A presidential election season involves a series of debates. After the last debate, a day or a few days after, the main candidates attend and speak at a charity dinner run by the Archdiocese of New York, to raise money for Catholic Charities. It is the last event at which the candidates will appear together, and the format is that of a roast.
That is more or less the tradition.
Last night, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were at the Al Smith dinner. Here is are the salient facts:
Trump spoke first. He had two or three pretty funny jokes, but the one that I think will go down in history as the funniest required that he throw a woman (who did not know the joke was going to be told) under the bus for his own benefit. Figures.
His other “jokes” were almost entirely taken from his stump and debate speeches; and they were offensive. He didn’t use the term “crooked Hillary” but almost. People in the room booed him and yelled out insults to him. The people sitting behind him looked like they had just swallowed live baby porcupines.
I assume both candidates were given the same amount of time to talk. Trump’s time on the podium, however, was very short. It appears that he was, essentially, booed off the stage.
Secretary Clinton spoke second. She was very funny. She was gracious. The roast parts of her speech … and here is the important part … were just as effective as anything Trump said as jabs against one’s opponent, even more so. If you took at face value all the bad things Trump implied in his awkward statements about Clinton, and all the bad things Clinton implied in her very entertaining routine about Trump, Trump would end up with a truly deplorable resumé, while Clinton would look just a tad shady, well within the normal range for a politician.
After Secretary Clinton finished the roast part of her monologue, she talked about other things, larger things, important things, eloquently and effectively.
Trump had everyone booing him and squirming. Secretary Clinton had everyone in stitches, then a bit weepy-eyed.
The final score: Clinton 9, Trump -2. The difference in performance between the two at this event was double the difference between them during the most differentiating of the debates.
So, what is the real significance?
There has always been the suggestion that Trump’s intention, from the beginning of the primary process, was to increase his brand’s value, maybe sell a book, increase his speaker fee, etc., and not really run for President. I never believed that, I said so at the time, and everyone else was wrong. But, the idea that ultimately he would use this entire run for the presidency as brand enhancement, win or lose, was clearly correct. That would be correct for anyone running for president, and especially for a professional entertainer, which is what Trump is.
(Actually, he is something else. Not an entertainer and not a business person. See the graphic at the top of this post for a hint as to what he is.)
Here’s the thing. Last night, two people got to get up in front of a fairly tough audience, including major members of the press, major east coast politicians, and the mucky-mucks of the Catholic Church, and be entertainers for a few minutes. Hillary Clinton, not known to be an Obama-level speaker (either Obama) and often seen as a bit dry, killed it. Donald Trump, the great entertainer, totally screwed the proverbial pooch.
So, now, imagine yourself as a network executive, or a potential investor in the entertainment industry. You are presented with a proposal to develop Trump TV or some other Trumpy project. But you were at the Al Smith dinner, because you are rich and you happen to live in New York. Or maybe you just saw the video. And now you are going to decide whether or not to put substantial funds at risk. While you are thinking about it, you also realize that you would be putting your reputation at risk.
No, that won’t happen. Invest elsewhere.
Yes, Trump will be able to develop a post-election quasi network (on the Internet) that will fit in with the broad panoply of such projects, and it may have some value (fiscally, not morally or ethically). But Trump’s entertainment mojo as demonstrated in this campaign is negative. He doesn’t kill the room, he kills the mood. He was apparently suitable to play the asshole boss on a TV show or two, but his range is very limited, his basic talent non-existent, and his ability to develop in this area nil.
This campaign, rather than preparing him, and a large audience, for an entertainment coup, has proven that he is not up for it, lacks the talent, lacks the appeal. The Al Smith Dinner, which happened at the end of a long period of time during which Trump could have developed his talent, and his act, shows that there is nothing there worth looking at. Indeed, Trump’s performance at the Al Smith dinner was so bad, so cringeworthy, that a producer or investor in entertainment would gong the likes of him off the stage in record time.
Trump went bankrupt how many times? Failed in how many relationships? Is gong to lose the presidency by how much? Couldn’t even handle a roast at a charity dinner? It just might be that the man isn’t really good at anything.