With the urgency of a presidential election 38 days away, the Republican nominee is urging voters to check out a “sex tape.”
In a series of tweets posted before dawn, Donald Trump slammed Alicia Machado as “my worst Miss U” and told his followers not to believe any anonymously sourced reports about his campaign, attempting to address two of the reasons why he’s been having a tough time rebounding from his performance in the first debate on Monday.
The social-media salvos—including an apparent reference to suggestive footage that reportedly exists from Machado’s stint on a Spanish reality-TV show—are part of an ongoing struggle between Trump and his aides about how to coordinate a cohesive strategy against Democrat Hillary Clinton. While some pushed for attacking former President Bill Clinton’s infidelities, others said Trump should focus his criticism on the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server to handle government business at the State Department.
On Thursday, Trump expressed an openness to the personal attacks, telling NH1 News “we’ll see what happens” at the next debate Oct. 9.
Clinton cited Machado, the 1996 winner of the Miss Universe pageant, in Monday’s debate, saying Trump called the Venezuelan “Miss Piggy” after she gained weight. “She has become a U.S. citizen and you can bet she’s going to vote,” Clinton said.
Clinton on Friday said called Trump's tweets ``unhinged, even for him.'' She said at a campaign rally in Coral Springs, Florida, that ``it proves yet again he is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander in chief.''
Machado responded on Instagram. “The Republican candidate and his campaign team are again generating attacks, insults and trying to revive defamations and false accusations about my life,” Machado wrote in Spanish. “All of this with the purpose of intimidating me, humiliating me, and unbalancing me once again. The attacks that have surfaced are smears and cheap lies generated with bad intentions that don't have foundation and that have been been spread by sensationalist media.”
Clinton called Machado on her way to Coral Springs and thanked her for the "courage'' she's shown, campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said. The call lasted about five minutes. Clinton adviser Jennifer Palmieri told reporters earlier in the day that neither Clinton nor her campaign helped Machado get U.S. citizenship.
Trump had no regrets. While aboard his plane in Michigan, where he made a campaign stop, Trump tweeted: ``For those few people knocking me for tweeting at three o'clock in the morning, at least you know I will be there, awake, to answer the call!''
Inside Trump Tower on Thursday, the nominee’s daughter Ivanka greeted campaign CEO Steve Bannon with a big smile and broke into a comfortable conversation with him.
But the bad news keeps rolling in. The editorial boards of the Arizona Republic and Detroit News this week broke 100-year-plus traditions of endorsing Republicans, while USA Today took sides for the first time in its history to urge Americans not to vote for Trump. A survey by Gallup found that 61 percent of those who watched the debate believe Clinton won, a 34-point victory over Trump. Battleground polls have showed improvements for Clinton.
“This has been a bad week for him,” said Joe Watkins, former aide to President George W. Bush. “Despite his efforts to spin it otherwise, it was clear that most Americans thought Hillary Clinton won the debate and that she clearly has more substance on the issues. Part of his challenge is to win a larger percentage of women and he’s having trouble doing that.”
Amid the turmoil, staff members are trying to tighten the campaign's focus on dismantling Clinton; on capturing small, targeted blocs of voters such as Cuban-Americans, Polish-Americans, Catholics, and anti-abortion voters; and on shoring up the road to victory they see in a carefully studied batch of battleground states.
Sunshine State Troubles
Yet disorganization and dysfunction in some of the key states, including Florida, are taking a toll.
A Florida Trump aide resigned Monday because she said she's uncomfortable with the lack of progress in the campaign. “It is clear the campaign is now going in a direction I am no longer comfortable with and I have decided to move on,” said Healy Baumgardner, who had established herself early on as a public face of the campaign on TV, then saw her role shift to Florida following several campaign shake-ups.
Baumgardner, a 20-year political operative who has worked on four presidential campaigns, said she looks forward “to honorably casting my vote for Mr. Trump on Election Day.”
Clinton is 4 percentage points ahead of Trump in Florida, according to a Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey taken after the debate.
The campaign’s Trump Talk phone banking system is experiencing technical difficulties, said Florida campaign workers who requested anonymity out of fear of getting fired for speaking publicly. The lack of basic campaign staples such as yard signs and bumper stickers forces staff to repeatedly turn away excited Trump backers who want to show their support. There’s disagreement about spending $40,000 to wrap an RV in campaign advertising for a women’s bus tour in Florida.
Trump has sought to spin his performance at the debate, complaining about moderator Lester Holt of NBC, who Trump said favored Clinton. He has even suggested that Google conspired to hide bad reviews of Clinton and that his microphone on the podium was purposely defective.
“I had to put up with the anchor and fight the anchor all the time on everything I said,” Trump said at a campaign rally in New Hampshire on Thursday. “What a rigged deal.”
The debate commission put out a one-sentence statement on Friday saying that, “There were issues regarding Donald Trump’s audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall.” It made no mention of the audio for the television broadcast, which was seen by more than 83 million people and gave no other details.
Despite falling short on stage, there have been no major changes to Trump’s schedule to accommodate practice for the next debate, though there are plans for more vigorous sessions, two advisers said.
Because the Oct. 9 town-hall format will be much different, with audience members asking the questions, Trump will likely practice sitting on a barstool or high-backed chair and walking and talking as he answers questions, aides said.
Although the strategy doesn't call for Trump to wade into the attacks on Bill Clinton's infidelity, one adviser said if Clinton accuses him of misogyny, Trump could make it clear he stands up for women and reassure voters that he would conduct himself in an ethical and honest way as president, with his own version of the George W. Bush line from 2000, “I will restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office.”
Trump debuted a similar line in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Wednesday, and repeated it in Waukesha, Wisconsin, later that night and in Bedford, New Hampshire, on Thursday. “We are going to end the Clinton corruption and restore dignity and honesty to government service,” he said.
Some pro-Trump Republicans are flummoxed by his campaign and surrogates’ decision to continue talking about the Democratic nominee’s husband and Machado, fretting that these conversations harm him with women and more educated voters.
“We’ve tried this. It’s not a new story. Bill Clinton won two elections and it didn’t seem to hurt him at all. And it’s not like Donald Trump is purer than the driven snow either,” Republican pundit John Feehery said. “So you have to be careful. I’m not sure what their game plan is. Not sure what they’re trying to get at.”
Focusing on these two controversies is the “wrong tactical move,” Watkins said.
“This Miss Universe controversy plays into the narrative that he doesn’t treat women well. For him to be bogged down with that is a losing issue,” he said. “And Bill Clinton’s troubles are not Hillary Clinton’s troubles. Women will not see it that way.”
—With assistance from Sahil Kapur, Ben Brody, Elizabeth Titus, Margaret Talev, and Christine Jenkins.