During the last moments of the presidential debate this week, Hillary Clinton laid a trap. Donald Trump took the bait — and hasn’t stopped playing into her hands since then.
“One of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest,” Clinton said Monday night, launching into an attack to try to claim Donald Trump is sexist during the Hofstra University debate. “He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman ‘Miss Piggy.’ Then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping,’ because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.”
“Her name is Alicia Machado,” Clinton added.
Not many voters knew Machado’s name until then. But because of Donald Trump’s reaction — and inability to stop talking about her accusations since the debate — they do now.
Machado, born in Venezuela, won the Miss Universe pageant in 1996. Afterwards, Machado gained as much as 60 pounds, according to a CNN report at the time. Months after winning the contest, she participated in a press conference with Trump, where he said: “Alicia is like me and a lot of other people — I love to eat, we all love to eat.” A personal trainer discussed her goals for weight loss. Machado laughed and smiled during parts of the press conference.
Flash forward about 20 years later and Machado has told reporters covering the campaign that the episode was deeply humiliating and scarring. She claimed Trump privately referred to her as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.”
Since the debate — the first of the three between Clinton and Trump — it has been the dominant campaign story in the news. And the Clinton campaign couldn’t be happier: it keeps all attention off her, the Clinton Foundation, her health and other problematic topics while Trump battles with a Latino woman over something said 20 years ago.
Trump could have ignored the issue and moved on to topics that are favorable to him. But appearing on Fox and Friends the morning after the debate, Trump couldn’t resist but responding to the Machado story — a move that only made the story the bigger.
“She was the winner, and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem… not only that, her attitude,” Trump said on Fox and Friends. “And Hillary went back into the years and… found the girl and talked about her like she was Mother Teresa, and it wasn’t quite that way, but that’s OK.”
Machado is no Mother Teresa. She has been accused of playing a role in a 1998 murder and of threatening the judge in the case. (Appearing on CNN this week, she didn’t deny the allegations, only saying: “Everybody has a past, and I’m not a saint girl, but that is not the point now.”)
Early Friday morning, Trump went on another Twitter rant, once again, drawing more attention to the spat. It’s a move that guarantees more news coverage, including on the Sunday morning news shows over the weekend.
“Wow, Crooked Hillary was duped and used by my worst Miss U. Hillary floated her as an “angel” without checking her past, which is terrible!” he tweeted.
“Using Alicia M in the debate as a paragon of virtue just shows that Crooked Hillary suffers from BAD JUDGEMENT! Hillary was set up by a con,” Trump wrote in another tweet.
“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?” he added.
The refusal to leave the issue alone has baffled some conservatives. “Hillary Clinton wanted to make this week about Alicia Machado; Donald Trump agreed,” says conservative writer Jim Geraghty of the National Review. “That’s on him.”