Once again, the race for the White House has provided Viacom with a opening gag for its “CMT Music Awards.”

President Obama and Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney each had taped appearances for the opening of Wednesday night’s trophy show, which, according to conventional wisdom, plays strong in the Heartland.

Obama and the presumptive GOP nominee were both “in on the joke,” CMT network President Brian Philips said Wednesday, adding bipartisanly: “They’re each great sports.”

It went like this:

At the top of the show, after a Lady Antebellum kickoff, various TV news and infotainment on-air talent — Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, Steve Kroft, Maria Menounos and Mario Lopez — weighed in on “disturbing reports” that this year’s trophy show hosts, Toby Keith and Kristen Bell, did not want to share the spotlight. Naturally, Obama and Romney were asked to weigh in because, well, we don’t actually know.

President Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney have taped appearances for the opening of Wednesday night’s CMT Music Awards. (AP)

“This is one of the toughest decisions I have had to make since I’ve been in office,” Obama said stiffly, as if he knew the material was all wrong. “But, I have decided — I want them both,” he added, gamely.

“I thought the presidential election was a tough race, but it’s nothing compared to the politics of the ‘CMT Music Awards,’ ” Romney chimed in, even more awkwardly, which we didn’t think was possible.

“I think I have a solution though,” Romney continued dubiously. “I propose Toby and Kristen co-host. See, I just put two people back to work. You’re welcome, America.”

Note to presidential candidates in 2016: Demand better writers.

Four years ago, Democratic hopefuls Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as Republican candidate John McCain and Donald Trump, participated in a taped opening bit for the annual awards special. In that bit, the three candidates and Trump were seen phoning around, trying to score tickets to the trophy show, which, viewers were asked to believe, were impossibly hard to score.

“I’m a billionaire many times over, and I have really great hair. What I am not is a magician,” Trump was seen telling country crooner Trace “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” Adkins, who had contacted his former “Celebrity Apprentice” boss in his own desperation to snag tickets.

That 2008 “CMT Music Awards” telecast clocked an average of 2.8 million viewers, up from 2.1 million in ’07.

A rigged pageant?

Speaking of The Donald, he took to the morning infotainment shows Wednesday to announce that the Miss Universe Organization plans to sue a former Miss Pennsylvania, who turned in her tiara Tuesday as she claimed that Sunday’s Miss USA pageant was fixed.

Miss Rhode Island, Olivia Culpo, was named the new Miss USA on the broadcast by NBC. The Miss USA pageant winner goes on to compete this year in the Miss Universe pageant, which is also broadcast on NBC.

The ex-Miss Pennsylvania, Sheena Monnin, said on her Facebook page that she saw another competitor correctly call out the names of the top five finalists on Sunday’s pageant “before they were announced,” based on information the competitor found in a folder before the show.

“We’re going to bring a lawsuit against this girl,” Trump, who co-owns the Miss Universe Organization with NBC Universal, told NBC’s “Today” show co-anchor Ann Curry in a phone interview. Trump used similar language with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Monnin announced Tuesday on her Facebook page: “I knew the show must be rigged; I decided at that moment [she saw the competitor] to distance myself from an organization who did not allow fair play and whose morals did not match my own.”

“It is so ridiculous,” Trump told Curry of Monnin’s accusation, noting that the whole voting process in the franchise is “supervised by Ernst and Young and everything is certified.”

Besides, Trump noted later in the interview, “The organization doesn’t care who the top five are, or the top 10.” He added: “I mean, what difference does it make?”

“They’ve done an investigation. I just found out about it; they just reported to me about five minutes ago,” Trump told Curry in the course of their phone conversation. “The person that supposedly showed the list totally denies that that ever took place.”

Asked his first impression of Monnin, Trump said: “My impressions were she didn’t have a chance of being in the top 15, not even close. And all this is, is a girl who went there, lost, wasn’t in the 15, and she’s angry at the pageant system.”

Later, he called her reaction “buyer’s remorse.”

(Later Wednesday, Trump’s lawyer contacted the tabloid Web site TMZ to say that the mogul had decided, before filing a lawsuit, to give Monnin 24 hours to retract her claim in writing — because, the site wrote, “Donald believes everyone deserves a second chance.”)

Curry noted that the pageant organization said Monnin sent an e-mail to pageant brass, saying that she did not want to be part of a pageant that allows natural-born males to participate. In April, the Miss Universe Organization announced that Jenna Talackova, who underwent a sex change four years ago, could compete in the Miss Universe pageant this year.

Talackova did not win the 2012 Miss Universe Canada competition, which would have been big news in the pageant world. And good news for NBC’s December broadcast of the Miss Universe pageant, which, in November, suffered its smallest overall audience since the mid-1970s. An average of 5.3 million people watched that show, according to Nielsen.

Walters’s Syrian regret

Barbara Walters said she regrets having tried to help an aide to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad land a job at CNN and entrance into an Ivy League university.

The Daily Telegraph obtained e-mails in which Walters tried to help Sheherazad Jaafari, daughter of Syria’s U.N. ambassador and close adviser to Assad, from a Syrian opposition group.

Jaafari, 22, was a “close adviser to Mr. Assad and was at his side as Syrian troops stepped up their campaign of killing and repression,” reported the Daily Telegraph, adding that Walters has known her father, Bashar Jaafari, for about seven years.

Jaafari helped Walters snag the first Western sit-down with Assad, in December.

In late January, Jaafari approached Walters about landing a gig at ABC News, the paper reported.

“In the aftermath [of the Assad interview], Ms. Jaafari returned to the U.S. and contacted me looking for a job. I told her that was a serious conflict of interest and that we would not hire her,” Walters said in a statement to the paper.

Walters, however, did contact Jonathan Wald, executive producer of CNN”s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” about Jaafari. She also reached out to Wald’s father, a lecturer at Columbia University, to ask whether he could help Jaafari gain admittance to that institution.

“I did offer to mention her to contacts at another media organization and in academia, though she didn’t get a job or into school. In retrospect, I realize that this created a conflict and I regret that,” Walters said in the statement.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/