There were several crucial questions surrounding Saturday night’s Gridiron dinner, that exclusive, annual white-tie gathering hosted by a club made up of Washington’s most elite journalists: First of all, would President Trump turn up?
The answer to that one came early in the evening: Nope, the president wouldn’t attend as he did last year. Instead, his daughter and top White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, gave remarks.
The younger Trump appeared at the Renaissance Hotel before a crowd of about 700 of the city’s swampiest of swamp-dwellers, offering up a few remarks in the spirit of the night, which traditionally features jokey remarks from the president (when he’s in attendance — presidents since Benjamin Harrison have joined in on the 134-year-old tradition), a prominent Democrat and Republican and a slew of skits by the Fourth Estate.
Ivanka Trump, who said her father had asked her just that afternoon to represent him, got a cringeworthy laugh with a line that poked fun at her conservative bona fides — and her notoriously difficult boss/dad. “The press seems to think it’s ironic that I, born of great privilege, think people want to work for what they are given,” she deadpanned. “As if being Donald Trump’s daughter isn’t the hardest job in the world.”
Another question lingering in the rarefied air: Would Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who was one of the evening’s headliners, be able to joke about all those headlines of late about her reportedly bad-boss ways?
Klobuchar got laughs with her opening line inquiring how everyone had enjoyed their salad, a sideways reference to reports that she had once berated an aide for not bringing her utensils with which to eat her lunch, forcing her to eat a salad with a hair comb. The Minnesota Dem said she thought the meal needed “a little scalp oil and a pinch of dandruff.”
The 2020 Democratic hopeful made a few digs at potential competitors and cautionary tales. ″In the end, how can I lose?” she asked. “My campaign will combine the short peppy speeches of Joe Biden, the common touch of Mike Bloomberg, the collegiality of Ted Cruz and the chipper upbeat personality of Bernie Sanders.”
One more unknown reverberating around the hotel ballroom on Saturday night: can’t we all just get along? Could a group of reporters mingle with their sources in an era where the Big Boss routinely derides them as fake news and an enemy of the American people? (Should they? The dinner, much like the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, has its detractors who think it’s unseemly for members of the media to cozy up to the folks they cover.)
A decided yes to that one, as top members of the media mixed comfortably with Trump administration types, including senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, press secretary Sarah Sanders, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Throw in plenty of Congress critters, ambassadors and a governor or two to boot, and this was a bona fide party.
It seemed that the only unanswered query remaining was posited in the evening’s first sketch (yes, there’s a hokey song-and-dance program in which some from the 65-member club perform songs riffing on headlines of the day).
That came in the lyrics of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” adapted for the Trump administration’s mercurial and surreal vibe: “Is this the real life? / Is this just fantasy?” the song went. “Caught in a bad dream, no escape from Sean Hannity / Don’t miss that tweet, it’s our new foreign policy.”
Real life? Fantasy? Who can tell the difference?
correction: An earlier version of this article said acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney attended the Gridiron Dinner, based on advance information provided to the reporter by the Gridiron Club. Despite the fact that his name was announced as one of the VIP guests, Mulvaney did not actually attend the dinner. This post has been updated.