This year’s White House Correspondents Assn. dinner may be remembered as the night that President Obama trumped Donald Trump, but there’s one detail that makes this event what it is: The host of “The Apprentice” was in the room.
The socially awkward moments, the surreal collection of Hollywood actors, reality stars and cabinet secretaries, and a weeklong series of cocktail parties and club dates have transformed this occasion into something far different than its origins as a jovial gathering of press corps and presidential advisers. The fact that C-SPAN provides red carpet coverage is just accepted as the norm.
Trump perhaps didn’t know what he was in for as he entered the Washington Hilton on Saturday night, predicting to Politico that Obama wouldn’t even address him.
Instead, he was the most frequent butt of jokes.
With the president only this week releasing his long-form birth certificate to settle Trump-fueled doubts about his citizenship, Obama quipped, “No one is prouder to put this to rest than the Donald. That is because he can begin to focus on issues that matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”
The crowd laughed, while Trump at one point offered a quick wave.
But he sat in stony silence, with not even a smile, as Seth Meyers, the featured comic at the event, offered a barrage of harsh one-liners, like, “Donald Trump says he is thinking of running for president, which is surprising because I just assumed he was running as a joke.”
The dinner event itself is moving ever closer to the rarefied revelry of the red carpet, paparazzi shouting at Attorney General Eric Holder one minute and “Glee” star Jane Lynch the next. Joan Rivers was even present — she was attending, not doing commentary, but give it time.
Obama noted the celebrity quotient in the audience, which also included Sean Penn, Paula Abdul, Jon Hamm, Scarlett Johansson and cast members from “Modern Family.”
The President’s biggest dig, however, was reserved for a celebrity who was not there: Matt Damon, who recently expressed his disappointment in the president’s performance.
“Well, Matt, I just saw ‘The Adjustment Bureau.’ Right back at you buddy,” Obama quipped.
Meyers, delivering a far edgier performance than last year’s emcee Jay Leno, poked fun at the deflated hopes of Obama, telling the president of 2012: “I’ll tell you who could beat you: 2008 Barack Obama. You would have loved him.”
The evening has grown to the point where it is possible to never actually run in to a White House correspondent — or even forget that this is, at its heart, a press event. Those at a Time-CNN-People-Fortune pre-party included Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Steve Buscemi, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and Alyssa Milano, but one of the most stunning was Bristol Palin, in a white dress with sequins.
She posed for pictures, but asked what she thought of the night, a handler ran interference and said, “I’m sorry. She’s not doing interviews. This is a social occasion.”
Nevertheless, at an event earlier in the day, Sarah Palin posed for photos at an event full of some of the very same mainstream media she labels “lamestream.”
Her presence, in which she very politely mingled, chatted and posed for photos as she circulated through the crowd, was just one of the surprising moments at the garden brunch hosted by Tammy Haddad and others. Palin told a Politico reporter that she was there to support the brunch’s two charities, CURE Epilepsy and the White Ribbon Alliance. Also spotted: Rupert Murdoch chatting away with former Obama adviser David Axelrod, and a mix of personalities including Morgan Fairchild, Buzz Aldrin, Rosario Dawson and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
“Glee” star Matthew Morrison, who also attended last year, said of the mix: “Politicians get put on a pedestal and in a weird way actors get put on a pedestal and people want to be like them in a way. But there’s a mutual respect with D.C. and Hollywood and New York.
“This is a great weekend because it brings all of those people together, and it is kind of a beautiful thing.”
His manager, Eric Podwall, a self-described political junkie, has brought a contingent of clients for several years now, this time also including Chace Crawford and Joe Mazzello, who stars in the DC-themed pilot “Georgetown.” Also present was screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who wrote the script for Clint Eastwood’s upcoming J. Edgar Hoover project.
Commenting on the whole week’s scene, White House chief of staff William Daley summed it up: “Crazy.”
This year marked what MPAA chairman Christopher Dodd plans to be a regular tradition: a night before party at the org’s downtown D.C. headquarters, with Meyers, Tom Hooper, Chelsea Handler, Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper among those there. Marking perhaps another first for the Correspondents event, Mike Isabella, runner up on Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars” and chef for the party, gave Meyers and Dodd a cooking demonstration.