“A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital right now,” said Donald Trump tonight as he celebrated his first 100 days in office and snubbed the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. “They are trapped at the dinner, which will be very very boring,” the media-bashing president told a cheering rally in Harrisburg, Pa. on Saturday as the very Tinseltown-lite WHCD was kicking off at the Washington Hilton.
“They are gathered together for the White House Correspondents’’ Dinner without the president,” Trump said with obvious glee, drawing applause. Taking the podium just after 7:45 PM ET, the President spent the first 10 minutes of his speech resurrecting themes of slamming the “totally failing” New York Times and the “fake news” of CNN and MSNBC. He also lashed out at his predecessor, Barack Obama, and his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. Riffing off teleprompter throughout his speech, Trump also made a point of praising a “Blacks For Trump” sign holder in the audience in Harrisburg and even read poetry. The arena was packed with his base and several protestors were removed by security.
Trump is the first POTUS to not appear at the journalism gathering since 1981, when Ronald Reagan skipped what some have taken to calling “the nerd prom.” The ex-Celebrity Apprentice host on Saturday showed both the showmanship and the knack for creating distractions that got him elected. Vice President Mike Pence also ditched the dinner, instead providing Trump’s introduction in Harrisburg. Top members of the President’s team are also not going to the event in solidarity with their boss, who announced in February he would avoid it.
“I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from the Washington swamp with all of you and a much larger crowd and better people,” Trump told the audience in Harrisburg as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News and others covered his MSM-bashing remarks live. As he did last week in an interview with Reuters, Trump suggested at the rally that he may attend the WHCD next year–or not.
“We have a good chance of showing up here too,” the Hollywood Walk of Fame recipient said to roars. “The Washington media is part of the problem, their priorities are not my priorities and not your priorities …they are all part of a broken system,” Trump then gave another kick to what his staff consider his true opposition.
Drawing from the topics and tone of wide ranging speeches he gave at campaign stops last year and his remarks to the NRA Convention yesterday, the rancor was a shift in tone from what Trump said earlier Saturday. “I hope they have a good dinner,” Trump said to reporters this afternoon of the WHCD. “Ours is going to be much more exciting. We have a big big crowd. Sold thousands and thousands of tickets for tonight and we have a big crowd a tremendous arena,” the leader of the free world added. Also on Saturday, the President took a swipe at the media on social media, as he has many times in the past–this time about the credit he feels they are not giving him.
Mainstream (FAKE) media refuses to state our long list of achievements, including 28 legislative signings, strong borders & great optimism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 29, 2017
The White House has denied the Harrisburg rally is a counter-programming attempt at pulling the cable news spotlight off the mockery that Trump is sure to receive in absentia at the 8:30 PM starting Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj hosted WHCD. However, the fact is with Trump taking the stage just after 7:30 PM ET, the Harrisburg rally is a repeat of how the then candidate handled what he saw as a hostile Megyn Kelly hosted GOP debate in January 2016. On that night, Trump didn’t show up at the Republican face-to-face and held a “Special Event to Benefit Veterans Organizations” at Iowa’s Drake University.
Trump later went on to participate in several more GOP primary debates and town halls on FNC, CNN and more. Which could be a repeat performance when it comes to the WHCD. Earlier this week, Trump told Reuters that he plans on attending the dinner in future years. As a guest at the WHCD back in 2011, Trump took a major, direct and prolonged hazing from host Seth Meyers and President Barack Obama. Trump has denied since that the experience six-years ago is what fueled his eventually bid for the White House
It should be noted that while Reagan missed the WHCD in the first year of his administration, the 40th POTUS was recovering from an assassination attempt and actually did call into the event in good humor. No POTUS has also seen the Hollywood contingent attending this year’s WHCD and glitzy parties take a sharp dive from the Oscars East that it was during the Bush II and Obama years. While CNN, FNC, MSNBC and more have their anchors and execs in the Washington Hilton ballroom, the biggest star that was seen on the red carpet tonight was Stranger Things’ Matthew Modine – who participated in Saturday’s Climate March in D.C.
With POTUS in Pennsylvania, a number of outlets will have top talent absent from the WHCD, as they’ve had to send portions of their White House covering teams to the rally. For instance, CBS’ chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation host John Dickerson flew up to Harrisburg on Air Force One after interviewing Trump in the White House earlier Saturday.
Fox News’ Chief WH Correspondent John Roberts will be at the WHCD and other staffs will cover the Trump rally. CNN’s Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is in Harrisburg and the Jeff Zucker-led cable newser is treating both events as news and will cover appropriately, sources say. Unlike the wall-to-wall C-SPAN coverage of the WHCD, CNN usually centers on the once star studded red carpet arrivals and the routines by the President and the MC.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) April 29, 2017
In opposition to both the Trump rally and the WHCD, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee is in D.C. and recorded a Not The White House Correspondents’ Dinner special on Saturday. Airing tonight at 10 PM ET, the celeb rich special saw video appearances by the likes of Norman Lear, Kumail Nanjiani and Alison Janey reprising her CJ Cregg role from The West Wing. Donating all proceeds to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the event also featured Will Ferrell doing his George W. Bush impression and skewering Trump. Additionally, there was an alternative history segment where Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election and was the subject of her first WHCD as POTUS.
BTW – If you wonder why Trump choose to celebrate his 100th day in the Keystone State, it is because Pennsylvania was, a big win for Trump over Hillary Clinton on Election Night 2016. No Republican candidate has won the state since 1988 when voters there gave Vice President George H.W. Bush their electoral votes in his successful White House race against Democrat Michael Dukakis. “I love this state,” Trump said soon after taking the stage today in Harrisburg, “and it carried us to a big, beautiful victory on November 8.”