberal-leaning women about how to reconcile Mrs. Clinton’s leadership on women’s issues with her past involvement in her husband’s efforts to fend off accusations of sexual misconduct.

The issue emerged last month when Mrs. Clinton accused the Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump of having a “penchant for sexism” and he in turn accused her of hypocrisy, given her husband’s treatment of women. And in recent weeks, the scandals of the 1990s and Mrs. Clinton’s role in them have taken on a life of their own, delivering an unexpected headache to a campaign predicated on inspiring female voters.

Mrs. Clinton had hoped to galvanize women late last month in her critique of Mr. Trump. Instead, two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, her campaign has found itself trying to shore up support among women as discussions about past Clinton scandals have moved from conservative critics to broader public consciousness.

“She’s not a victim. She was an enabler,” Mr. Trump told Fox News last week. “Some of these women have been destroyed, and Hillary worked with” her husband.

Ms. Dunham declined a request for comment. Her spokeswoman, Cindi Berger, said that Ms. Dunham is “fully supportive of Hillary Clinton and her track record for protecting women,” and that the description of her comments at the dinner party was a “total mischaracterization.”

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