Donald Trump blames moderator, microphone and stokes debate controversy with comments on Miss Universe's weight
A DEFENSIVE Donald Trump gave Hillary Clinton plenty of material for the next phase of her presidential campaign, choosing to publicly reopen some of her most damaging attacks.
The day after his first election debate, Mr Trump blamed the moderator and a bad microphone for his performance and said he was holding back to avoid embarrassing Mrs Clinton.
Next time, he threatened, he might get more personal and make a bigger political issue of former President Bill Clinton's marital infidelities.
On Monday night, Mr Trump brushed off Mrs Clinton's debate claim that he had 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," Mr Trump told Fox And Friends about Alicia Machado, the 1996 winner of the pageant he once owned.
The comments were reminiscent of previous times when Mr Trump has attacked private citizens in deeply personal terms.
Earlier this month, he was interrupted by the pastor of a traditionally African-American church in Flint, Michigan, after breaking his agreement not to be political in his remarks.
Though Mr Trump abided by her wishes, he went after her the next morning on TV saying she was "a nervous mess" and that he thought "something was up".
In July, Mr Trump assailed the parents of Humayun Khan, a Muslim US soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004, after the young man's father spoke out against the Republican at the Democratic National Convention.
"I watched her very carefully and I was also holding back," Mr Trump said of Mrs Clinton, reflecting on the TV debate at an evening rally on Tuesday in Melbourne, Florida.
"I didn't want to do anything to embarrass her."
It is unclear whether a Trump attack on Bill Clinton's infidelities may help or hurt his appeal.
But Mr Trump's latest comments about Ms 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 is struggling to win.
Clinton aides acknowledged they had laid a trap for Mr Trump.
"He seemed unable to handle that big stage," said Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Mrs Clinton interrupted a discussion of foreign policy in the final moments of the debate to remind viewers that Mr Trump had called Ms Machado "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping".
A video featuring Ms Machado, a Clinton supporter, was released less than two hours after the debate finished.
Aiming to capitalise on Mr Trump's renewed focus on a woman's weight, Mrs Clinton's campaign also sent Ms Machado to tell reporters how she spent years struggling with eating disorders after being humiliated publicly by Mr Trump.
"I never imagined then, 20 years later I would be in this position, I would be in this moment, like, watching this guy again doing stupid things and stupid comments," Ms Machado said. "It's really a bad dream for me."
Both campaigns knew the first debate, watched by some 80 million people, could mark a turning point six weeks before Election Day with Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton locked in an exceedingly close race.
Though he insisted he had done "very well," Mr Trump accused moderator Lester Holt of going harder on him than Mrs Clinton.
He insisted he had "no sniffles" and no allergies despite the #snifflegate speculation that had exploded on social media, and he suggested he had been given a microphone with lower volume than Mrs Clinton's.
She responded: "Anybody who complained about the microphone is not having a good night."