The Best Jokes You Didn’t Hear At The Al Smith Dinner

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner is an annual white-tie affair held in New York City to raise money for Catholic Charities. It features the who’s who of the New York elite and since John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon first spoke at the dinner in 1960, it has been a light-hearted rite of passage for presidential candidates heading into the homestretch every four years.

Usually candidates take a self-deprecating approach to their speeches and the roast is more Kiwanis Club than it is Comedy Central. This year, however, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took quite a few liberties with that theme and traded barbs loosely cloaked in often poor humor. Trump’s performance even elicited boos from the crowd, which was probably a first for the dinner.

Here are the best jokes that you didn’t hear, but perhaps should have.

Trump:

  • “Most of you had to pay to be here tonight. But as a guest of honor my invite was free.  This is good, because I didn’t want to break my streak of not giving money to charities.”
  • “If you can’t hear me in the back, it is because they borrowed this microphone from the first presidential debate.”
  • “My running mate, Mike Pence, wasn’t able to make it. He declined the invitation, saying he would need at least two full days preparing for the Sunday shows to explain what I really meant in this speech.”
  • “You may not know this about me, but the only thing that stopped me from becoming a Cardinal was those hats. I mean, what a sin it would have been to have this covered up my whole life.”
  • “I’ll admit, I was a little confused when the waiter earlier asked if I wanted fish or chicken.  I told him it’s actually pronounced ‘Long John Silvers’ and ‘Popeyes.'”
  • “I was a little nervous when I heard the dress code for tonight was ‘white tie.’  Jake Tapper, if you’re listening, ‘I disavow.'”

Clinton:

  • “You may notice Bill isn’t here with me tonight.  If he were he would’ve sat right there next to me and Donald, but I decided I could wait 3 more months to hear Donald say “Hi, President Clinton.”

    Mic drop. HRC out.

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Photo Credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

Washington Ain’t Local to Nowhere.

A wise man once said “All Tweets leave from D.C.” Or maybe it was “All roads lead to Rome?” Something like that, anyway.  

In an age where rural America is revolting against the established order, the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Senate hopefuls everywhere have continued to craft their messages in glass walled conference rooms in the shadow of the Capitol while the pulse of the people beats in diners and dive bars in towns you’ve never heard of.

Washington D.C. is not like the rest of the country. Like many other major cities, it exists on an island of blue among a sea of red.  But in addition to being relatively liberal, it is also an intellectual capital for members of both parties.

All of the law firms, consulting firms, policy shops, political agencies that occupy the thirteen story buildings across Washington require college degrees and enough internships to ensure you’re broke as a mere conversation starter, so rarely will you find yourself on the Metro next to someone still knocking manure off his Stars and Bars emblazoned boots.

It is why Marco Rubio and John Kasich each took ~35% of the vote to Donald Trump’s 13% in D.C.’s primary.  They were the establishment choices, seen as smart, sensible, and capable of being president. But, it also is emblematic of how far removed D.C. is from the rest of the country considering Rubio and Kasich each only won one other state.

Former Speaker Tip O’Neill is famous for saying that “all politics is local.”  Yet, many national campaigns feature talking points fashioned in broad strokes discussing general platitudes that have been focused grouped by a $500 an hour paid consultant.  Obama is often critiqued as being out of touch because during visits to the Rust Belt he still touts the return of the auto industry and 75 consecutive months of job growth, but fails to realize that none of those metrics matter much when the fridge at home is still empty.

In March, I traveled to Topeka, Kansas, for the Democratic Caucus.  There, I grabbed a clipboard and walked through neighborhoods and apartment complexes, knocking on doors to gauge interest in the political process. The conversations I had there would have never occurred on Connecticut Avenue.

One young man, dressed in an American flag t-shirt and blue jeans, went from polite to vitriolic at the mere mention of Hillary Clinton. “Man, f*ck that bitch. She belongs in jail! Can I vote for handcuffs?” he exclaimed, quickly slamming the door in my face. Keep in mind, this is months before Trump would first declare “lock her up” as a policy position.

Then last week in Bradenton, Florida, a women spent a considerable amount of time expressing dismay at everything Donald Trump has ever done.  When it was implied that meant she would be voting for Clinton she stopped and said “Oh no, I could never do that. She has had people killed and paid off the media to cover it up.”

What.

These anecdotes are exactly why every time a crowd on a D.C. rooftop has predicted a Trump demise he has instead proven resilient. Trump isn’t speaking to avid readers of Roll Call, he is speaking to the person who glances at CNN as he flips between Duck Dynasty and the Steelers game.

Running national campaigns from Washington is how Republicans failed to stop Trump in the first place.  Rubio, Kasich, Cruz, and Bush all ran campaigns with a D.C. mindset. “Focus on policy, decorum, and talking points and everything will turn out okay, right?” Wrong.

Time and time again, polling from red states showed that traditional branding wasn’t working and yet the political class refused to believe it. Conservative lifers like George Will, along with every veteran of the Bush Administration predicted the end of Trump every single time he said something outrageous, not realizing that rebellion was exactly what made him stronger.

Politics may affect everyone, but it isn’t for everyone.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably into politics and will do your homework if you read a headline that says “Hillary Is A Serial Killer.” But there are plenty of people who were raised conservative in parts of the country where they may never travel to D.C. to see the Capitol in person. The prevailing opinion in those communities is that D.C. residents are bringing drugs, bringing crime, they’re rapists crooks and liars and gosh-darnit, Hillary very well may be a serial killer.

