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

Bill Clinton reflects on South Carolina dustup


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. Jim

    I think his comments were taken out of context anyway...so I do believe him. Obama supporters simply jumped on the opportunity to turn votes away from Hillary.

    Hillary supporters would have done the same thing, I'm sure. It's all about spin, smoke and mirrors.

    February 8, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  2. T.A. O'Neil

    He didn't distort anyone's view on the war. And Obama is a three year senator running for President, if that is not a roll of the dice I don't know what is. Obama didn't vote for war, because he wasn't in the senate at the time. When he first got into the senate Obama started saying "I wouldn't have voted for the war." Then about two years ago he started switching it to "I didn't vote for war." Yeah, because you were not in the senate at the time! All Bill was doing was telling the truth, and unspinning the spin Obama is putting on his voting record.

    Go Hillary!

    February 8, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  3. Travis, Spokane, WA

    That depends on what your definition of learned is

    February 8, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  4. Ash, NY,NY

    btw Ann, thought a lot more than twice! Most of us are not stupid and were highly offended.

    February 8, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  5. Texas

    I followed it from the beging as welland I NEVER saw anything racial EVEN JESSE JACKSON didn't find anything racial. The media was so bias toward obama that loved eating this story up and till this day am still waiting where they got race being and issue.

    SHAME ON THE MEDIA and obama saregates!!

    February 8, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  6. Yes-To-Change

    Listen everyone,

    If by hook or by crook, the Democratic party should steal the nomination of Mr. Obama as its presidential candidate, then his base should seriously consider to have him run as an independent. He can win it. And we must keep track of who voted for who as superdelegates and respond in the same kind when their time comes for their re-election to their present or other offices.

    February 8, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  7. Jenny

    A few days ago I just saw one of the CNN political analysts speaking in front of the national map. He was speaking about the next primaries this weekend. One of the states was in the south and he mentioned that Obama will get that state because of the large African-American population. This analyst was white. I am wondering how this statement is different from what President Clinton said? Why is there a double standard for everything when it comes to race?

    February 8, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  8. Gaylon Barrow

    President Clinton, there is nothing wrong with you defending misrepresentation that the Media did on what you said. You said nothing to be considered racist. I heard all the speeches during that time. If they can call your remarks racist then they ought to take a real good look at todays picture of Hillary and Obama taken during the last debate. I set and watched his turning to look at Hillary tilting his head back and looking at her with pure hatred in his eyes. Talk about being a racist. He is a person that people with any education at all would never lower themselves low enough to vote for him. He is as ignorant as all his supporters. VOTE FOR HILLARY if you want to save our economy.

    February 8, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  9. Donna F

    If Obama is so strong, then I think that his camp would not have had to reach for these typical Bill statements as much, but needed them to draw attention to Obama..but in the meantime it drew attention away from the discussion on issues....and if he was not running as a black candididate then why did it become a dust up? Instead his camp should have stated things like....I have a lot to say that will show I am not the role of the dice.
    I have a lot of wondering about Obama 's actual work in the Senate.....his skill in foreign policy, his relationships with law makers beyound being hopeful, and inspiring.....can he really join people....I think he is naive and will have to learn a lot the hard way to get to his goals....I do not think this is the time to have on the job training for the President of the USA

    February 8, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  10. Trannon

    Bill Clinton did NOTHING wrong.

    Obama's camp and his media distorted and blew out of proportion the truth that Clinton stated.

    If anyone needs to apologize, it's Obama for bringing race up in the first place.

    February 8, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  11. Joseph, in Syracuse

    I love Bill. He was a great President and the best politician I have ever seen or heard. I may not beleive he was always the human being but he was a great leader. I think all of this bickering about Bill is all garbage. He did nothing more than give factual speeches. Every one in the world knows he doesnt have a single rasicst bone in his body. He has done more for the african-american community than just about any one including Barrack Obama. For people to turn what he said into political gumble should all be ashamed. And then for Obama to open his mouth and say Clintons people and Bill were attacking him....thats carp. His people and him included was the one who turned this into personal attacks. He twisted what Bill said into race. He brought it in. Yet ofcourse here in America we have idiots as voters. Once a black man says what he said was racist...must be, since he is a white man. This may sound bad but come on...Bill is more black than Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton combined. They only use the black community for there own political and finacial gain while Bill has truley mad a differance. The down fall in this country is people dont know how to think for themselves and are afraid to stand up and say you were the wrong one Mr. Obama. You brought race into this contest and you should suffer not the one who actually has actually helped us.

    February 8, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  12. Victorian Anne

    In reading the interview Bill Clinton gave it was written that the things he said were inaccurate. Is this correct? It's hard for me to bellieve this is what he actually said. He must have been misquoted again. He even said in the interview he was misquoted which was printed lower in the transcript.

    February 8, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  13. Raman

    I think Mr. OBAMA campaign was attacking Hillary personally and the media does not pay attention to it.

    I do not live in Neveda:
    Is it true that Obama campaign ran ad asking the republicans to chaneg into democrats for a day to vot against Hillary?

    Obama called Hillary as manipulative in Denver rally? Is this civil?

    Two days back Obama said that McCain will have lot of dirt against Hillary? Is this a policy debate?

    "I do not get fooled by being NEW or Charming"

    I hate to be presumed as racist. This reminds me of what is going on in the public school here. You cannot punish/discipline a black kid. Because you would be called as insensitive. But we have to understand this only affects black kids. They do not get disciplined and learn a lesson that they can get away under the cover of skin color. Long term is is a curse and keep them under poverty.

