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 dalliances 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.
Trump's 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, posted this week to a newspaper's website, are grainy and do not include nudity.
The show took place almost a decade after Trump invited reporters to watch Machado exercise and mocked her publicly for gaining weight after she won Miss Universe, which Trump owned at the time. In Monday's debate, Clinton brought up Trump's taunts of Machado.
Shaming Machado over intimate details from her past was particularly risky as Trump tries win over more female voters, many of whom are turned off by such personal attacks. It also risks calling further attention to the thrice-married Trump's own history with women.
The outburst was an extreme reminder of how Trump has seemed unable to restrain himself from veering into unhelpful territory, even with the election less than 40 days away. Trump's 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 Trump sparks a new controversy.
Rather than back way from the comments about Machado, Trump has repeatedly pushed it back to the center of the conversation, even as early voting in critical states gets underway. He said this week that Machado had gained "a massive amount of weight," adding that it was "a real problem."
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 the Venezuela-born actress gain citizenship. Clinton's campaign, which has released videos featuring Machado and arranged for reporters to interview her, has highlighted her status as a new American and her plans to cast her first vote for Clinton.
Clinton's campaign had no immediate formal reaction. But Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon took to Twitter to ask, "What kind of human being is this?"
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. The reality TV show star once said that aides help him tweet during the day but that in the evenings, he tweets by himself. Trump has, at various points during his campaign, toned down the content of his tweets, but rarely for long.
His latest broadside against Machado came the day after he 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 for being less effective than Clinton's.
"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 out of respect for Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, who was in the room.
Clinton has tried largely to stay out of the fracas over Trump's comments about women and her husband, hoping not to get in her opponent's way while he keeps stepping into controversies her campaign sees as damaging his prospects. Asked Thursday about the possibility that Trump would raise her husband's infidelities, Clinton said he could run his campaign "however he chooses."
"That's up to him. I'm going to keep talking about the stakes in this election," Clinton said.
Trying to draw a contrast with Trump, Clinton has delivered a mostly positive message in the days since her debate performance re-energized her candidacy. On Friday she was campaigning in Florida, a key battleground, where she planned a speech focused on national service in Fort Pierce and an organizing event in Coral Springs.