It was the moment that could have broken Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions: In June, he likened immigrants to rapists, prompting Univision to ditch his beauty pageants and NBC to cut ties with him.
“At Univision we see first-hand the work ethic, love for family, strong religious values and the important role Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans have had and will continue to have in building the future of our country,” the company said in a statement posted on its website. “We will not be airing the Miss USA pageant on July 12th or working on any other projects tied to the Trump Organization.”
Trump, of course, survived what at first seemed like a campaign-ending gaffe — and has gone on to survive many more. “Mexican gov doesn’t want me talking about terrible border situation & horrible trade deals,” he said in a defiant tweet. “Forcing Univision to get me to stop — no way!”
But rhetoric is one thing. Could Trump successfully spin the loss of a business deal valued at up to $25 million into political and financial victory in a campaign that, at the time, seemed merely whimsical?
It appears so. With the disastrous Miss Universe 2015 that just unfolded in Las Vegas, Trump won without even being onstage. Even a beauty pageant, it seemed, just couldn’t run smoothly without him around.
Hours before Miss Universe, Trump was cheering it on from the sidelines. After being banished by Univision and exiled from NBC over his anti-immigrant comments, Trump bought the rights to the pageant back from NBC — then flipped it in September to the entertainment company WME-IMG in a matter of days.
“My friend, @AriEmanuel of @IMG, bought the Miss Universe pageants from me and they are on tonight on #Fox!” he wrote. “Tune in!”
Then came the perfect gaffe for Trump supporters to tweet and retweet ad infinitum. Co-host Steve Harvey — a usually unflappable comedian, talk-show host and author — anointed the wrong woman Miss Universe, crowning Miss Colombia instead of the judges’ intended, Miss Philippines.
“Still a great night,” Harvey said — though Miss Colombia might not have agreed as she was almost instantly dethroned. “Please don’t hold it against the ladies. Please don’t. We feel so badly. But it’s still a great night.”
Meanwhile, outside on the Strip, a more serious tragedy was unfolding. In an incident not yet explained by authorities, a driver may have intentionally driven her car on to a sidewalk outside Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, where Miss Universe was held, killing one person and injuring dozens more. Terrorism, though eventually ruled out, was initially a possible motive in what police called a “mass casualty incident.”
Somehow, in the unlikeliest venue under the strangest set of circumstances, Trump — master of reality television, tough on terror — seemed in short supply. And no one was readier to point this out than the candidate himself. Betraying a bit of modesty, he confined himself to retweets.
“Where’s @realDonaldTrump when you need em?” one supporter noted. Another: “@realDonaldTrump must be overjoyed that as soon as he sells the pageant it goes off the rails. We need you Mr Trump!”
When it came to Harvey’s uncharacteristically amateurish goof, there was even room for a conspiracy theory.
“I think it was an orchestrated move,” one Twitter user wrote. “Major publicity for an event no one even knew was happening.”
Even with Christmas four days away, it seems Trump has found a way to dominate a news cycle. Meanwhile, his lawsuit against Univision over Miss Universe — ongoing though he no longer owns the pageant — continues. In an amended complaint filed in November, the candidate is seeking a mere $500 million for the company’s decision to pull out of Miss Universe as well as alleged defamation and “attempt to suppress Mr. Trump’s First Amendment rights.”
“Univision, in an obvious attempt to politicize the situation and suppress Mr. Trump’s right to free speech, including his views on both trade and illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexican border, has made a concerted effort … in collusion with others, to wage war against Plaintiffs in the media,” the suit read.
“Trump’s invective — and Miss Universe’s silence in the face of it — rendered the pageants toxic to Univision’s viewership, which obliterated the central goal of the licensing deal and the very reason Univision was carrying the programs,” it responded in a motion for dismissal. “Trump cannot now stick Univision with the bill.”