Having worked for both Clintons, I see Donald Trump’s gutter-level assault on their marriage through a different prism than the pundits. Donald doesn’t attack Hillary’s marriage out of some shrewd political plan. He doesn’t focus his attention on Bill Clinton’s past because of some genius campaign strategy. It’s much simpler than that: Donald fears women. More specifically, he fears Hillary. 

There’s a reason Donald’s attention has been focused more on Bill Clinton, Bernie Sanders and President Obama than on Hillary. It’s because he desperately wants to run against a man. He’s the proverbial schoolyard bully who joyfully sucker-punches other boys but is secretly petrified of the girls. He needs a man in the race to shield him from a head-to-head contest with Hillary.

For a deeply insecure male like Donald, whose degrading attitude toward women will be his downfall, being defeated by a woman is the ultimate humiliation. Women are objects to him, not worthy rivals. Recall his words:

“Beauty and elegance, whether in a woman, a building, or a work of art, is not just superficial or something pretty to see.”

Or the crasser version:

“You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of [expletive].”

For Donald, a woman is something you own, not someone you respect. Women know men like Donald, which is why he polls so abysmally with them.

At BNR we launched the #WomenTrumpDonald hashtag for a reason: it is the perfect encapsulation of the 2016 election. And the tag has caught on quickly for that reason.

This is also personal for me.

Over the past decade, I’ve worked for both Hillary and Bill Clinton. I know how different they are, and each so exceptional in their own way.

hrc and wjc

When I first met Bill Clinton in his Harlem office ten years ago (photo below), I was struck by his ability to improvise and extrapolate on any topic, to reel off statistics with enviable ease, peppering his impassioned views on progressive issues with a staggering array of facts and figures. Bill Clinton is a man whose mind is always working, who has the same exuberance about the intricacies of politics and policy today as he did 20, 30 and 40 years ago.

Peter with President Clinton

Hillary, by contrast, is the consummate listener. I’ve recounted this story before and I’ll do it again here to illustrate my point:

On a Sunday morning ten years ago, a week after I joined Hillary’s team, there were reports of trouble in Lebanon (where I grew up). When my phone rang early that morning I wasn’t sure what to expect. It wasn’t a family member or a friend. It was Hillary Clinton, calling to make sure my relatives were OK. We spoke briefly and I hung up stunned at the empathy and compassion from someone I had met only a week before. In every encounter with Hillary since then, personal or professional, the same person who called me that morning shines through.

Here’s my point: Hillary is not Bill and Bill is not Hillary. When Donald lumps them together and attacks her for his actions, when he treats them as a single entity, he’s doing it out of desperation and deep insecurity, not because he’s got some devious master plan.

Donald isn’t the hard-punching, straight talker the media are dutifully painting him to be. He is a coward and a liar who fears women and demeans them at every turn, while protesting that he “respects them.” He is essentially hiding behind Bill Clinton and Bernie Sanders, hurling pathetic insults at Hillary while she focuses on issues that actually matter to voters.

An accidental winner of the Republican primary because of the weak field he faced and his willingness to express radical GOP views directly rather than in code, Donald now faces a profoundly different foe in Hillary.

He is not prepared to face her with dignity. Instead he will sling mud in every direction and he’ll rely on the national media to help him do it, wittingly or unwittingly.

[This article was originally published on 5/25/16 and updated on 6/22/16]