WASHINGTON – Donald Trump shamed a former beauty pageant winner Friday for her sexual history and encouraged Americans to check out what he called her “sex tape,” in an early-morning tweet-storm that dragged him further away from his campaign’s efforts to broaden its appeal to women.
A day after he injected former President Bill Clinton’s infidelities into the campaign, Trump accused Hillary Clinton’s campaign of helping 1996 Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado get U.S. citizenship, but offered no proof. He said Machado had a “terrible” past that a “duped” Clinton had overlooked before holding her up “as an ‘angel” in the first presidential debate.
“Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?” read a missive from Trump posted on his verified Twitter account at 5:30 a.m.
“This is … unhinged. Even for Trump,” Clinton retorted in a tweet of her own.
Machado, the Venezuela-born actress, has been centre stage in the campaign since Clinton noted in Monday’s debate that Trump had mocked her publicly for gaining weight after she won Miss Universe, a pageant then owned by the businessman. If that was a trap laid by Clinton, the irrepressible Trump dug himself deeper the next day by saying Machado’s “massive” weight gain had been “a real problem.”
His latest taunt appeared to refer to footage from a Spanish reality show in 2005 in which Machado was a contestant and appeared on camera in bed with a male contestant. The images are grainy and do not include nudity, though Machado later acknowledged in the Hispanic media that she was having sex in the video.
Clinton responded to Trump with tweets of her own, accusing him of contempt for women and asking what kind of a man “stays up all night to smear a woman with lies and conspiracy theories?” She tied his broadside against Machado to his previous attacks on Rosie O’Donnell and Kim Kardashian about their looks.
“When something gets under Donald’s thin skin, he lashes out and can’t let go,” Clinton said. “This is dangerous for a president.”
Clinton’s campaign has released videos featuring Machado and has arranged for reporters to interview her in an effort to use Trump’s comments against him just as early voting in critical states gets underway. Clinton didn’t mention the dust-up midday Friday as she spoke in Fort Pierce, Florida, about national service, but she was expected to address it later in the day in Coral Springs.
Trump ignored questions from reporters about whether he regretted the tweets as he toured the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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Trump’s Republican allies have implored him to stick to attacks on Clinton over her family foundation, her emails or her long history as a political insider, critiques that fall further out of view whenever he sparks a new controversy.
Shaming Machado over intimate details from her past could be particularly risky as Trump tries to win over more female voters, many of whom are turned away by such personal attacks. It also risks calling further attention to the thrice-married Trump’s own history with women.
On Friday, Trump said Clinton had been “set up by a con” in holding up Machado “as an ‘angel’ without checking her past, which is terrible!” He suggested Clinton had helped her gain citizenship.
Clinton’s campaign has highlighted Machado’s status as a new American and her plans to cast her first vote for Clinton. But Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said Clinton did not help Machado get U.S. citizenship.
The flurry on Twitter began shortly after 3 a.m. on the East Coast when Trump complained about stories about his campaign based on anonymous sources and told his supporters not to believe them.
“There are no sources, they are just made up lies!” he wrote.
Trump has repeatedly gotten himself in trouble with his late-night and early-morning tweets, which appear to be written by the candidate himself. Trump has, at various points during his campaign, toned down the content, but rarely for long.
His latest broadside against Machado adds fuel to a burgeoning debate in America about putting down women over the perception of promiscuity. Women’s advocates have said the phenomenon, which takes place largely online, holds women to a different standard because men are often praised for having multiple partners.
A day earlier, Trump warned voters that a Hillary Clinton victory would bring her husband’s sex scandal back to the White House. It was Trump’s latest effort to bounce back from Monday’s debate performance, which was widely panned as ineffective.
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“The American people have had it with years and decades of Clinton corruption and scandal. Corruption and scandal,” Trump said Thursday. “An impeachment for lying. An impeachment for lying. Remember that? Impeach.”
The fresh rehash of the 1990s Monica Lewisnky scandal came despite Trump’s insistence that he’s been showing impressive restraint by not bringing it up. Trump has said he declined to mention it during the debate because Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, was in the room.
Lederman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in New Jersey, Catherine Lucey in Fort Pierce, Florida, and Sigal Ratner-Arias in New York contributed to this report.