Race tailspins into gutter

Race tailspins into gutter
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The presidential race between the two most unpopular presidential candidates in modern times is sliding into the gutter.

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The dominant topic on the campaign trail has become pornography, after Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE accused a newfound Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBroadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Broadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Facing challenge from Warren, Sanders touts strength against Trump MORE ally and former Miss Universe of having a sex tape in a Twitter rant in the early hours of the morning on Friday, only to have footage of his cameo in a softcore porn film surface the same day.

And considering a former DNC chair's unfounded accusations of Trump using cocaine at the debate and the GOP nominee's threats to go all in on using Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBroadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Broadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Campaign dads fit fatherhood between presidential speeches MORE's sex scandals against his opponent, the next few weeks are shaping up to be a crude final showdown before Election Day.

“Clinton’s assault on Trump regarding his treatment of the former Miss Universe has given him the idea that he could spin this the other way by resurrecting the Monica Lewinsky scandal,” said veteran GOP strategist Ron Bonjean. “It feels like a race to the bottom for both campaigns and while Trump’s strategy is high risk and could very well fail, some mud may also spill onto the Clinton [campaign] for pursuing these attacks.”

Clinton set off the latest round of attacks from Trump when she brought up Alicia Machado by name at the debate to blast Trump for making derogatory comments about her weight when she was Miss Universe in 1996. 

During the debate, Trump denied Clinton’s claims that he had called Machado “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” but in the days following, he defended his treatment of her 20 years ago and continued to criticize her weight. He took to trying to smear the beauty queen, with Trump and his surrogates raising a Venezuelan judge's claims that Machado had threatened to kill him.

Then Trump tweeted 5:30 a.m. Friday: “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?”

Hours after the Twitter rant, BuzzFeed reported that Trump had made a brief cameo in a softcore Playboy porn video, something the Clinton campaign called a "strange turn of events."

The rhetoric may risk further alienating voters, many of whom are unhappy with their options in the race to begin with. A Monmouth University poll released this week found that 70 percent of voters think the election has brought out the worst in people and 65 percent say the harsh language used by the candidates is unjustified.

In the weeks leading up to the debate, the real estate mogul had appeared uncharacteristically disciplined in his messaging and had attempted to overcome his deep unpopularity with voters of color in a number of trips to minority communities and rolled out a childcare plan, to the left of many Republicans, in an appeal to women with help from his daughter Ivanka. 

But Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee aide, said Trump is incapable of responding to Clinton’s attacks in an effective way, and the last few days have proved it.

“The reality is he’s not a counter-puncher, he’s someone who always takes the bait,” Heye said.

Neither campaign responded to requests for comment.

As Clinton and Machado hammer Trump on sexist comments, Trump has hinted at the possibility that he will ramp up the personal attacks by going after former President Bill Clinton for his infidelities.

“She’s nasty, but I can be nastier than she ever can be,” he said of Clinton in an interview with the New York Times on Friday.

“Hillary Clinton was married to the single greatest abuser of women in the history of politics,” Trump added. “Hillary was an enabler, and she attacked the women who Bill Clinton mistreated afterward. I think it’s a serious problem for them, and it’s something that I’m considering talking about more in the near future.”

And at a rally Saturday night, Trump said he doubts Clinton is "loyal" to her husband, adding "why should she be?" He also mocked her for her collapse at a 9/11 memorial event.

Trump’s behavior the past few days appears to have made Republicans nervous about the impact it could have on the race and their down-ballot candidates.

The chairman of the Ohio GOP called it a “nightmare” in an interview with the Washington Post Friday, and Trump adviser Newt Gingrich publicly called on the candidate to become more disciplined during an appearance on Fox News.

But Heye doesn’t believe that Trump or his campaign are capable of making this work in their favor. Heye acknowledged there are “valid criticisms” to be made of Clinton’s treatment of the women who have made allegations against her husband. 

“[But] what we’ve seen from the Trump campaign and Trump’s surrogates shows that they’re not capable of pulling off the valid criticism,” he said. “Their default position is to go overboard and with that comes the backlash.”