White House Correspondents’ Dinner: Obama vs. Trump, the sequel

Updated 3:38 PM EDT, Sun May 1, 2016
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US President Barack Obama attends the 102nd White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington, DC, on April 30, 2016. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Obama took aim at rich material from 2016 campaign

Trump wasn't in the audience but was on Obama's comic hit list

Washington CNN —  

Obama … out.

President Barack Obama took his leave of the White House press corps Saturday with a sardonic blast at Donald Trump, the Republican Party and even fellow Democrats in his final tart-tongued stand-up riff for the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

Trump, the widely anticipated target of Obama’s barbs who was memorably skewered in 2011, was not in attendance – a fact that did not go unnoticed by the commander in chief.

“I am a little hurt he’s not here tonight,” Obama said. “We had so much fun the last time. And it is surprising – you have a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras. And he says no. Is this dinner too tacky for The Donald? What could he be possibly doing instead? Eating a Trump Steak? Tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel? What’s he doing?”

Obama took shots at the Democratic race, telling Bernie Sanders, who was in attendance, “You look like a million bucks. Or to put it in terms you’ll understand, you look like 37,000 donations of $27 each.”

Obama’s 10 best lines from the White House Correspondent’s Dinner

He also weighed in on the speculation surrounding the 2016 race, joking, “Next year at this time, someone else will be standing here in this very spot. And it’s anyone’s guess who she will be.”

Obama ended his speech telling the audience, “And with that, I just have two more words to say – Obama out.” He brought two fingers to his lips, using his other hand to lift a microphone up in front of him and dropped it in a dramatic fashion, referencing when performers intentionally “drop the mic” to emphasize a great performance.

Washington salivated at the prospect of a sequel to his blistering evisceration of Trump in 2011. Back then, the President used that speech to publicly ridicule Trump – who was in the audience – for the billionaire’s claims that Obama was not a natural-born American and was therefore disqualified from being President.

“Obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience,” Obama said then, slamming Trump for his supposed displays of leadership on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

“These are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled sir, well handled,” Obama said sarcastically.

D.C.’s chance to be hip

The dinner is Washington’s annual opportunity to pretend it’s hip. Reporters mingle with Hollywood stars, top sports figures, business leaders, administration officials and lawmakers who normally avoid the press. But it’s also derided by critics as a sign of an overly cozy cabal of Washington insiders – frustration that has contributed to the rise of political outsiders like Trump and Sanders this year.

In fact, the most unorthodox presidential race in modern history points to a comedy conundrum faced by Obama in his farewell address to the Washington insider love fest that the annual dinner has become. How do you satirize – and in the process land political blows – on a campaign that has lifted American politics to new heights of self-parody?

“In some ways it is strange, because this election campaign is so farcical, so exaggerated,” said David Litt, who was the lead writer on Obama’s White House Correspondent’s Association speech between 2012 and last year.

“What outrageous thing can you say about Donald Trump that Donald Trump has not already said?” said Litt, who now runs the Washington operation of the comedy website “Funny or Die.”

The media coverage that the dinner now whips up makes it a potboiler of political ambition. Some journalists have suggested that Trump’s presidential yearnings began burning brighter in that moment of public humiliation back in 2011.

Whether that’s true or not, Trump did not take any chances of a repeat – choosing to stay away from the dinner this year as he campaigns ahead of Tuesday’s Indiana primary, which could put him on the path to clinching the GOP nomination. (Sanders was the only current presidential candidate at this year’s dinner.)

Trump told The Hill in an interview that he had been invited by multiple news organizations but decided not to go because “I would have a good time and the press would say I look like I wasn’t having a good time.”

He also complained that contrary to news reports at the time, he enjoyed Obama’s roasting and was “honored” by the attention.

’So much to make fun of’

“It’s a good thing for Washington to take itself down a peg for a night,” said chief White House speechwriter Cody Keenan, who oversees the three-week-long process of putting the speech together. “There’s nobody in America who would say ‘hey, these politicians are poking fun at each other too much.’ Because there’s so much to make fun of!”

The 2016 campaign has served up plenty of material.

Trump boasted about the size of his manhood and suggested Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had blood coming out of her “wherever.”

Another candidate – Sen. Lindsey Graham – smashed his cellphone with a golf club. Ben Carson stood by his view that the pyramids were built to store grain. Cruz munched on bacon sizzled on the muzzle of a machine gun and Clinton misfired spectacularly by joking she had wiped her notorious email server “with a cloth.”