In the late 1990s, as President Bill Clinton was about to face the biggest sex scandal of his political career over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a beauty queen named Alicia Machado caused a major scandal by gaining a large amount of weight after winning the Miss Universe crown.
Donald Trump had just taken over the pageant, and fought to deal with the fallout.
Hillary Clinton has, for months, planned to use that episode against him, training Machado for the attack. Here are the facts.
1. Trump fought to save Machado’s Miss Universe title, and her job. What is a sensitive feminist male boss supposed to do if a female employee — hired, again, for her appearance — gains a large amount of weight? He is supposed to defend her job. And that is exactly what Trump did, urging the pageant not to fire her, and appearing with her at a gym to offer support. In an excerpt from his book The Art of the Comeback, Rush Limbaugh noted Thursday, Trump recalled the episode:
“First, she wins. Second, she gains fifty pounds. Third, I urged the committee not to fire her. Fourth, I go to the gym with her in a show of support. Final act: She trashes me in the Washington Post — after I stood by her the entire time. What’s wrong with this picture? Anyway, the best part about the evening was the knowledge that next year she would no longer be Miss Universe. What’s maddening is that I supported her.
“Even in Palm Beach, where I haven’t always gotten the greatest press, Shannon Donnelly, society columnist for the Palm Beach Daily News,” known here as the Shiny Sheet, “wrote, ‘Here’s a new one for the Donald: Protector-Advocate for large women. His acquisition from ITT has put Alicia Machado under the Trump Aegis. The Donald, bless his heart, doesn’t want to fire her because “it would be a terrible message to send.” He is instead bringing her to the spa at Mar-a-Lago where she can work out in earnest, eat sensibly and generally decompress.’ That sounds pretty gentlike to me.”
2. A Venezuelan judge accused Machado of threatening to kill him. From a 1998news report: “Machado, who grabbed world headlines for nearly losing her crown after a sudden weight gain, burst back into the limelight last month when lawyers named her as the getaway driver for her boyfriend in a shooting last November … [Judge Maximiliano] Fuenmayor, who reported the alleged threats to police, said he traced the caller through an incoming call identity function on his mobile telephone.” The New York Post repored at the time that Machado “was seen driving the car in which her boyfriend, Juan Rodriguez Reggeti, sped away after shooting his brother-in-law in the head in Caracas on Nov. 21,” citing the victim’s family’s lawyer. (He survived.) Machado denied the charges, which were later dropped for lack of sufficient evidence.
3. Machado damaged her own reputation by having sex live on television. In 2005, Machado appeared on The Farm, a Spanish-language version of the Big Brotherprogram. She had sex with the host of the show, even though she was engaged to Major League Baseball player Bobby Abreu of the Philadelphia Phillies at the time. Abreu called off the wedding after the humiliating episode aired on TV. Machado wrote of her new lover, according to the Sun: “He treats me like a goddess, he f***s me like a b****!” In 2006, she became the first Miss Universe to pose nude for Playboy, appearing in PlayboyMexico.
4. The Clinton campaign has been coaching Machado for months to attack Trump. From the Washington Post:
Operatives in Brooklyn had been working with Machado since the summer. They had a video featuring her story ready to go. Cosmopolitan had a photo spread of her draped in an American flag – to go with a profile – in the can. Machado had also conducted an interview with The Guardian that was “apparently embargoed for post-debate release,” according to Vox. And the Clinton super PAC Priorities USA turned a digital ad to highlight the insults by early afternoon.
5. Machado did, in fact, gain weight during her reign as Miss Universe. TheEconomist reported that she put on “15 kilos within weeks of winning her title.” Other newspapers called her “The Incredible Bulk.” What was at issue was not her weight or appearance, but that she had just won a competition in which she voluntarily submitted herself to be judged for both — against hundreds of other contestants who would have taken her place. The Orlando Sentinel wrote: “No one, of course, raised an eyebrow when Machado basically starved herself before the competition. But when she gained anywhere from a reported 22 to 50 pounds afterward, she caused quite the international stir.” Trump denies calling her “Miss Piggy” or “Miss Housekeeping,” as Machado now claims (though he is on record at the time having called her an “eating machine”). Machado told the Miami Herald that before the beauty pageant, “I was anorexic and bulimic, but almost all of us are.”