    I wonder if our media has this same bias towards Obama.

    I will leave it to every one of us to decide. Which is our right.

    God bless America. Let sense prevail and truth triumph. Enough of dark eight years in American history.

    February 8, 2008 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  14. J. McCaskill, MS

    President Clinton did absolutely nothing in South Carolina but defend and campaign for his wife just like Michelle Obama. He has every right to do so. because he was a former president does not mean anything when it comes to their marriage. He was Hillary's husband before he was the president of this country. People need to wake up from this Obama hype, which is what it is and make an informed and educated vote. Where does this man stand on immigration, terrorism, and the other important issues because it is not on his website. Inspirational speeches does not deliever results. Hope + EXPERIENCE = Change. A black citizen who will cast an informed vote instead of voting for hype nad inexperience.

    Hillary Clinton for President 2008

    February 8, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  15. jojo

    People are so enamored w/ OBAMA, probably because he is a good speaker. Personally, I think he stammers a lot. The guy is obviously a smooth talker who talks of hope and vision. The fact is in order to bring about change, one must draw upon, among other things, personal EXPERIENCE. Otherwise, you'll only make decisions based on what the people around you say. Frankly, I am disappointed that people just dismiss Hillary's experience out of hand. What about the press always portraying OBAMA like he can't do anything wrong. Meanwhile, always having negative things to say about the Clintons. Obama keeps falling back on the fact that he was against the Iraq war from the beginning but what people keep forgetting is the fact that he was NOT even in the senate to vote either way! It's easy to say you are against it when you are on the outside looking in-it's quite another when you actually have the ability to vote either way based on facts presented to you by the Bush administration. Hillary made a decision with the best intentions based on information fed to her and other people who ACTUALLY voted for the Iraq war. People should really look at both the candidates track records, let them have their debates so people can make up their own minds. I have been living in America for almost 20 years, recently I received my naturalization papers. I am glad because I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton as President of the United States.

    February 8, 2008 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  16. David

    It's clear that Slick Willie didn't say anything explicit about Obama, but he war certainly implying something when he compared the win in SC to Jessie Jackson's in the 80s. No question about it. That was an implicitly racial remark. We are not stupid, nor is SLick Willie.

    Obama is what the country needs. We don't need ruling families in this country. The point of democracy is to PREVENT the all-powerful ruling dynasties. REMEBER?? THOMAS PAINE? THE FRENCH REVOLUTION?

    Know your history people. Obama supporters understand the need for a political outsider to have a go at it. What we've had in the past just doesn't suffice. I swear to GOD if I have to see another Clinton or Bush on my general election ballot I will move to France, where democracy actually works! and where health care is FREE!

    February 8, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  17. Impartial

    Obama supporter. Don't forget that Bill Clinton was the President of U.S.A. Give him some respect and stop bashing him. He had done something good for the country and the world. People around the world respect him. Seeing what you guys said about him is not good for the country. UNITE!

    February 8, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  18. DL

    I seem to gather from this and have an impression that it's not OK for attacks on Obama, but it becomes OK if it's the other way around...discuss.

    February 8, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  19. Mary

    No more reporting from media or their corrspondances anyone saying (we hate Hillary Clinton), under no circumstances would any of you say or report that about Obama and you shouldn't.

    February 8, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  20. Hillary is the Status Quo

    I used to love Bill Clinton. But once you see all his tricks a few times they become obvious.

    People who don't see his manipulations only do so because they fear the alternative.

    When Hillary loses to McCain & McCain appoints a new Supreme court judge who reppeals Roe v Wade, maybe then we'll see if a Clinton was worth wasting the talents of Obama.

    February 8, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  21. mike

    If Bill Ciinton had not disgraced himself while in office Al Gore would have won in 2000. There would have been no W presidency and we wouldn't have squandered tremendous amounts of national prestige, blood, and treasure in Iraq. Adding to his disgrace was Hillary "standing by her man", and claiming that Bill was a victim of a right-wing conspiracy, which we now know to be a lie just like his famous statement "I did not have sex with that woman". Hillary in all likelyhood cut a deal at that time with the Democratic party powers that led to her fake residency in NY and subsequential election to the senate. Both of them bear some blame for Iraq as a consequence of facilitating the Bush presidency.

    February 8, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  22. dean

    I am a Black Democrat, age 34 in Florida. Everyone is for Obama keeps screaming that he represents CHANGE. What changes will he bring as President?

    Can he get us out of a recession? NO, The Fed Res rate changes, jobs and consumer spending controls the economy.

    Obama said that his daughters and he do not need affirmative action.
    Does that mean that mean it should disappear because he no longer needs it?

    Does change represent teachers that are a couple making $40,000 each and cannot buy a home in Florida?

    Does change represent that blacks no longer face discrimination (Jena 6, William Byrd etc. because we have a black President.

    Obama to McCain (2008) will be like what John Kerry to George Bush (2004)

    Hillary is more likely to be elected against McCain.

    Obama will have my votes if he wins the nomination.

    February 8, 2008 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  23. Kimmie

    Bill Clinton opened my eyes with his untrue comments. Thank you so Much!
    I was voting for Hillary, now I'm voting for Obama!

    Vote Obama!

    February 8, 2008 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  24. Jessica Price, California

    Bill, you were a great President! We love you!
    Hillary, 2008!

    February 8, 2008 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  25. Chris

    What tricks! Maybe Bill is to honest for you!

    Hillary '08 – YES

    February 8, 2008 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
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