Things are getting political at the Miss America pageant.
When asked on Friday, the final night of the preliminary competition, what she believed was the most serious issue facing the nation, Madeline Collins, Miss West Virginia, name-checked the leader of the free world.
“Donald Trump is the biggest issue facing our country today,” Collins responded. As captured on video by a Press of Atlantic City reporter, Collins continued: “Unfortunately, he has caused a lot of divide in our country, and until we can trust in him and the choices that he makes for our country, we cannot become united.”
Because each contestant was given only 20 seconds to respond, Collins did not go into more detail. When the Miss America organization announced in June that a “live interactive session with the judges” would replace the swimsuit competition — following months of controversy over email exchanges in which leaders disparaged contestants — it described the interview as a way for each contestant to “highlight her achievements and goals in life, and how she will use her talents, passion and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.”
Gretchen Carlson, a 1989 Miss America winner who went on to become a TV commentator and the pageants’ current chairman, said in a statement that Miss America would “represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment. We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues.”
Ultimately, Collins lost the interview portion of the contest to Miss Massachusetts, Gabriela Taveras, who fielded a question about how Americans traveling abroad should interact with foreigners. We should let them know that “we as Americans are supporting them and that we are there to help them,” she suggested, according to the Associated Press.
But Collins’s response captured a new, evolving spirit of the competition, coming on the heels of another headline-making response from the night before. On Thursday, when asked how the NFL should handle players kneeling during the national anthem, Miss Virginia, Emili McPhail, emphasized that the protests are not anti-patriotic, but are “absolutely about police brutality.”
“Kneeling during the national anthem is absolutely a right that you have, to stand up for what you believe in, and to make the right decision that’s right for you,” she said. After the competition, McPhail added: “I said standing up for what you believe in is the most important thing that you can do, and that’s what I did. I was very happy to have that moment, to be honest, because it’s not always easy.”
The NFL protests have enraged President Trump, who once owned the Miss Universe pageant, a separate organization. Although the president has yet to respond to either contestant’s answer, Collins’s rebuke of Trump takes on added significance, considering that she hails from a reliably conservative state often said to be “the heart of Trump country.”