Bill Clinton: Will He Help or Hurt Hillary in 2016?

PHOTO: Bill Clinton, left, listens as Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a student conference for the Clinton Global Initiative University at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. in this March 22, 2014 file photo.PlayMatt York/AP Photo
WATCH Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: A Tale of Two Campaigns

It may be a new year, but Bill Clinton is bringing with him old controversy as he stumps on the campaign trail.

As Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton heads to events in Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire in the coming week, the former president spoke at two public events in support of his wife today in the Granite State.

Hillary has called Bill her “secret weapon.” Her GOP opponents, however, have wasted no time in trying to make him a liability.

At a campaign rally last week, Republican front-runner Donald Trump accused the former president of “tremendous abuse” toward women, calling him “one of the great abusers of the world.” Trump has continued to escalate his attacks, invoking Bill's affair with Monica Lewinsky and tweeting that Bill has “demonstrated a penchant for sexism.”

Republican candidate Rand Paul echoed Trump, calling Bill “a great abuser of women in the workplace." Carly Fiorina has also called Bill’s past “fair game” for attack.

Political insiders are closely watching how Bill will respond to the recent provocations. Bill was viewed as a "wildcard" in the 2008 presidential race and he engaged in a number of angry exchanges with voters and reporters. He notably called Obama’s contention that he was consistently opposed the Iraq War as “the biggest fairytale [he’d] ever seen.”

His remarks equating Obama’s success in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson’s wins there in 1984 and 1988 sparked huge controversy. Those remarks and his subsequent accusations that Obama’s campaign had “played the race card” drew such wide backlash, particularly from the African-American community, that they elicited an apology from Hillary herself. In a 2008 interview with ABC News, Bill noted that there were “things [he wishes he] hadn't said” during the campaign.

However unpredictable he may be, Bill has the potential to be an extremely valuable asset to his wife’s second run for the White House. His speech at the Democratic National Convention in support of Obama’s 2012 re-election bid was highly regarded and helped to amend some of the divides created in 2008. Moreover, he has retained a consistently high public approval rating since leaving office — 56 percent according to a March 2015 NBC-Wall Street Journal poll.

And unlike in 2008, Bill has yet to allow the Republican attacks to derail him. After being asked at his first event today to respond to Donald Trump, Bill demurred.

“I'm trying to tell the Democrats and the country why I think Hillary would be the best president,” the former president told ABC News.