(AP Photo/David Goldman)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

After the Democratic convention, during which Dems broadcast an unfiltered story line about Donald Trump’s bigotry and hate-mongering to an engaged national audience, Trump helpfully picked a protracted, high profile fight with the Khan family, voluntarily reinforcing many of the ugliest messages about him that came out of the Philadelphia gathering. In the wake of all of that, Trump fell well behind in the polls, though he has since closed the gap.

It looks like something similar may now happen again, in the wake of last night’s debate, which has been widely proclaimed as a victory for Hillary Clinton.

On Fox and Friends this morning, Trump hit back at Clinton’s claim at the debate that he had called a female beauty contest winner “Miss Piggy,” essentially defending himself by claiming she had “gained a massive amount of weight.”

Clinton had cited the case of Alicia Machado, a Venezuelan who won the Miss Universe contest in 1996, and was subsequently ridiculed by Trump for gaining weight. The Miss Universe pageant was formerly owned by Trump. “Donald, she has a name,” Clinton said. “And she has become a U.S citizen. And you can bet she’s going to vote this November.” Trump retorted: “Where did you find this?” (He appeared to be referring to Clinton’s specific claim that Trump called her “Ms. Piggy,” something Machado herself alleged on a just-released Clinton campaign video.)

But on Fox and Friends today, having slept on the exchange in question, Trump defended himself this way:

“I know that person. That person was a Miss Universe person. And she was the worst we ever had, the worst, the absolute worst, she was impossible….She gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem. We had a real problem. Not only that, her attitude….Hillary went back into the years and found the girl and talked about her like she was Mother Teresa, and it wasn’t quite that way. But that’s okay.”

In one sense, it’s not surprising that Trump is doubling down on his criticism of her weight. In fact, he has publicly admitted to urging her to slim down. The New York Times reported on this whole story back in May, interviewing Machado, who claimed that Trump had publicly shamed her when she gained weight after winning the Miss Universe title. She also suggested that Trump (or his people) invited media outlets to witness her workout sessions. And the Times story contains this nugget:

Mr. Trump said he had pushed her to lose weight. “To that, I will plead guilty,” he said, expressing no regret for his tactics.

But the humiliation, Ms. Machado said, was unbearable. “After that episode, I was sick, anorexia and bulimia for five years,” she said. “Over the past 20 years, I’ve gone to a lot of psychologists to combat this.”

So this is just more of the same from Trump. But it’s remarkable that this morning he proved unable to resist taking the bait laid out for him by the Clinton campaign — right at this particular juncture, when the final battle for undecided and swing voters, many of them suburban and college educated women, begins in earnest. It seems destined to revive this whole tale and shine a glaring light on his chauvinism, just as the featuring of the Khan family at the convention baited Trump into bringing days and days of additional national attention to his hate-mongering.

During the GOP primaries, Trump’s nonstop stream of demagoguery towards Muslims — the false claim that thousands of U.S. Muslims celebrated 9/11; the flirtation with closing mosques; the oft-repeated promise to temporarily ban Muslim entry — probably helped him politically. And Trump’s carnivalesque sexism may have helped him in the GOP primaries, too, by bringing more media attention and recognition, which arguably helped boost him to the nomination. But just as Trump’s bigoted anti-Muslim abusiveness damaged him once a general election audience began paying close attention to it this summer, so too could something similar happen now with Trump’s latest display of chauvinistic abusiveness.

The current battle probably won’t rise to the level of the war with the Khan family, either in terms of media attention or in terms of the damage it does politically.  But Trump doesn’t seem to be able to resist putting this to the test.

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* TRUMP LIED…AND LIED…AND LIED…AND LIED: The Post fact checking team has a great roundup of Trump’s repeated debate lies and distortions. A taste:

Trump once again asserted that the 2008 Clinton campaign was responsible for spreading the myth that President Obama was born in Kenya, when that is false. He claimed that “thousands” of American jobs will leave the country when Ford shifts small-car manufacturing to Mexico, but no one here will lose their jobs. He also falsely claimed that he was against the Iraq War, when all available evidence demonstrates that he supported it until the rest of the country began to turn against it in 2004. He also once again falsely said he started his business with a “small loan” from his father.

As they note, Clinton “stretched the truth on occasion,” but “her misstatements paled in comparison to the list of Trump’s exaggerations and falsehoods.” It’s so good to hear folks saying this so forthrightly!

* DEMS LAUNCH NEW AD BLASTING TRUMP’S TEMPERAMENT: The pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA has released a tough new ad running in seven swing states that shows Trump boasting about his temperament last night, and then shows footage of Trump saying

“I’d like to punch him in the face…I would bomb the sh*t out of them…I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters…and you can tell them to go f*ck themselves.”

The ad is another sign that Dems believe Trump damaged himself badly with his display last night.

* CLINTON WON THE DEBATE, SNAP POLL FINDS: A post-debate poll by Public Policy Polling, sponsored by Vote Vets Action Fund, finds that voters nationally think Clinton won the debate by 51-40. Note:

Young voters, who she has under performed with, 63% think she won the debate to only 24% for Trump. 47% of voters in that age group said the debate tonight made them more likely to vote for her, to only 10% who say it made them less likely to vote for her….Clinton also won the debate by particularly wide margins with women (54/36) and voters who are either African American or Latino (77/13). Among white voters the debate was basically a draw with Trump coming out ahead 47/45.

Beware of snap polls, but if those numbers are born out over coming days, that’s good news for her, since a key goal was to galvanize young voters and nonwhites.

* SECOND SNAP POLL FINDS CLINTON WON:CNN poll taken after the debate found that viewers said she won by 62-27. Still, be cautious here too, because as CNN notes, the poll also suggested that the debate audience tilted somewhat Democratic.

* CLINTON WON BY OTHER INDICATORS, TOO: Business Insider reports that the prediction markets moved in Clinton’s direction last night, and that network focus groups also favored her performance. And there’s this:

If you’re a surrogate, you go into the spin room after the debate and say your candidate killed it….But lots of Trump supporters can’t even bring themselves to do that. Laura Ingraham said on Fox News that Trump left a lot of material on the table and complained about Lester Holt’s topic choices. Even Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager who now works for CNN, would only say Trump won the first half of the debate.

Of course, that was last night. Today they’re getting their talking points a bit more organized.

* HUGE AUDIENCE TUNED IN: ABC’s Good Morning America reports that over 100 million people watched the debate, that it generated 6.7 million tweets, and that it was engaged on Facebook over 18 million times. Trump promised that he’d put on a great show, but you have to wonder how happy he is about how it all turned out.

* DONALD TRUMP, INTERRUPTER-IN-CHIEF: Vox tallies it up:

Trump interrupted Clinton 25 times in the first 26 minutes of the debate….By the end of the debate, Trump had interrupted Clinton three times more than she interrupted him — 51 interruptions, compared to Clinton’s 17.

This is almost as bad in the “optics” department as Al Gore’s infamous debate sighs were, right?