While Clinton aides have insisted that the conversation was informal and did not touch specifically on the 2016 race, the two men did reportedly focus on the American political landscape and Trump’s increasingly prominent role within the Republican party.
Trump has ridden a series of self-induced controversies – fuelled by his remarks about Mexicans and immigrants, 2008 nominee John McCain and members of the 2016 field – to lead polls of the Republican field. As the frontrunner, he will take center stage in the first debate of the GOP campaign, in Cleveland on Thursday night.
The very fact of his conversation with Clinton, however, raises key questions. After all, Clinton is not just a former Democratic president and an elder statesman in his party – he is the husband of Hillary Clinton, the former New York senator and US secretary of state who is the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
Furthermore, Clinton is very close to two Republican ex-presidents, George HW Bush and George W Bush, whom he has come to view almost as family. With Jeb Bush – son of HW and brother of W – also running for the Republican nomination in 2016, an extra level of intrigue is added to news of Clinton’s conversation with Trump.
Trump and the Clintons have a long and complicated relationship. In 2005, Bill and Hillary Clinton were guests at Trump’s third wedding, to his current wife, Melania Knauss. The real-estate mogul has also been a longtime donor to the campaigns and causes of both Clintons, giving up to $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation and donating to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
While some anti- Trump Republicans seized on the conversation as evidence that Trump is somehow a Democratic plant, designed to wreak chaos in the GOP primary – after all, he is a sometime Democratic donor who has favored universal healthcare – the truth is likely far more banal. Bill Clinton is an inveterate political junkie, who in 2012 reportedly gave Mitt Romney some tips before he debated President Obama.
The ex-president has talked politics with a number of potential presidential contenders. His chat with Trump was simply another opportunity to do so.
Also, like almost everyone else in the US, Clinton likely finds the spectacle of Trump’s insurgent campaign simply too fascinating to miss.