Here’s what happens if Donald Trump raises Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct at the debate

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Hillary Clinton walks off the stage with her husband Bill Clinton after the first presidential debate in Hempstead, N.Y., on Sept. 26, 2016.

Donald Trump appears to relish nothing more than taunting his opponents. Whether he’s calling them loser, neurotic, ugly or dopey, no insult is too low if it might wound his adversary.

Well in advance of Sunday night’s presidential debate against Hillary Clinton, Trump had already threatened to go even lower by saying he’d raise Bill Clinton’s past sexual misconduct on live television.

He clung to that plan over the weekend amid a new scandal: A 2005 audio recording published Friday by the Washington Post captured Trump talking about groping and sexually assaulting women.

Watch: Donald Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005

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Watch: Donald Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005

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Despite public outrage, Trump remained obsessed with tying the fallout of that controversy to the Clintons, a strategy that is likely to alienate voters who already worry that the Republican presidential candidate is both crass and reckless.

It may also provide Hillary Clinton with a chance to appear emotionally vulnerable as a wronged spouse while pointing out that Trump is yet again engaging in a sexist double standard by forcing her to answer for her husband’s behavior.

The prospect that this tactic might backfire doesn’t seem to concern Trump, who has lost the support of several high-profile Republicans in the past two days and may feel he has little else to lose by launching a scorched-earth campaign against the Clintons’ marriage.

That instinct was evident in his first statement after the audio recording was leaked — he tried to deflect by pivoting to Bill Clinton.

“This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago," Trump said Friday. "Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”

A second statement made later that evening via video went further.

"I’ve said some foolish things, but there is a big difference between words and actions," Trump said in a video, referencing the audio recording in which he describes behavior such as trying to convince a married woman to have sex with him and forcibly kissing and groping other women. "Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days."

That line of attack may play well with conservatives who already believe that Clinton was somehow an "enabler" of her husband and personally engineered schemes to discredit women who claimed they had affairs or had been sexually harassed by the former president.

But for the rest of America, Trump’s insistence on using Bill Clinton’s misdeeds against Hillary will most likely have the unintended effect of generating sympathy for her.

It also seems unwise in 2016 to blame Clinton for her husband’s infidelity. This is, after all, the year that brought us Beyoncé’s Lemonade, a massively popular album about the heartbreak a woman endures at the whim of an unfaithful man.

And Clinton may be eager to remind viewers that she’s like any other woman betrayed by a spouse: capable of deep, conflicting emotions. At the same time, it gives her the chance to insinuate that Trump, who had an affair more than two decades ago and has been accused of sexual assault, is an unrepentant hypocrite.

Trump, however, seems willing to take that risk. In a recent interview with the New York Times, he used the Clintons’ marriage to undermine Hillary’s feminist credentials. (A separate Times story looked at how she "grappled" with accusations of infidelity against her husband, noting that at times she defended him and seemed to support efforts to challenge claims she believed were false.)

"Hillary Clinton was married to the single greatest abuser of women in the history of politics," Trump told the Times. "Hillary was an enabler, and she attacked the women who Bill Clinton mistreated afterward. I think it’s a serious problem for them, and it’s something that I’m considering talking about more in the near future."

Though the most well-known instance of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct is his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Trump appears ready to mention Juanita Broaddrick, a retired nursing home operator who claims Clinton raped her in 1978. Clinton denied the allegation, which Broaddrick officially made in 1999.

Broaddrick, who was a volunteer for his campaign for governor of Arkansas, says the assault took place when Bill Clinton, then the state’s attorney general, invited her to discuss the election. Though the meeting was originally scheduled to occur at a campaign office in Little Rock, Broaddrick says Clinton asked if they could meet privately in her hotel room to avoid a gaggle of journalists in the hotel lobby.

Broaddrick alleges that Clinton raped her within a few minutes of arriving at her room. Though she told close friends, Broaddrick did not report the attack to police. In the 1990s, Broaddrick was subpoenaed by Paula Jones’ legal team, which had sued the president for sexual harassment. At the time, Broaddrick signed an affidavit and testified that the rape never occurred. She later recanted, explaining that she lied to avoid being involved in the case against Clinton.

On Saturday, as several Republican politicians, including Sen. John McCain and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, withdrew their endorsements of Trump, he turned to Twitter to elevate Broaddrick’s recent comments naming Clinton as her rapist and claiming Hillary threatened her. On Sunday morning, Trump’s Facebook page included a link to a new Breitbart video interview with Broaddrick, who tearfully recounts being assaulted by Clinton. (Breitbart News CEO Stephen Bannon is Trump’s campaign chief.)

Broaddrick, who is a Trump supporter, told Buzzfeedearlier this year that she met Hillary at a political rally soon after the alleged assault. She characterized their encounter — in which Hillary purposefully shook Broaddrick’s hand and thanked her — as one designed to intimidate. (Clinton suggested last year that she doubts Broaddrick’s rape claim.)

Trump may hope to seize a moment in the debate and speak at length about Broaddrick’s allegation, similar to how Clinton landed a significant blow by raising his treatment of the former Miss Universe Alicia Machado.

But barring a situation in which Trump invites Broaddrick to the debate as his guest and forces a confrontation, or reveals new evidence about her claims, it’s not clear how he could make a persuasive argument that Hillary should be held responsible for any of her husband’s consensual or alleged nonconsensual sexual behavior.

Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, has characterized Trump’s strategy as a desperate ploy.

"After his disastrous debate performance and his sexist attack on a former Miss Universe over her weight, Donald Trump is now trying to deflect by going after Hillary Clinton about her marriage," Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon told CNN. "As many Republicans have warned, this is a mistake that is going to backfire."

Indeed, partisan politics aside, most women who’ve been cheated on can relate to the confusing and agonizing aftermath of infidelity. In Clinton’s case, the stakes were much higher.

In her memoir Living History, Clinton recounts the moment she discovered Bill had lied to her about Lewinsky.

"Up until now I only thought he’d been foolish for paying attention to the young woman and was convinced that he was being railroaded," she wrote. "I couldn’t believe he would do anything to endanger our marriage and our family. I was dumbfounded, heartbroken and outraged that I’d believed him at all."

A similar sentiment delivered in a town hall setting would no doubt resonate with countless women who may also be angry about Trump’s 2005 hot mic comments.

Even before news of the audio recording broke, Trump was polling poorly with women, according to NBC News. Clinton outperformed him by 14 points among all women and 27 points among women with a college education.

In that context, Trump’s effort to expose Clinton as some kind Machiavellian figure who enabled and protected her husband will look a last-gasp effort to save his presidential hopes. Should that narrative play out, it will certainly drive a days-long news cycle that puts Trump on the defensive yet again.

If Trump ultimately forces voters to reckon with the Clinton’s marital history as they did in the ‘90s, it may do nothing but further destroy his own campaign.