February 8th, 2008
12:55 PM ET
6 years ago

Bill Clinton reflects on South Carolina dustup

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Watch Bill Clinton reflect on the lessons he's learned on the campaign trail. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

(CNN) - Bill Clinton says he's learned his lesson.

Speaking with a Maine television station Thursday night, the former president said the fallout from his comments ahead of the South Carolina primary last month proved he should only promote his wife’s presidential candidacy, not defend her.

"Everything I have said has been factually accurate, but I think the mistake I made was to think I was a spouse just like any other spouse who could defend his candidate," Bill Clinton told Portland television station WCSH. "I think I can promote Hillary but not defend her because I was president." (Watch Bill Clinton's comments)

"I have to let her defend herself or let someone else defend her," he continued. "But a lot of things that were said were factually inaccurate. I did not ever criticize Sen. Obama in South Carolina. I never criticized him personally."

Clinton faced criticism over his seemingly aggressive campaigning in South Carolina ahead of that state's crucial primary last month, with charges from some that he had made racially insensitive and divisive comments. Several prominent African-American leaders took aim at his remarks, most notably House Majority Whip James Clyburn - the South Carolina Democrat who has remained neutral in the presidential race but told CNN the former president needed to "chill."

Exit polls taken on primary night seemed to indicate Bill Clinton's remarks may have turned off some voters. Obama easily won the primary, and captured nearly 80 percent of the African-American vote - a group that had originally supported her candidacy.

Since South Carolina, the former president has kept a lower profile on the campaign trail, strictly sticking to his talking points and rarely mentioning Obama by name. He's currently on a swing through Maine and Louisiana - two states which are set to vote this weekend.

"I think whenever I defend her, I risk being misquoted, and I risk being the story," Clinton also said in Thursday’s interview. "I don't want to be the story. This is her campaign, her presidency and her decisions. And so even if I win the an argument with another candidate, its not the right thing to do. "I need to promote her but not defend her."

"I learned a very valuable lesson from all that dustup."

– CNN Producer Alexander Mooney

soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. Amy

    Yet Bill Clinton still did not admit he made incorrect statements. Nor did he say he would, as a former President, allow his wife to campaign on her own. I find that disingenuous.

    February 8, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  2. Dennis

    That sounds about right, Bill. Your statements have made it seem as if you and Hillary were running for President. I'm not supporting Hillary, right now, but that could change if she is nominated. However, she is a very capable woman that can stand up for herself. She has proven that.

    February 8, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  3. Sam

    Even if Bill tries to keep a lower profile, as a former President he can't if he is still going to keep campaigning for his wife.

    Also, if Hillary is elected, it will be chaotic with Bill there. I don't care what kind of promises he tries to fork over to the public now. It will be a complete mess if together Bill and Hillary are in the White House again.

    February 8, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  4. Tom

    This reeks of a desparate attempt to get Bill back into the mix.

    February 8, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  5. Ryan M.

    Bill Clinton should be on Jerry Springer – drama to more drama.... His life is one big Soap Opera, of which the American people are tired of...

    No duh, Mr. President, the lesson learned from South Carolina is that an ex-President should be above the fray. But, no. You like being in the gutter.

    Democrats beware. Electing Hillary will destroy what has taken 8 years to rebuild. Make no mistake – The Clintons are not good for the Democratic party.

    February 8, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  6. Patriot

    Factually accurate?

    This is a man who lost his law license for comitting perjury.

    February 8, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  7. Joyce memphis, tn

    Way to go Bill. It's good that you are humble enough to recognize and admit to your mistakes. I've watched you campaigne for Hillary recently and you are amazing. Keep it up!!!
    Hillary '08

    February 8, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  8. Brian

    Yes, Bill, we wouldn't want any statements with" factual inaccuracies". Of course, coming from the master that could be acompliment.

    America needs you.......to go home.

    February 8, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  9. Doug

    These Clinton's are something. Pathetic and corrupt.

    Now we find out that mandate Hillary does not even

    give health coverage to her campaign employees.

    What a hypocrite.

    February 8, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  10. Ann

    I followed the whole story and I was continuously upset about how media and interest groups turn it upside down. I believe Bill Clinton. African Americans should think twice when blaming the former President.

    Hillary'08!

    February 8, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  11. Tim in California

    It sounds like he's coming around. Some of the things he said, including his Jesse Jackson reference after the contest, were certainly over the top. I would like nothing better than to keep this campaign civilized through November.

