POLITICS
09/29/2016 05:43 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

Donald Trump's Feud With Rosie O'Donnell Actually Began With A Fight Over Miss USA

“I could’ve attacked back, or I could’ve let it pass. And I chose to go the first one,” Trump said in 2007.

Donald Trump’s infamous and ongoing beef with Rosie O’Donnell started over her criticism of his handling of a Miss USA beauty queen.

In 2006, New York tabloids reported that Tara Conner, the reigning Miss USA, had been spotted at a club making out with a Miss Teen USA and had failed a test for cocaine.

A New York Daily News story about the affair ― which reads suspiciously like Trump himself was a source ― speculated that Trump would be firing Conner. Never one to miss a media opportunity, Trump called a major press conference to publicly announce her fate.

As told later in a glowing profile of Conner in Oprah magazine, a benevolent Trump had second thoughts, and gave the beauty queen a second chance.

Originally, Donald planned on firing her, but after meeting with her in his office, he had a change of heart. “I hated it from the concept of what it would do to somebody’s life,” he says. “I said I was going to give her a second chance. ... The biggest backlash I had was not from the public. I think the public liked it. The biggest backlash I had was from the staff.”

Donald has personal reasons for his decision. His brother, Fred, was an alcoholic. “He had everything, but he got hooked on alcohol, and it killed him,” Donald says. “I believe in second chances, and sometimes it works when you give somebody a second chance. She went from being a disaster to being a terrific Miss USA. But, much more importantly, she sets an example for so many other people that are going through the same thing.”

Trump’s grandstanding and moralizing at the press conference, with Conner sobbing by his side, was too much for O’Donnell. “He annoys me on a multitude of levels,” O’Donnell said from her perch on “The View.” “He’s the moral authority? Left the first wife, had an affair; left the second wife, had an affair; had kids both times. But he’s the moral compass for 20-year-olds in America? Donald, sit and spin, my friend.”

Trump, as he does, quickly counterattacked. “I had a choice,” he said later in a 2007 speech at a real estate conference. “I could’ve attacked back, or I could’ve let it pass. And I chose to go the first one.”

And with that, the feud heard round the world was launched into orbit. “To be honest, it started with a beauty pageant contestant and frankly she’s a great beauty, Tara is a great beauty, and then you have Rosie, the beast; you have beauty and the beast,” Trump said.

Trump’s chivalry, though, wasn’t as pure as he had suggested to Oprah. “Everyone thought I’d fire her. Then I saw how beautiful she was, I said, ‘How the hell can I fire her?’” he said in the speech.

Given Trump’s battle with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado ― who says she was bullied relentlessly by Trump, who called her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping” ― his version of the story in which Conner’s looks saved her, rather than some noble impulse within Trump, is the more plausible one.

Trump has not declared an end to his war on O’Donnell, mentioning her in Monday night’s debate when Clinton brought up Machado and some of Trump’s other comments about women. “Hillary is hitting me with tremendous commercials,” he said, strangely, to rebut the Machado charges. “Some of it’s said in entertainment. Some of it’s said ― somebody who’s been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her.”

Trump, at the real estate conference, elaborated on what he’d said about O’Donnell. “I called her a pig, I didn’t say she was fat, because that’s politically incorrect, but come to think of it, is she fat?” he said. “Assuming I did call her a fat pig, would I be wrong?”

Reflecting on his life choices, he added, “Here I am, I graduated from Wharton and I’m calling people ‘fat pig.’”

O’Donnell, he said, eventually stopped criticizing him because of the severity of his attacks. “I hit that big pig face,” Trump boasted.

He picked up the theme during a different speech, uploaded in 2007. “This slob ― no, I’m not allowed to use the word ‘fat,’” he complained, citing “politically correct bullshit.”

“I hit her hard right between those ugly, f-f-f-f ― eyes,” he said, pausing and ostentatiously declining to finish the word fat.

He said he was told later that O’Donnell was suffering from depression. Again, he said, he had the choice not to comment, but took the other road. “I think I can cure her depression,” he said. “If she’d stop looking in the mirror, I think she’d stop being so depressed.”

Conner herself remains sober and has become an advocate for recovery. She didn’t respond to a request for comment, but recently tweeted that her reprieve from Trump “wasn’t what it seemed to be. That is all I will say ...” 

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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