The annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner is usually a lighthearted affair, but it quickly turned grim and awkward after a stop from the presidential candidates.
It’s supposed to be lighthearted, funny, and a chance for the candidates to basically participate in a roast; even some of the more contentious campaigns have mostly been tame. But this is 2016, and the evening went south soon after Donald Trump took the stage.
Named for the first Catholic presidential candidate, former New York Gov. Al Smith, tickets for the Al Smith dinner (as it’s better known) run in the thousands and the dinner itself raises millions for Catholic charities. In the 71 years since the dinners began it’s become a staple of American politics, as it hosts the major presidential candidates every four years.
“You know, the president told me to stop whining, but I really have to say, the media is even more biased this year than ever before—ever,” Trump said. “You want the proof? Michelle Obama gives a speech and everyone loves it—it’s fantastic. They think she’s absolutely great. My wife, Melania, gives the exact same speech and people get on her case.”
But Trump’s speech quickly went downhill as he used some of his time onstage to hit Hillary Clinton with some of his campaign attack lines. She laughed, but the crowd booed at him.
Reporters and political junkies who have followed the dinner for years said they had never seen anything like it. The only other time a presidential candidate was booed was President Jimmy Carter during the 1980 dinner because he wasn’t as pro-life as he made himself out to be; support of abortion has caused other candidates to skip the dinner in subsequent years.
Clinton took the stage after him, and while her speech was more charged than usual for this type of address, she landed some zingers. Unlike the 2011 White House Correspondents’ dinner, Trump laughed along.
"People look at the Statue of Liberty and they see a proud symbol of our history as a nation of immigrants,” Clinton said. “A beacon of hope for people around the world. 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 here’s the Al Smith dinner in full—if you can get through it.