In “Don’t Take Donald Trump to Dinner” Ms. Collins says that like so much else, he found a way to ruin a 70-year-old tradition where candidates show up for inoffensive fun. Here she is:
The evidence continues to mount: There is nothing in the world that Donald Trump can’t make worse.
Our latest example is the Al Smith Dinner, a feel-good annual event at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, in which the political and business elite gather to congratulate themselves for raising money to help poor children. It’s sponsored by the Catholic archdiocese, and in presidential election years it’s a tradition for the candidates to show up and make witty, self-deprecatory speeches in which each can also take gentle gibes at the other.
The nation is filled with must-show events for politicians. (There was quite a stir in Florida a few years ago when the gubernatorial candidates failed to attend the Wausau Possum Festival.) But few are as high-end and theoretically bipartisan as the Smith dinner. The most important guests are seated in tiers onstage, where hoi polloi can admire their table manners.
The first time I attended was back in 1980, when Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were the star attractions. It was one of my very first assignments as a New York reporter. More prominent people covered the speeches; my job was to watch the stage and make sure the famous developer-power broker Robert Moses, who was in his 90s, made it through the meal. Moses kept sort of nodding off, his head dipping toward his soup. But my scoop never came.
There was one moment of excitement when Jimmy Carter tried to tell a sassy joke. He warned people to avoid getting too close to Reagan’s “I Love New York” button because “the paint is still wet.” The crowd cried out, shocked that the president had gone over the good-manners line. You get the idea. This thing has been going on since 1945 without major incident, and it took Donald Trump to screw it up.
He began with a self-pitying comment about how the New York political world had turned on him since he became a Republican. It’s true that Trump is wildly unpopular in the city right now, although changing parties was not quite as important as the part about becoming the nastiest, most undisciplined, overall terrifying presidential nominee in American history.
Then Trump compared himself to Jesus (“a guy who started out as a carpenter working for his father”). But by recent standards, he was getting along pretty well. And he did note modestly that “nobody can compete with God.”
Then things went downhill. We have seen this now so many times, people. The man can keep himself together for 10 minutes, but then he loses control. Do you think he gets bored? We know he has a severely truncated attention span. “Hillary is so corrupt, she got kicked off the Watergate commission,” he jibed. Trump broke the code about not making personal attacks, and just for good measure, he did it with a totally fictional piece of internet lore.
“Oooh,” muttered the crowd. Trump rolled on, making email jokes, WikiLeaks jokes and all-purpose insults. (“Hillary believes that it’s vital to deceive the people .…”) The reaction moved into flat-out booing, even before he offered them up the hilarious observation that Clinton was there “pretending not to hate Catholics.”
“We’re having some fun here tonight and that’s good,” Trump said between the groans and howls.
In a perfect world, Hillary Clinton would then have gotten up and given the most good-natured speech in political history, scrapping all the barbed lines in her prepared script, like the one about how a Trump White House would be awkward for gatherings of the ex-presidents (“How is Barack going to get past the Muslim ban?”). But she didn’t change a word, because Clinton is not a spontaneous politician.
If this were a normal election, we could have a very interesting discussion about how programmed she can be, and whether that would be a problem if she’s elected. But as things stand, unless we discover she’s actually an android, there’s just no point.
Nobody wants to get sucked into the Trump vortex. For months now, he’s been on a downward spiral that keeps getting wider and weirder. Everything he touches turns to crazy.
His best pal Rudy Giuliani used to be a credible public figure. Now, looking like a superannuated bulldog with a toothache, Giuliani prowls from one cable TV show to another, announcing that Donald Trump was absolutely brilliant to avoid paying taxes, starting an argument about whether Clinton was at ground zero after 9/11 and declaring that “everybody” commits adultery.
Trump’s fans have graduated from paranoia about immigrants to an obsession with buses full of dead inner-city residents voting on Election Day.
There’s nothing Trump can’t ruin, people. We’ve already noted that if he became president, he’d refuse to pardon the Thanksgiving turkey. He’d decorate the White House Christmas tree with gold-plated golf balls. And I’ll bet he’d bring one of those creepy clowns to the Easter Egg Roll.