Trump shouldn't mess with Miss Universe
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Don't mess with Miss Universe. At the end of Monday's strong debate performance against GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE, Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDavis: The shocking fact that Mueller never would have accused Trump of a crime Trump says he would challenge impeachment in Supreme Court The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? MORE opened a new line of attack against her rival for the presidency.

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She reminded a record-breaking audience of over 80 million people of Trump's history of calling women "pigs, slobs and dogs." Then she name-checked Miss Universe 1996, Alicia Machado of Venezuela, whom Trump once mocked as "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping." Trump was caught off guard as Clinton announced that Machado is now a U.S. citizen — and will be voting in November.

The Miss Universe dustup illustrates a central weakness of the Trump campaign. The candidate is indeed temperamental and holds offensive, stereotypical views. Meanwhile, Trump is once again involved in a messy fight that he cannot win.

Machado was the first winner of the Miss Universe pageant after Trump took it over. When the then-teenaged Machado gained 15 pounds, Trump called her "an eating machine" and forced her to work out in front of news crews.

By breathing fresh life into this old controversy, Clinton smartly leaned into Trump's vulnerabilities with women and Latinos. His distasteful comments about Machado's weight in the past will no doubt still resonate with any woman who has struggled with weight or body issues. His bullying of one of the most popular Miss Universe winners ever will not help him improve his low approval ratings among Hispanics, either. This controversy is, in effect, a double win for Clinton because it exposes both Trump's misogynistic and anti-Latino biases.

Trump loses here because he has already allowed himself to be drawn into another ill-advised public spat. The morning after the debate, he called into "Fox & Friends" and talked about Machado's "massive" weight gain and how she was the “absolute worst [winner] we ever had." Such pettiness is far from presidential. As we saw in his battles with the Gold Star Khan family and Judge Gonzalo Curiel, Trump seems hellbent on waging a fight with a private citizen, which is rarely a winning proposition.

By Wednesday, Trump surrogates were reviving unfounded allegations of criminality in Machado's past. Yet with the polls tightening and election day six weeks away, doesn't the nominee of the Republican Party and his campaign have anything better to do?

Usually an expert exploiter of the media, Trump seems to have failed to grasp that a fight between himself, Clinton and a former beauty queen would prove irresistible to producers and journalists. Machado has been everywhere this week, from the "Today" show to CNN to The New York Times, recalling how Trump's abuse resulted in years of bulima, anorexia and psychological trauma. She is visible proof that, despite Trump's frequent assertions to the contrary, not all of his employees love him. Worse, in an ad she cut for the Clinton campaign, Machado revealed that she was never paid money due her, per her contract with Trump, for work on commercials during her reign. This only strengthens the narrative of Trump as a con man who does not pay his bills and stiffs contractors and employees.

It may seem strange that a pageant winner was at the center of U.S. politics this week. But Trump's views on women should matter to voters, just as his views of Latinos should matter. Besides, Machado certainly deserves the opportunity to tell her story. Consider that, even at her heaviest, Machado was still within the healthy weight range for a woman of 5'9." Or the irony of Trump criticizing her so harshly when, according to his own medical records, he is overweight. It is to Machado's credit that she has gone to success as an actress, TV host and entrepreneur. No wonder that CNN found that numerous Republican lawmakers, when asked to comment on this controversy, either claimed not to have seen that part of the debate or offered, "No comment." They recognize a losing fight when they see it.

Alicia Machado embodies Trump's problem with women, Latinos and other working-class people. Her re-emergence into the American limelight is a moment of true crowning glory.

Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.