Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

OK, gentlemen, if you wish to go there ...

It's admittedly just a guess, but I'd bet good money that if you put them on a cattle scale instead of a stage, the two men pictured above would probably weigh a combined 500 pounds, although 600 may be closer to the truth. Neither has seemed to master the basic exercise of pushing yourself away from the dining table.

Yet these days, Donald Trump and his sidekick, Newt Gingrich, are going around the country attacking a woman by the name of Alicia Machado for her weight gain back in 1996, the year that she reigned as Miss Universe. On Fox & Friends this week, Trump accused her of a "massive weight gain," and in the past has said that as Miss Universe, Machado had ballooned up to 170 pounds, concluding "this is somebody who likes to eat."

Not to be outdone, Gingrich told an audience in Washington last night that "you’re not supposed to gain 60 pounds during the year that you’re Miss Universe,”  with the audience reportedly breaking into laughter.

if this seems to be a bizarre thing for politicians to be talking about, it is. But Trump, Gingrich and other Trump surrogates are pushing the weight-gain story as a way to try justify Trump's cruel treatment of Machado back in 1996, when he took to calling her names such as "Miss Piggy" and allegedly "Miss Housekeeping" because of her Latina background. According to Machado, the experience was so humiliating that it took years to recover her self-esteem.

But back then, Machado's self-esteem was the least of Trump's worries. He owned the Miss Universe franchise, and as the title holder Machado was his prime asset, so to speak. So to "help" her to lose weight, Trump not only taunted and berated Machado and ordered her to report to the gym, he brought in hordes of cameras and reporters to document just how "fat" she had gotten, and to help him humiliate and shame her back into the prime cut of human flesh that could make him more money.

The picture to the left shows Machado in that well-publicized workout. Note the photographers in the background. If Trump and Gingrich are right, she would be about 175-180 pounds in that picture. That doesn't appear to be anywhere near the case. Machado herself has said that her gain was more like 10 to 15 pounds, which looks more accurate.

But set all that aside and think about what's happening here: At another point in his career, Trump was also owner of the New Jersey Generals in the now-defunct USFL. Could you imagine Trump publicly hauling an offensive lineman before reporters and TV cameras, accusing him of being fat and out of shape, and insisting that he begin working out so all the world could make fun of him?

Or is this something that he would only do to a 20-year-old woman?

Now, take another look at the two men pictured in the top photo. Combined, they have six wives. Throw in Rudy Giuliani, another prominent Trump supporter, and the number jumps to nine wives.

Well, in addition to attacking Machado for her weight gain, the Trump campaign is now coyly trying to resurrect the story of Bill Clinton's past infidelities and marital problems as a way to strike back at Hillary. Nobody is making them do this. It is the course that they've chosen to take, because that is how petty and mean they are.

At Monday night's debate, Trump dramatically announced that tempted as he was, he would not say "extremely rough" things about the Clinton family, later explaining that the "extremely rough" things that he wasn't going to talk about was Bill Clinton's infidelities, Monica Lewinsky, the blue dress and all that tawdry stuff that he was too nice a man to talk about. His son, Eric, told the press that he had never been more proud of his father than he had been watching the elder Trump NOT talk about the Clinton infidelities, Monica Lewinsky, the blue dress and all that tawdry stuff that he was too nice a man to talk about. David Bossie, Trump's deputy campaign manager, even went on Fox to accuse Hillary of having been an enabler of her husband's flings that of course, the campaign didn't want to talk about.

And Giuliani said this week that if Hillary Clinton hadn't known about her husband's fling with Monica Lewinsky, then she must be "too stupid to be president".

Let me stress this again: This is the Trump campaign and Trump surrogates trying to inject this stuff into the middle of a presidential campaign.  This is the turf upon which they themselves have chosen to fight.

So for the record, Giuliani married his second cousin once removed. When he wanted to get rid of her, he sought an annulment from the Catholic Church on the grounds that, well, she was his second cousin once removed. Later, when Giuliani wanted to dump his second wife as well, he called a press conference to announce their separation, telling the whole world about it before he bothered to inform his wife or their children.

''Today's turn of events brings me great sadness," the second Mrs. Giuliani said a few hours after the surprise announcement. "I had hoped to keep this marriage together. For several years, it was difficult to participate in Rudy's public life because of his relationship with one staff member."

By the time of his announcement, however, Giuliani had already moved on from that staff member to yet another woman, Judith Nathan, his "very good friend" who later became his third wife. I guess Wife No. 2 was stupid not to have known that. In fact, maybe it was her fault for being an "enabler."

And then of course there's Gingrich, who was himself married and carrying on an affair with a House staff member even as he stage-managed the impeachment of President Clinton for lying about an affair.

Strategically speaking, none of this makes sense for the Republicans. It never has. Back in 1998, at Gingrich's direction, House Republicans launched attack ads on Clinton's sexual misconduct, hoping to ride the scandal to electoral success in the midterms. Instead, Democrats gained five seats, only the second time since the Civil War that a two-term president's party had gained seats in the midterm. And on the day the House officially voted to impeach Clinton, his Gallup job-approval rating hit 73 percent.

It's hard to believe that a line of attack that drove Bill Clinton to all-time heights in popularity as president is going to work any better when it's resurrected 20 years later and targeted at his wife of all people. Republican campaign strategists know that, and they're appalled by what they're seeing. But there's nothing they can do to stop it, because vile, mean people apparently can't help but do vile, mean things. It is who they are.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.