Trump plays blame game after combative debate with Clinton

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) — Donald Trump blamed the moderator, a bad microphone and anyone but himself Tuesday after he was forced onto defense by Hillary Clinton’s cascade of critiques about his taxes, honesty and character in the first presidential debate.

The Republican nominee plunged into re-litigating some of Clinton’s most damaging attacks, even when the explanations seemed only to further damage his image among the voters he needs to win. After brushing off Clinton’s debate claim that he’d once shamed a former Miss Universe winner for her weight, Trump dug deeper the next morning.

“She gained a massive amount of weight. It was a real problem. We had a real problem,” Trump told “Fox and Friends” about the 1996 winner of the pageant he once owned.

Clinton, meanwhile, was in a celebratory mood, telling reporters on her campaign plane she had a “great, great time” and was “thrilled” by how it went. She accused Trump of making “demonstrably untrue” claims in the debate and mocked him for floating the possibility that debate organizers had set him up by lowering the volume on his “terrible” microphone so he was quieter than Clinton.

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“Anybody who’s complaining about the microphone is not having a good night,” Clinton said.

Both campaigns knew the highly anticipated first debate could mark a turning point six weeks before Election Day, but it was unclear if either candidate would reap significant gains. Trump and Clinton are locked in an exceedingly close race and competing vigorously to win over undecided voters.

Though he said on Twitter he had “really enjoyed” the debate, Trump accused moderator Lester Holt of a left-leaning performance and going harder on him than Clinton. He insisted he had “no sniffles” and no allergies despite the #snifflegate speculation that had exploded on social media.

Still, Trump insisted he’d gotten the better of Clinton, awarding her a C-plus while declining to assign himself a grade. He also threatened to go harder after her in the next debate and said he’d planned to assail President Bill Clinton for his “many affairs” and stopped himself solely because daughter Chelsea Clinton had been in the room.

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With precious few weeks left to campaign, both candidates returned promptly to the trail, with Clinton campaigning Tuesday in North Carolina and Trump in Florida. Those are among a handful of toss-up states whose winners could help determine the outcome of the election.

Clinton and Trump are slated to face each again on Oct. 9 in St. Louis. Asked about the possibility Trump could pull out, Clinton said she’d show up regardless.

“If I’m the only person onstage, well, you know, I’m the only person onstage,” she said.