For the second year in a row, President Trump skipped the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in favor of holding a campaign-style rally. This time, he spoke at a sports park in Washington Township, Mich., creating an irresistible dual name situation.
“You may have heard I was invited to another event tonight, the White House correspondents’ dinner,” Trump said, as the audience started booing. “But I’d much rather be in Washington, Mich., than in Washington, D.C., right now. That I can tell you.”
That last line got a lot of cheers, and Trump brought up the dinner again toward the end of his 80-minute speech. “Is this better than that phony Washington White House correspondents’ dinner? Is this more fun?” he said. “I could be up there tonight smiling, like, I love when they’re hitting you, shot after shot. These people, they hate your guts … and you know, you gotta smile. And if you don’t smile they’ll say, ‘He was terrible. He couldn’t take it.’ And if you do smile, they’ll say, ‘What was he smiling about?!’ You know, there’s no win.”
Trump also eviscerated the press, repeating his oft-used line about journalists making up sources, calling them “very, very dishonest people” and adding “fake news” for emphasis. But back in D.C., the cable channels — juggling the rally and correspondents’ dinner — took the opportunity to ask Trump officials, current and former, if they felt he did the right thing by skipping the event.
On MSNBC, Savannah Sellers was on the red carpet, and asked former press secretary Sean Spicer if he would have recommended the president show up.
“No, I think he made the right decision,” Spicer said. “I think the president’s had an opportunity to make sure that he celebrates the First Amendment and the freedom of the press in his own way, but coming to a party is not the be all and end all of that.”
Sellers said that former White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn also told her it wasn’t “wrong” that Trump skipped the dinner. And, she said, Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders both agreed that the president being in Michigan was a good thing, because “this sort of allows them to be in two places at once, get more of their message out there.”
Sellers then spoke to Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti, who said Trump was “hiding” by missing the dinner. Conway disagreed with that characterization.
“He is hardly hiding,” Conway told Sellers, noting Trump’s very active Twitter feed. “He is communicating with the press and with the American people every single day in several different ways. It’s called the democratization of information where, I think, sadly for some, he cuts out the middle man.”
On CNN, during an in-studio interview, John Berman talked to former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, and asked why Trump wasn’t attending the dinner: “Is he afraid to go?”
“There’s no fear in this man. This is the toughest person that I ever met. … This is not a guy that has a lot of fear in his life,” Scaramucci said. “It’s not that. It’s just, you know, I think it’s just the atmospheric surrounding it is probably something that he wants to avoid.”
When Berman suggested that Trump might have trouble listening to jokes made at his expense during the comedian’s speech, Scaramucci disavowed that idea. He also disagreed with former FBI director James B. Comey’s assertion that Trump never laughed — and said he saw Trump laugh many times.
“There was a raucous atmosphere on the campaign and we laughed a lot,” Scaramucci said. “I was only in the White House for 11 days, but we had a lot of fun in 11 days. The president knows how to tell a joke, deliver a joke.”
MSNBC and CNN aired clips of the Michigan rally, but switched back and forth between it and the correspondents’ dinner, and brought in analysts to discuss statements that Trump made during his speech. Fox News aired the speech in its entirety (except when there was a technical glitch), and anchor Connell McShane interviewed journalist and Fox News contributor Judith Miller. McShane noted Trump’s rally “comes on the night when … members of the media have the tuxedos on, and they’re back in Washington, and getting all set, the red carpet’s out, the whole deal, for the correspondents’ dinner.”
“Yes, they will, but they’ll all be sitting there checking their phones to see what the president is going to say,” Miller said. “This is the second year in a row he’s done this and stolen the limelight from that event. And I think that journalists themselves have to wonder whether or not they should actually be covering this speech or sitting there listening to comedians make fun of the president at their dinner.”
“It is a good political movement, is that fair to say?” McShane said. “He’s in his element, and it’s basically a win-win for him, right?”
“It is an excellent move,” Miller confirmed, noting the dual names once again. “And he can say he was in Washington.”