Trump Time Capsule #116: ‘Somebody Who Likes to Eat’

Alicia Machado (R), in 1998 shortly after her reign as Miss Universe, interviewing model Nathalia Paris. (Reuters)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

There’s no way to tell which moments might end up being remembered from last night’s first Clinton-Trump debate.

Perhaps Donald Trump’s implicit confirmation that he had not paid taxes (“That’s called smart!”)? Or his acknowledgement that he’d “sort of hoped” for and profited from the devastating crash of housing values in 2008 (“That’s called business, by the way”)? His Montgomery Burns-like comment that he had not paid subcontractors because “he was not satisfied with their work”? His frequent “manterruptions” of Hillary Clinton (“Wrong!”) or talking over her answers, as a modern counterpart of Rick Lazio’s over-aggressive stage manners toward her during their New York Senate debates in 2000? His resurrection of his false claims that Hillary Clinton had started the birther movement, and that he had opposed the Iraq war?

We won’t know for a while. But there’s a good chance that the already-famous exchange in the debate’s final few minutes, about the beauty-pageant winner he called “Miss Piggy,” will have a lingering effect.

The NBC story about it is here and the NYT’s is here; NBC is the source of the video below. Their subject is of course Alicia Machado, a one-time Miss Venezuela who was chosen as Miss Universe in the period when Donald Trump was in charge of the Miss Universe pageant.

After her victory, she began gaining weight—and as the NYT reported back in May, Trump hectored her so relentlessly about being “fat” that she essentially had a breakdown. As the earlier story said:

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. ... “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.”

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Why might this be a moment that matters?

  1. Trump is trailing among women voters, while running against the first-ever female major-party nominee; and the episode reminds women of the oppressive power of being judged on looks (as Susan Chira writes about in the NYT).

  2. He is trailing badly with Hispanic voters, and this is a reminder that he called a pageant winner from Latin America “Miss Housekeeping.”

  3. He won’t let it go. This is the incredible part. When asked about the episode this morning on Fox and Friends, part of the only network he will deal with any more, Trump dug in deeper, much as he had with Captain Khan’s family. You can see for yourself below if you’d like. Sample: “She was the winner, and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.”

Will this matter? Will it be, like “Mexican judge” (installment #7) or the Khan family (#65), something that seems incredible at the time but then is sort of factored into the “normal” reality of Trump? I don’t know. But noting it for the record, with 41 days to go.