Hot off their final presidential debate, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton appeared together again last night, this time in New York at the Al Smith Dinner, an annual white-tie fundraiser for Catholic charities so densely packed with political somebodies that the official seating chart puts Public Advocate Letitia James within spit-ball distance of war criminal Henry Kissinger and leaves only a tenuous one-seat buffer between feuding third-graders Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio.
By tradition, the format of the banquet is that of a roast, which meant America finally got to assess how capable the prospective leaders of the free world are delivering scripted zingers. You might think that a genre of comedy most closely associated with Dean Martin and Don Rickles would favor the boorish self-regarding white guy, but that’s not what happened last night.
Trump went first, warming up by comparing himself to God and praising the shapeliness of his own hands, before moving on to the topic of his rival. “Just before taking the dais, Hillary accidentally bumped into me, and she very civilly said ‘Pardon me,'” Trump intoned. The audience tittered nervously. “This stuff is all relative,” he said. “After listening to Hillary rattle on and on and on, I don’t think so badly of Rosie O’Donnell anymore.”
Trump made fun of his wife, whose convention speech was found to be largely lifted from an earlier speech by the first lady: “You want the proof? Michelle Obama gives a speech, and everyone loves it…. My wife, Melania, gives the exact same speech and people get on her case.”
But as Trump’s routine wore on, he largely dispensed with the pretense of humor, and settled into a more familiar rhythm of unalloyed nastiness. The crowd wasn’t ready to follow him there. “Hillary believes that it’s vital to deceive the people by having one public policy and a totally different policy in private,” he said, and was greeted with boos. “Here she is tonight, in public, pretending not to hate Catholics,” he said. More boos.
Clinton, in her speech, was hardly less cutting, but kept a veneer of comedy over her routine. “People look at the Statue of Liberty and they see a proud symbol of our history as a nation of immigrants, a beacon of hope for people around the world,” she deadpanned. “Donald looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a four — maybe a five if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair.”
And so on. “If Donald does win it will be awkward at the annual Presidents Day photo when all the former presidents gather at the White House — and not just with Bill,” Clinton said. “How is Barack going to get past the Muslim ban?”
For a full compliment of knee-slappers like these, you can watch the whole thing here: