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Bill Clinton's in the kitchen, but can he stand the heat?

Harry Truman famously said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." The advice is now pointedly being ignored by former President Bill Clinton as he begins campaigning for his wife's Democratic presidential nomination, presumably with her approval.

The decision comes as no surprise, given his continued popularity even after being impeached in 1998 over the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. The lure of becoming the first husband of a U.S. president seems irresistible to the term-limited chief executive, with all manner of speculation on what his role would be if Hillary were elected president.

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Also predictable was the decision of Republican front-running candidate Donald Trump to resurrect Bill's sex scandals in the context of Hillary's emphasis on women's rights. Mr. Trump has wasted no time in questioning the appropriateness of Bill actively campaigning for Hillary, given his reputation as an abuser of what in gentler times was called the fair sex.

After Hillary observed to the Des Moines Register that Mr. Trump had "demonstrated a penchant for sexism," presumably in his comments on the looks of rival candidate Carly Fiorina and Fox debate moderator Megyn Kelly, he tweeted back that she was "sending her husband out to campaign but he's demonstrated a penchant for sexism, so inappropriate."

Mr. Trump said "there was certainly a lot of abuse of women" in the Bill Clinton record. "You look at whether it's Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones or many of them, and that certainly would be fair game." Ms. Jones sued Mr. Clinton on charges of sexual harassment when he was governor of Arkansas, and he agreed to a financial settlement while denying the allegations.

Mr. Trump, who prides himself as a counterpuncher, noted that Bill Clinton had campaigned for his wife in the 2008 presidential primaries and "failed really badly." This time around, Mr. Trump said, "perhaps he'll do well and perhaps he'll do poorly. But if she's going to play the women card, it's all fair game."

Earlier this week, Mr. Trump told CNN in advance of the former president's first 2016 New Hampshire appearance for his wife that Bill was "one of the great woman abusers of all time." He added, "Hillary was an enabler, and a lot of things happened that were obviously very seedy. He was impeached, for heaven's sake," referring to charges brought by the House of Representatives against the then-president, who subsequently was acquitted by the Senate as fellow Democrats saved his skin. Many of them figuratively held their noses as they did.

In his first campaign appearance in the Granite State on his wife's behalf, Bill Clinton confined his remarks to touting her record as a fellow Yale Law School student, first lady of Arkansas and secretary of state under President Barack Obama. He concluded: "I do not believe in my lifetime anybody has run for this job at a moment of more importance who was better qualified by knowledge, experience and temperament to do what needs to be done."

When asked in Nashua by an NBC reporter how he felt about Mr. Trump's campaign, he said only that "the Republicans will have to decide who will be nominated. How I feel is only relevant once they pick a nominee. We're trying to win a primary. We've got to do that first," he said of the New Hampshire primary his wife won in 2008 over Mr. Obama.

Since leaving the Oval Office, Bill Clinton has proved to be a much-sought surrogate for many Democratic candidates. In 2000, however, Vice President Al Gore chose to make little use of Mr. Clinton's campaign skills to bolster his run for the presidency, either uncertain of how the president's scandals would play or determined to focus on his proposals for his own presidency. Later, many Democratic critics said the sparse use of Bill Clinton as campaigner had cost Mr. Gore the election.

But on the basic question of Hillary Clinton's decision to involve him openly in her candidacy, Donald Trump is only invoking the wisdom of Harry Truman in saying Bill Clinton is "fair game" since he, or his wife, has decided not to "get out of the kitchen."

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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