This is not to say that future campaigns should stoop down to the lowest denominator, but there does need to be a counterbalance to running a campaign targeted at people who understand how the sausage is made versus people who vote with their gut.

This is what Obama understood and why he was so successful. In 2008, he ran on “hope” which is in no way a policy position. Looking back on his candidacy it is this message that stands out, not his policy positions.  Sure, he mentioned how people need healthcare, but during the campaign that was about the idea of healthcare, not the nuts and bolts of how it gets passed.  Even now Clinton’s campaign keeps saying she has “detailed policy proposals” on her website. People are as likely to click on those as they are to get into a windowless, rusted, Chevy van with a cardboard sign saying “free massages” taped to the door.

Most Americans probably couldn’t come within 50% correctness of detailing the process of how a bill becomes a law and would stare blankly if you told them that most bills that pass the Senate start moving with the “Rule 14 process.”  Detailing a policy is good if you’re pitching yourself to an editorial board or to a union leadership. But when speaking to the average 2016 voter, all they want to know is how their life is going to get better.

This is why Trump still maintains his 40% floor despite being a horrifying mashup of Richard Nixon and Anthony Weiner. Like a talking doll with a pull string, he just continually repeats that he alone can fix anything and everything. Trade? He can fix it. ISIS? Dead. Common Core? Wharton. Nickleback? Banished.

Even though he’s more full of shit than trash can in a dog park, he knows his story and he’s sticking to it.  At some basic level he understands the “all politics is local” mantra and tells people what they want to hear in every situation. He may never be able to deliver, but in the short term it works.

It is still too early to tell if the nationalist pillars of Trumpism will survive this election to permanently soil our politics, but the disgust with insider baseball is likely here to stay (especially during a Clinton presidency).  As such, campaign gurus would be wise to start crafting their message on cocktail napkins in bars in Roanoke, Lawrence, and Evansville instead of on whiteboards in Chicago, Washington, and Boston.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Dear Donald, The Deplorables Are All Yours.

Remember when Donald Trump tried to make the argument that Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment was as bad as Mitt Romney’s infamous “47%” remark?  As if he need more statements that could be rated with Pinocchios.

In 2012, Romney was running closely behind President Obama despite being viciously attacked and successfully cast as a callous, white collar corporate raider with little regard for the average worker.  So, when audio surfaced of him talking to high dollar donors about how he shouldn’t even bother talking to people too poor to pay taxes, it looked really bad. Like really bad.

In the end, Romney’s poll numbers never quite recovered from the ensuing onslaught as it not only solidified the “47%” as a voting bloc for Obama, but also drew away some independents who felt alienated by a candidate who didn’t appear to have “empathy” as a character trait.

Campaigns are defined by moments, and that was Romney’s.  Last month, Republican’s thought Hillary Clinton had hers when she was caught on a private video saying that “half of Donald Trump’s supporters fit into a basket of deplorables.”

Republican’s pounced, saying that Clinton had written off half the electorate and was insulting half of America.  And at the second Republican debate, Trump mentioned this again.

Well, she wasn’t doing any of that.  And after the video of Trump making sexually aggressive remarks to an Access Hollywood host emerged this week, it turns out she was right.

The point Clinton was making was that Trump has inspired a portion of this country to become politically active in a way that they weren’t before.  Sure, these people may have voted before and probably voted for Republicans.  But before they were voting for Republicans due to their traditionally conservative principles.  This time around, those principles have been drowned out by the cacophony of dog whistles emanating from Donald Trump’s twitter account.

Clinton was acknowledging a truth about Trump supporters that I have yet to have been able to wrap my head around.  The “half” she was referring to are people that hold values that have been (rightly) left behind as the country has progressed.  These people maintain feelings of white supremacy, nationalism, and sexism, and they have never had a candidate to vote for for those reasons… until now.

This is what should bother the other “half.”  Even if they are supporting Trump because they are Republicans and want a Republican in the White House, they are aligning themselves with someone who plays to the worst demons in this country.

You are the company you keep and it should – yet somehow doesn’t – bother the regular Republicans who are voting for someone who the KKK describes as a dream candidate.

The tape from Access Hollywood where Trump declares that he can force himself on whomever he wants to, ought to be a bright red line in the sand for any Trump supporter who considers themselves a decent person.  There are some out there who will see this comment and agree that it was merely “locker room talk” and still back Trump. Those people are deplorable, and if you find the comments troubling but still support him, then you’re right there in that basket with them.

By the transitive property (for those of you who are rusty since 8th grade that is if A=B, and B=C, then A=C) if you support Trump, who is supported unanimously by white supremacists and sexists, then aren’t you worried that makes you one of them?

Trump has rallied the worst demons throughout America and has built his toothpick tower of support on their backs.  The good people who support Trump are unwittingly lending their names to those believe in deplorable values. When David Duke says that his guy gets 40% of the vote, he’s including the “good” people in that number, too.  If that were me, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

Clinton’s remark was acknowledging an uncomfortable truth about the sad state of this election, that while awkward and uncomfortable, is true and the public knows it. The 47% will be a reliable and solid voting block for years to come, but hopefully the deplorables go the way of the dodo.