    February 8, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  12. dr fitts

    bill, oh bill...you are always learning something...like, you did not know what you were saying or doing down there in carolina (...and you probably believe your story)...you, our president for 8 years and the best political mastermind of our present time, did not "mean" to say what you said?, uh-uh, ok...we have loved you, suffered with you through your/our awful impeachment time...and you still use the charming innocent card (no offence, mind you, i voted for you 2x and, maybe would have done so again–silly me–but, you did do a good job in other stuff!)...bill, oh bill...your charm has worn out... you will not face this truth, nor will hillery...you are both good folks, but not as our president(s) this time around...let it go...
    it is time for senator hope...

    February 8, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  13. Kevin Callahan

    I love Bill, but I wish he had realized this BEFORE South Carolina.

    February 8, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  14. Jay

    Um, I respect standing up for your wife, but I don't see how calling Obama's candidacy a "roll of the dice" or distorting Obama's views on the war in Iraq or the Republican party is a defense so much as an attack.

    Bubba, I stood by you despite all the scandals and teasing that I had to endure from my Republican friends, but you lost me in South Carolina. I know many Democrats that feel the same way. I hope one day with the benefit of time I can look at you fondly the way some of us look to Jimmy Carter now as a statesman rather than a horrible president, but all I see now when I think of you is a red-faced, angry guy saying "Give me a break" and saying things Obama's stance on Iraq that were simply not true. Give me a break indeed.

    February 8, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  15. benvictor

    Fortuitous that Bill tried to work his magic with the blacks in SC and got nowhere. Hard lesson learned for Bill, and he did learn. In contests afterwards, he did not try to convince blacks to vote for Hillary. And look at the Georgia contest. Blacks overwhelming supported Hillary's opponent. At.anta is a place Bill and Hillary once spent much time with the blacks, but the blacks continue to vote against Hillary. That is fine. Two sides to every issue they say, and white voters look at this treatment of Hillary with much interest, shall we say. So yes, Bill has learned his lesson.

    February 8, 2008 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  16. who cares

    Nice spin Billy!

    February 8, 2008 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  17. Ash, NY,NY

    Sorry Bill. TOO LATE! WE'VE ALREADY GOT WHERE YOUR COMING FROM. I am so glad that the majority of the country seems ready to turn the page. Obama 08!

    February 8, 2008 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  18. Time after time

    Why didn't President Clinton keep quiet, refuse to comment about South Carolina or deflect as he is so capable of doing? You will see the comments and the distraction arise now. To say he didn't know what kind of distraction he could cause is ludicrous, and no one is going to believe him. No one! And now everyone is going to wonder why he's starting to speak out again. For someone so intelligent–we're talking genius level here, he's beginning to seem really, really dumb.

    February 8, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  19. lilywhite

    How poor they are, and oh so contrite.
    Each time I think of the poor and contrite I weep.
    When I lend myself cash to go to Wal Mart I weep.
    Why doesn't any one feel sorry for me, please tell me why?
    Women over forty five don't feel sorry for me.
    Usually gullible hispanics in California don't feel soory for me.
    No one feels sorry for me.
    Please tell me why?

    February 8, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  20. MelanieL

    Yes, It's one rule for you Bill, and another one for Michelle. The rabid frenzy of the attacks generated by the "uniting" candidate Obama , have with the collusion of a deeply biased media, effectively muzzled you along with anyone else who dares to question Obama's record, policies or style.

    So much for free speech.

    February 8, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  21. jsb

    Bill Clinton has lost so much of my respect, there is no getting it back. I do not trust him, I do not trust Hillary. They are contrived. They will be whatever they need to be from one week to the next. The only thing consistent about them is that they will do and say anything. How is this OK with people?
    Aim higher, America. Obama 08.

    February 8, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  22. Benjamin

    Hillary showed great resolve and stood up for the values of marriage when she forgave Bill for his mistake. She is a perfect example of what this society has lost in recent decades. Most people are selfish, unforgiving and will immediately dismiss their vows of marriage. Hillary was strong and despite the pain it caused her in the public eye, did what most people can't. Those are strong values, and she has a strong heart. I am proud of her, yet somehow people find fault in Hillary for abiding by the marriage lessons they give to newleyweds.

    February 8, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  23. I Love Barack

    Mr. Preseident, yes you DID criticize Barack presonally. That was not fun at all.

    February 8, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  24. donnajp

    Bill Clinton was a great President and he is one of the smartest presidents we have ever had. Hillary is brillant and Obama will be brillant. We need to all step back and think about the world and what the next president will face. We need a dream team of Clinton/Obama. Obama will then be elected in 2016 and we will prosper once again as a nation. We need a president now who is brillant and not one who will become brillant. Vote for Hillary and universal healthcare.

    February 8, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  25. Scott

    It's amazing how he continues to play his supporters and how his supporters continue to allow themselves to be played for fools.

    February 8, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
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