February 8th, 2008
12:55 PM ET
14 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. Eric, California

    Billl Clinton did nor said anything wrong! If Obama supporters are so offended by something as lame as this then you really have no chance of changing anything except perhaps your diapers! GROW UP!

    February 8, 2008 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  2. Linda LA

    Bill Clinton is the biggest mistake this country ever made. He DISGRACED the WH buy doing something so IMMATURE and STUPID! He FLAT OUT LIED to the American Public. Bill, I will be so glad once the Clinton DYnasty is taken out to the trash heap.

    YOur wife WILL LOSE because of YOU! But you did not really care about her anyway, ASK MONICCA and all of hte others.

    McCain '08

    February 8, 2008 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  3. Funny

    As long as minorities are campaigning for them and singing for them, they're fine. As soon as a minority runs against Hillary, all the dirty politics come into play.

    Shame on Billary.

    Obama 08

    February 8, 2008 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  4. Elsie - Pennsylvania

    Bill and Hillary are guilty of racebaiting. Barack has my vote.

    Change 08

    February 8, 2008 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  5. nestor(white cuban catholic)

    for the love of god i hope obama wins,i dont want clintons in whitehouse again,not because of hillary but because the baggage she carries with her.who i going to be making policy her or him,it would be like a third term presidency for that inmoral piece of manure.thank you...nestor,from miami

    February 8, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  6. Mani, NJ

    I respect Bill for realizing his mistake. We cannot blame him for defending Hillary. I would have done the same if I was in his position. Just to clarify to anyone that read what was above and wants to twist the Bill's words, he DID say that this is Hillarys campaign and that he was not going to interfere but play his position. I think he realizes he has had his time and now its Hillary's time. VOTE HILLARY 2008

    February 8, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  7. Jazz

    Speech can and will be misinterpreted . It's all in the game called politics.

    Will the holiest of the holier than thou Obama fans please stand up?

    Say Obama, didn't your mama teach you ladies first?

    February 8, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  8. Bull

    Bill the former president,seems to confess he made a mistake,but is this confession from the bottom of his heart? I will like to know the answer to
    my question.
    I thought bill would say Senator Obama is a white Person because his mother
    is white-I mean not all white persons are white to the same extent,but he did not.

    I think everyone is an Unikum,a world of his own. Let us look at the animals outside that God made-some for example dogs are of different colors-black,braun,white,
    blue and so on and so are human beings. the flowers are pink,yellow,blue,green,
    red,and so on.

    February 9, 2008 05:33 am at 5:33 am |
  9. LA

    Bill, you are a liar, though that is not new.

    February 9, 2008 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  10. The Real Deal

    The ONLY people falling for this act are the Media and Clinton surrogates. As we saw in CA when 81% of the African American (AA) STILL voted for Obama. The AA electorate is NOT going to just forget what Bill and Hillary did by playing the Race card in NH and SC against Obama.

    If the Clintons know half as much about AA as they claim. Then the Clintons would not have risks playing the Race Card and since they did play it. Then Clintons should know that AA DO NOT forget those who burned the AA… PERIOD.

    The AA are also likely to stay at home and NOT vote if Hillary is on the ticket. For AA McCain would be an improvement from Bush any way you slice that one.


    February 9, 2008 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  11. Cap

    I am black, who talk about race? Obama!!!!!!!!!, you can fool all the blacks but not me. The Cliton's are more black than you and ur wife Mitchell. Mrs President Hilary tell the former president that was kind to have apologize but he holds no explanation to anyone not even the cheap media.

    Obama you will be maybe 2024 as the Vision of Charles Taylor. Vote Hilary for President!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 9, 2008 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  12. Edith

    Once you read his comments, you realize he hasn't learned a thing. The thrill is gone, I've had it with him.

    February 9, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  13. MR

    Racebaiting was initiated by the Obama SC Campaign. Tim Russert confirmed this in the Las Vegas debate with Obama. My fellow citizens, accuracy in your statements and information is key. You can search for the debate transcripts online. It occurred around 4min. 30 sec. into the debate.

    At least five other presidents had extramarital affairs while in office – search "U.S. Presidents" and you will find out for yourselves. Other presidents didn't get impeached because they were never probed about their affairs. That IS the only difference. Republicans were simply trying to get a Democratic president out of office. It never really was anyone else's business what transpired in their marriage. It is not part of a job qualification or disqualification. I recall very clearly public opinion when this was going on and most people thought the suit was frivolous. Don't spin things to benefit your interests.

    President Clinton was one of our finest Presidents. His job performance was admirable. That's what a presidency is a job, but a very important one that requires someone with experience and knowledge in order to have good judgment and make approprite decisions. All of these qualities are co-dependent; without one, you can't have the other.

    February 9, 2008 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
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