Trump brands debate unfair, says microphone and moderator were against him
A defensive Donald Trump gave Hillary Clinton plenty of fresh material for the next phase of her presidential campaign on Tuesday, choosing to publicly reopen and relitigate some her most damaging attacks.
Watch: Clinton and Trump go head-to-head
The day after his first general election debate, Trump blamed the moderator, a bad microphone and anyone but himself for his performance. Next time, he threatened, he might get more personal and make a bigger political issue of former President Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities.
Things are already getting plenty personal. On Monday night, Trump brushed off Clinton’s debate claim that he’d once shamed a former Miss Universe winner for her weight. But then he dug deeper the next day — extending the controversy over what was one of his most negative debate night moments.
“She gained a massive amount of weight. It was a real problem. We had a real problem,” Trump told Fox and Friends about Alicia Machado, the 1996 winner of the pageant he once owned.
Trump’s campaign aides had worked hard in recent weeks to keep him on message — and away from personal attacks — persuading him to use teleprompters and reach out to minority audiences.
Their moderate success in scripting Trump came to a halt on Tuesday. Though he insisted he’d done “very well,” Trump accused moderator Lester Holt of going harder on him than Clinton.
He insisted he had “no sniffles” and no allergies despite the #snifflegate speculation that had exploded on social media. He suggested he’d been given a microphone with lower volume than Clinton’s.
Her reaction: “Anybody who complained about the microphone is not having a good night.”
Trump’s latest comments about Machado were striking in that they came just as he was working to broaden his appeal among minority voters and women — key demographic groups he’s struggling to win.
Clinton aides on Tuesday acknowledged they’d laid a trap for Trump.
“He seemed unable to handle that big stage,” said Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. “By the end, with kind of snorting and the water gulping and leaning on the lectern that he just seemed really out of gas.”
Both campaigns knew the first debate, watched by some 80 million people, could mark a turning point six weeks before Election Day with Trump and Clinton locked in an exceedingly close race.
Clinton moved quickly to capitalise on her performance, launching new attacks on Trump’s failure to release his tax returns and profiting from the subprime mortgage crisis.
As Trump courted Hispanic voters in Miami, Clinton hammered on an allegation she’d leveled the night before: that he is refusing to release his returns because he goes years without paying any federal taxes. “That makes me smart,” was Trump’s coy response in the debate, but on Tuesday, Clinton insisted it was nothing to brag about.
“If not paying taxes makes him smart what does that make all the rest of us?”
Added an incredulous Joe Biden, campaigning for Clinton in Pennsylvania: “What in the hell he is talking about?”
Democrats are also sure to keep focusing on Trump’s false assertions about President Barack Obama’s birthplace, with the president scheduled to make a Wednesday appearance on Steve Harvey’s TV show.
The Trump campaign plans to spend US$100 million on television advertising before Election Day, spokesman Jason Miller said. Of the US$20 million in TV airtime his campaign had already scheduled, a whopping US$13 million is aimed at Florida voters, according to Kantar Media’s political ad tracker.
Trump praised himself for not attacking Clinton during the debate about the marital infidelity of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, but said he may take up the attack line going forward. There are two more debates scheduled, on October 9 in St. Louis and October 19 in Las Vegas, ahead of the November 8 election.
“I may hit her harder in certain ways. I really eased up because I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings,” Trump told Fox & Friends.
He added that when Clinton criticised him for his treatment of women, he held back, saying: “I was going to hit her with her husband’s women. And I decided I shouldn’t do it because her daughter was in the room.”
Clinton brushed off Trump’s vow, saying: “He can run his campaign however he chooses.” She added that “the real point is about temperament and fitness and qualification to hold the most important, hardest job in the world.”
In the interview with Fox, Trump sought to deflect criticism of his debate performance, saying Holt of NBC News, asked him “very unfair questions” and that he was given a “very bad” microphone.
“I don’t want to believe in conspiracy theories, of course, but it was much lower than hers and it was crackling,” Trump said of the microphone.
Additional reporting by Reuters