Welcome to the NFL, Donald.
About an hour before Barack Obama came to the microphone and, in a manner of speaking, deftly slit his throat, cut out his entrails, set him ablaze and scraped what was left off the presidential shoe, Donald Trump was having a grand old time at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
He had arrived at the Washington Hilton as the center of attention, the unmistakable blond pompadour, with its amazing cross-hatched bangs, bobbing and weaving above a sea of tuxedos and evening gowns. He’d spent the past few weeks moonlighting from NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice to fling nasty (some say racist) innuendoes about the president’s birthplace and academic record. Now he was pressing on with his nationally televised audition as an undeclared Republican presidential candidate.
But after Obama finished with him—and the evening’s paid entertainer, Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers, stomped on the remains—a scowling Trump and his frowning model-wife bolted out of their chairs in the basement ballroom, pushed their way toward the exit with their security team, and disappeared into the cruel Washington night.
“That was very serious,” said current CNN host and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a recognized expert in political annihilation. “I think that bubble has burst.”
During dinner, the reality TV star and real estate mogul was his cocky, self-satisfied self. “We’re with Lally and The Washington Post,” he told me as he sat in a place of honor next to Lally Weymouth, the daughter and mother of newspaper publishers (Katharine Graham and Katharine Weymouth, respectively). “It’s a great honor to be at the dinner. It’s a great honor,” Trump added as his hostess beamed. “The response has been lovely.”
What if the president cracks jokes about him?
“I have no idea,” Trump parried blandly. “I’m leading in all the polls, but other than that, I have no idea… Having a good time! Great people!”
Trump’s third wife, Melania Knauss, was equally genial. “We always have fun,” she confided in her lilting Slovenian purr.
Does she want him to run?
“Well,” she answered, “he will make a decision prior to June, so we will see what happens.”
Oh, poor lambs.
“Donald Trump is here tonight!” the president began amiably. “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.” Trump could be seen smiling. “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?”
Trump’s smile was beginning to stiffen.
“All kidding aside,” Obama went on in a sober deadpan, “obviously we know about your credentials and breadth of experience.” At this, ripples of laughter coursed through the crowd of 3,000. The ripples built into waves, lapping at Trump’s table. “For example—seriously—in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, at the steak house, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks,” the president continued. “And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately you didn’t blame Little John or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night.”
The waves of laughter built into a tsunami. And then into a defeaning roar. And then cheers! There was a sickly grin plastered on Trump’s face, as it dawned on even him that the president of the United States had made a fool of him, and the whole world was laughing.
“Well-handled, sir! Well-handled!” Obama added, driving in the blade.
“Say what you will about Mr. Trump, he certainly would bring some change to the White House,” Obama noted. On the four jumbotrons hanging from the ceiling, there flashed a cartoon depicting the executive mansion and its grounds transformed into a hotel/casino/golf course complex with bikinied babes hoisting cocktails on the lawn and a huge garish neon sign advertising “Trump. The White House. Presidential Suite.”
Seth Meyers was, if possible, even less gentle. And this time Trump made no effort to smile. It’s one thing to be mocked by the Leader of the Free World, quite another to be ridiculed by a clown.
“Donald Trump has been saying that he’ll run for president as a Republican—which is surprising, since I just assumed he was running as a joke,” Meyers began, getting the sort of audience response most comedians dream of—laughter and applause—while, for Trump, it must have been reminiscent of a classic humiliation nightmare.
“Donald Trump often appears on Fox, which is ironic—because a fox often appears on Donald Trump’s head,” Meyers continued. “If you’re at The Washington Post table with Trump and you can’t finish your entrée, don’t worry, the fox will eat it.”
Meyers added: “Gary Busey said recently that Donald Trump would make a great president. Of course he said the same thing about an old, rusty birdcage he found. Donald Trump owns the Miss USA Pageant—which is great for Republicans because it will streamline their search for a vice president. Donald Trump said recently he has ‘a great relationship with the blacks.’ But unless the Blacks are a family of white people, I bet he’s mistaken.”
Even Obama, on the dais, was dissolved in laughter.
“I like that Trump is filthy-rich but nobody told his accent,” Meyers persisted. “His whole life is models, gold leaf and marble columns, but he still sounds like a know-it-all down at the OTB.”
Meyers, by the way, killed—no mean feat at an event to which the president traditionally brings the best material, gets the biggest laughs, and the hired help dies an agonizing death.
Obama, meanwhile, also shot some arrows at some of his non-Trump rivals. For example:
* “The deficit is a serious issue. That’s why Paul Ryan couldn’t be here tonight. His budget has no room for laughter.”
* “Michele Bachmann is here…and she is thinking about running for president—which is weird, because I hear she was born in Canada. Yes, Michele, this is how it starts.”
* ”And then there’s a vicious rumor floating around that could really hurt Mitt Romney. I heard he passed universal health care when he was governor of Massachusetts!”
Which is to say, a good time was had by almost all.
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.