Two days before the first presidential debate that could determine the trajectory of the general election, Donald Trump took to Twitter to taunt Hillary Clinton with the possibility that he would invite one of her husband’s former mistresses to sit in the front row.
A day later, on Sunday, his campaign’s top surrogates were forced to waste precious time cleaning up after him--saying, at turns, that Gennifer Flowers hadn't been invited, that they didn't expect her to come, and that the entire thing was a lighthearted joke.
Just as the polls are narrowing and Trump’s handlers’ attempt to restrain him seems to be paying off, he went off the rails again--a common theme in 2016, and one that underscores the Republican nominee’s unpredictability right when it could prove most lethal to his White House hopes.
Trump’s almost-invitation to Flowers, which she gleefully accepted with a kiss emoji on Twitter, came after billionaire Trump troll Mark Cuban announced he would be in the front row of the debate.
Trump jabbed back.
Flowers, a former local news reporter and cabaret singer from Little Rock whose admission of an affair with then-governor Clinton nearly derailed his presidential campaign in 1992, has not been heard from much this election cycle. After she indicated she had accepted the invitation, the Internet effectively broke for the day.
Which brings us to Sunday morning.
Appearing on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ with Jake Tapper, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, said she “cannot confirm that” Flowers would be at the debate as Trump’s guest.
Conway said she “cannot believe how easily baited the Clinton campaign was. Basically, Mr. Trump was saying, look, if Mark Cuban’s going to send out these texts that say, ‘the humbling at Hofstra’ and ‘this is his big downfall,’ then Mr. Trump was putting them on notice that we could certainly invite guests that may get into the head of Hillary Clinton. But we have not invited her formally and we don’t expect her to be there as a guest of the Trump campaign.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was less committal, telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press “we'll wait to see what happens tomorrow night.”
When Todd asked whether it was appropriate to invite Flowers, Flynn attacked the Clinton campaign’s decision to invite Cuban.
“Well, you know, is it appropriate, was it appropriate to invite Mark Cuban?” Flynn said. “I mean, he's not a-- he’s not a legitimate person. Why is he invited?”
Finally, Trump’s running mate, Governor Mike Pence, was more definitive.
“Gennifer Flowers will not be there,” Pence told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “The tweet was actually mocking efforts by Hillary Clinton and her campaign to distract voters.”
Joel Benenson, a Clinton campaign strategist, defended the decision to invite Cuban, pointing to his record as a successful businessman.
Flowers did not return a request for comment, but as of Saturday she had indicated to Buzzfeed News that she intended to be there.
Trump has said time and time again that nothing was off limits when it comes to his debate with Clinton.
Clearly he meant it.
Gideon Resnick contributed to this report