Clinton’s strategy: Get under Trump’s skin
© Getty Images

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE’s campaign is doing everything it can to get under Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE’s skin.  

The Democratic presidential nominee tore into Trump in a series of tweets on Friday that ripped the Republican nominee for saying that people should check out a former Miss Universe’s sex tape.

“What kind of man stays up all night to smear a woman with lies and conspiracy theories?,” Clinton tweeted, targeting Trump’s temperament and personality.

Around the same time on Friday, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta poked fun of the 70-year-old Trump’s age while questioning both his maturity and self-control.

“I’m almost @realDonaldTrump’s age, so [I] get the urge to get up in the middle of the night, but [important] safety tip: don’t reach for your phone,” the 67-year-old Podesta wrote.

While the goading by Clinton and Podesta were a direct counterattack on Trump’s tweets about Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe, they were reflective of a trend by Team Clinton.

On Wednesday, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic Homeland Security members request additional DHS nominee testimony Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick Steve Israel: ‘We had a better time at the DMZ than we’re going to have tonight’ MORE (D-Mo.) needled Trump by calling for a “weigh in” of the Republican nominee, saying Democratic women senators are “concerned about Trump’s weight.

Trump’s feud with Machado originated when he criticized the beauty queen’s weight gain. McCaskill’s tweet came as surrogates were being asked by the campaign to keep the pressure on Trump.

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, needled Trump on Twitter and cable television this week over his sniffling during the first presidential debate on Monday.

Dean also came under criticism for the attacks, which suggested Trump’s sniffles might have been linked to cocaine use.

Dean apologized on MSNBC for the insinuation on Friday, but also kept up the personal attacks, suggesting there was something wrong with Trump.

“He was tweeting at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning about sex tapes. This guy is running for president of the United States,” Dean said. “People who stay up at 3 and 4 and 5 o'clock in the morning tweeting about sex tapes — these are not normal people. And there is something the matter with him and I don't know what it is.”

Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said Clinton is employing a fairly basic strategy that he described as “trying to poke the bear.”

“They’re trying to get him to growl and so far it’s successful,” Simmons said.

Clinton wants to portray Trump as unhinged and unfit to be commander-in-chief, and they think this week’s Machado story is playing to their advantage with just five weeks to go before Election Day.

“They’re trying to push him into having more outbursts,” said Simmons.

Trump has taken the bait from opponents before, though it sometimes has also worked out to his advantage.  

Trump was annoyed, for example, when during the Republican primary Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Cornyn: Senate GOP tax plan to be released Thursday This week: GOP seeks to advance tax overhaul MORE (R-Fla.) accused him of having small hands.

“You know what they say about men with small hands … you can’t trust ‘em,” Rubio said at the time.”

Trump ended up having the last laugh in that fight, crushing Rubio in the primary.

Trump campaign aides did not respond to an inquiry about Clinton’s strategy on Friday, but Lindsay Walters, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, accused the Democrat’s campaign of trying to change the subject. 

“It’s clear Hillary Clinton doesn’t want to talk about the issues because they’re promising more of the same in an election year where voters are demanding change and overwhelmingly say the country is on the wrong track,” Walters said. 

Yet it is Trump who has helped keep the Machado story alive this week by raising it during an interview on “Fox and Friends” and with this tweets on Friday.

Clinton’s strategy of trying to provoke Trump was notable at Monday’s debate, when she came equipped with lines aimed at tweaking her opponent. She claimed the businessman is “not as rich as he says he is” and then in the same breath, poked him for not being “as charitable as he claims to be.”  

Trump also sought to get under Clinton’s skin, interrupting her repeatedly and saying that her use of a private email server as secretary of State was much more serious than a mistake. Yet Clinton generally kept her cool during the showdown.

Trump denied that Clinton got under his skin, with the exception, he later said, of the moment his rival accused him of calling Machado “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.”  

Trump also defended his late-night tweets on Friday.

“For those few people knocking me for tweeting at three o’clock in the morning, at least you know I will be there, awake to answer the call,” he said, referencing Clinton’s 2008 attack on President Obama about his own readiness to serve.

Tor the remainder of the campaign, Democratic strategists and consultants expect Clinton to continue to push Trump’s buttons. 

“Trump has an impulse-control disorder and anything that draws attention to that and his unreadiness for office is great,” said Democratic consultant Craig Varoga.