It’s about the last thing we needed this election season.
Sex has been brought into the presidential campaign. Who started it? Well, put the blame this time squarely on Hillary Clinton and her new de facto running mate: former Miss Universe Alicia Machado.
The Clinton campaign has made a big gamble by featuring Ms. Machado in their latest negative political ads. The spots paint her as a victim of Donald Trump’s bullying, but her real motivation seems to be to reclaim the limelight. Her story is increasingly hard to credit when one examines Ms. Machado’s controversial and tumultuous background, where she allegedly threatened a judge in her native Venezuela, was involved in a murder trial, had sex on a Spanish reality television show and posed for Playboy.
Her past activities have now become the focus both English and Spanish-language media coverage, distracting from the Clintons’ original goal of portraying Mr. Trump as a sexist, fat-shaming cad. The effort to smear her opponent might have just backfired.
At first, the Clinton ad was applauded by some of the “Never Trump” women, who shared how they related to Ms. Machado on her weight issues and called out Mr. Trump for — according to Ms. Machado — calling her “Miss Piggy” or “Miss Housekeeping.” But as the media investigated and Ms. Machado’s back-story was revealed, her credibility started to crumble.
A clearly primed Mrs. Clinton recounted Ms. Machado’s story near the end of the first debate. “One of the worst things [Mr. Trump] said was about a woman in a beauty contest. … Donald, she has a name. Her name is Alicia Machado. And she has become a U.S. citizen and you can bet she is going to vote this November.”
Following the debate, Ms. Machado became the talk of the town, with a Clinton campaign ad highlighting her story all ready to air the next day. The Clinton campaign thought Ms. Machado’s story could be a golden opportunity, yet they clearly failed to sufficiently vet their spokeswoman.
Said Trump senior adviser A.J. Delgado, “As a fellow Latina, and one with a Latina accent just like Ms. Machado, I’m personally embarrassed by her antics. These false allegations about Mr. Trump, who has a lifelong proven record of elevating women in the workplace and being a champion of women, appears to be a sad attempt to draw attention to herself.”
Of course, it doesn’t help Mr. Trump if the media continue to focus on Ms. Machado and the GOP nominee has to defend himself from her charges. Rehashing his past dealings with Ms. Machado only distracts from Mr. Trump’s overarching theme of putting America back on track. That’s clearly the Clintons’ hope, since his central message — economic growth, national security and safe communities — clearly resonates with many voters. And while Mr. Trump is still the underdog, polls say he remains competitive despite a hostile press, his mediocre debate performance and his opponent’s multimillion-dollar attack ad buys.
The Clintons are past masters at putting their opponents on the defensive, but enlisting Ms. Machado for their cause could open up a can of worms for Mrs. Clinton. As he himself noted Monday night, Mr. Trump has restrained himself when it comes to talking about Bill Clinton’s treatment of women in the past.
Some in the GOP are advising Mr. Trump not to go after Mrs. Clinton on her husband’s infidelities and her own role in covering up his alleged sexual predations toward women. The Clinton campaign has stated that she will be ready to respond to Mr. Trump if he brings up her husband.
But it’s not so simple: Questions remain on why Mrs. Clinton called women who were involved with her husband “bimbos” and how her husband and his aides focused on destroying his accusers. Mrs. Clinton stands accused of protecting her husband’s political career — and her own — by belittling, bullying and smearing women like Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky. Ms. Lewinsky even was moved to start an anti-bullying foundation after her ordeal at the hands of the Clinton machine.
It’s depressing that Mrs. Clinton is able to get away with criticizing Mr. Trump for his comments on women, while she gets a free pass from the mainstream media. But by introducing Ms. Machado and her sketchy story into the mix, she opens the door to questions about her own past treatment of the women in her husband’s life.
Now let’s get back to the issues, which is what should matter in this election.
• Mercedes Schlapp is a Fox News contributor, co-founder of Cove Strategies and former White House director of specialty media under President George W. Bush.