Hillary Clinton might as well have erected a giant flashing neon sign declaring, “This is a trap!” — though even that may not have stopped Donald Trump from walking into it.
Clinton aides can hardly believe how well their plan worked as the controversy over Trump’s attacks on former Miss Universe Alicia Machado continue into their fourth day, thanks to an early morning Trump Twitter rant in which he urged his 12 million followers watch a non-existent Machado sex tape.
As with the Khan family -- Trump attacked the parents of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier after they criticized his proposed Muslim ban -- Democratic scientists could hardly have engineered a more fitting foil for Trump than a Latina woman who is already well known in the very community where Clinton strategists are trying to drum up enthusiasm. Machado is Spanish-language soap opera star, and her name has been Googled more than those of Trump-backing celebrities like Scott Baio, Stephen Baldwin and Jon Voight over the past 10 years.
But beyond the damage that Trump is likely to inflict on himself among women, equally damaging may be the fact that Trump took the bait at all when it’s so obvious to everyone that he shouldn’t.
“Our core argument about Donald Trump is that he is temperamentally unfit to be President. With his constant outbursts and generally unhinged behavior, he is basically making our case for us,” said Clinton's press secretary Brian Fallon.
Despite Trump's constant own-goals, the presidential race remains nip-and-tuck throughout as Clinton struggles to put Trump away and is still dragged down by ratings that would be considered near-fatal in a typical election.
Still, Clinton has not exactly tried to hide her strategy.
“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” was one of the most memorable lines from Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.
We know Trump is familiar with that line because he said during Monday night’s presidential debate, “That line's getting a little bit old, I must say.”
When Clinton brought up Machado just a few minutes later, Trump mostly bit his tongue.
But his restraint lasted only a few hours. The very next morning, he did exactly what Democrats hoped he would when he appeared on Fox News to call Machado “the absolute worst,” because “she gained a massive amount of weight.”
After months of dueling with Trump, Clinton’s team has weaponized the bait-and-trap strategy. Within hours, they had released a documentary-style video featuring Machado and organized a conference call with reporters where she said Trump treated her “like garbage.”
This was, of course, entirely predictable to anyone who watched the Khan saga just a last month, leading even Trump allies like Ben Carson saying he should “focus on the real issues.”
That round would have been good enough for Clinton’s team. But Trump’s tweets Friday morning, beginning at 3:20 a.m. and continuing until about 5:30 a.m., bought Clinton’s team another day of new coverage and raised new questions about Trump’s temperament and self-control, the very issue Clinton has been trying to prosecute most.
“Where is he now? Is he awake?” a bemused Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s communications director, asked reporters Friday.
“I don’t understand,” she added. "It is not apparent to us why he simply can't stop attacking her.”