For the second year in a row, President Donald Trump will skip the White House Correspondents Association Dinner — and, on Saturday, he offered an alternative entertainment option for those who don’t want to see him roasted in front of the “fake news” media.
“Look forward to being in the Great State of Michigan tonight,” Trump tweeted Saturday, the same day as the annual gathering of politicians, journalists and celebrities. “Big crowd tonight, will be live on TV”
It was a pointed reminder that, rather than hobnobbing with a group he’s spent the better part of three years bashing as the “enemy of the American people,” Trump will be basking in the unquestioning love of his supporters at a campaign-style rally near Detroit.
But it wasn’t always this way.
On the contrary, Trump attended the correspondents’ dinner several times before becoming president — and, according to some armchair observers, it was a particularly humiliating lampooning by former President Barack Obama at the event in 2011 that may have inspired the reality star’s run in the first place.
Obama, others laid waste to Trump at past dinners
On that fateful night in April 2011, Obama made a few quick jokes about the racist “birther” conspiracy Trump had been relentlessly pushing, capped off with an airing of his “birth video” — a clip of Simba being born in the Lion King.
The gag got a laugh, Obama moved on and it seemed like that would be it.
But Obama returned to Trump a few minutes later, mercilessly mocking the loud-mouthed businessman right to his face — and before an entire room of howling onlookers.
“Donald Trump is here tonight,” a chuckling Obama said. “Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder, to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like: Did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”
The jab elicited laughter and applause from the crowd, and the camera cut to Trump just as his face flushed to a redder shade of orange.
“All kidding aside, obviously we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience,” Obama said, recounting a recent episode of the Celebrity Apprentice in which Trump fired actor Gary Busey over a botched project related to Omaha Steaks. “These are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night.”
“Well-handled, sir, well-handled. Say what you will about Mr. Trump, he certainly would bring some change to the White House,” Obama said as a photo of the White House done up as a Trump hotel appeared in front of the audience.
Trump smiled and nodded as Obama belittled him in front of the media, but appeared embarrassed by the jokes, which, according to some reports, triggered an effort on his part to assert himself and perhaps get revenge for the roasting.
“That evening of public abasement, rather than sending Mr. Trump away, accelerated his ferocious efforts to gain stature within the political world,” the New York Times reported in 2016. “And it captured the degree to which Mr. Trump’s campaign is driven by a deep yearning sometimes obscured by his bluster and bragging: a desire to be taken seriously.”
During his run for president, Trump denied that the 2011 correspondents’ dinner was the genesis of his campaign.
“It’s such a false narrative,” Trump told the Washington Post in 2016. “I had a phenomenal time. I had a great evening.”
Nobody but Trump can know for sure why he decided to embark on his unlikely bid for president, but one thing the 2011 correspondents’ dinner clearly demonstrated was his difficulty being the butt of jokes.
For it was not just Obama who laid into Trump that night, but also comedian Seth Meyers, who lacerated the stone-faced real estate mogul with lines like, “Donald Trump has been saying that he will run for president as a Republican — which is surprising, since I just assumed that he was running as a joke.”
While Trump claimed to the Post in 2016 that he was “honored” by the fact Obama was joking about him, he did not take so kindly to Meyers’ barbs.
“I didn’t like his routine,” Trump said. “His was too nasty, out of order.”
Trump would be dunked on by Obama and others at subsequent correspondents’ dinners, though it seems Trump would get the last laugh. While Obama was joking, as he did in 2016, that the real estate mogul was running only to “give his hotel business a boost,” Trump was on his way to one of the most unlikely presidential victories in U.S. history.
Since his election, Trump’s public posture toward the press has only worsened, his obsession with his image remains intact and he still finds jokes at his expense to be “unfunny.”
So in 2018, as in 2017, he’ll skip the correspondents’ dinner in favor of a campaign-style rally.
In 2017, he held a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to commemorate his first 100 days in office. On Saturday night, he’ll be in Michigan, where he suggested he’d tout the “major business expansion and jobs pouring into your State” and the “auto companies expanding at record pace” there.
Michelle Wolf, the comedian hosting the 2018 dinner, has said it is “cowardly” of Trump not to attend, but doesn’t seem too broken up about it.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, thank God,” she told Jimmy Kimmel. “‘I won’t have to hear Trump eat.’”