It's almost that time of year again for the White House's annual high-profile jokes and glad-handing ritual: the White House Correspondents Dinner! The event is scheduled for Saturday, April 30, and there will be a seemingly endless procession of D.C. politicos, members of the media, and celebrities in attendance, in keeping with its increased pop-cultural visibility over the last several years. But there's one man whose name has been on everyone's lips for months who won't be showing up. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump won't attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, despite (by his claim) having received a slew of media invitations to do so.
Trump made it clear he wasn't going to attend the dinner on Wednesday in an interview with The Hill's Bob Cusack. In typical Trump style, he took the opportunity to toss a few bombs in the direction of the media, suggesting that if he did go, they'd only claim he didn't have a good time, even if he enjoyed himself:
I was asked by every single group of media available to mankind [to attend this year]. But I've decided not to go. Do you know why? I would have a good time and the press would say I look like I wasn't having a good time.
If there was any doubt about why Trump gave this explanation, he made it clear in his follow-up. He seems to still be smarting about the reporting that followed the 2011 dinner, which he did attend in the midst of his 2012 pseudo-campaign for president. Trump never actually ran that year, which spurred a lot of observers (myself included, in full disclosure) to conclude that he was a serial pretender, and would never actually run in a presidential race for fear of public rebuke.
As it turns out, I and so many others were very, very wrong about that. Trump has all but stated that this perception helped induce him to run, citing a disparaging profile by BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins in particular. In any event, when he attended the 2011 WHCD, it was still at the height of his foray into birtherism — the discredited conspiracy theory that President Obama is not a natural-born American citizen and is therefore ineligible to serve as president.
Trump never apologized or backed down from this, which has been somewhat overlooked during his 2016 run ― he was (and ostensibly remains) the most famous, powerful, and publicly visible birther in the entire world. And that fact made him a ripe target for some biting jabs by Obama himself.
Obama peppered Trump with jokes, particularly about his conspiratorial ravings (he once claimed he'd sent private investigators to Hawaii to research Obama, though he never did get around to announcing what they found) and his, shall we say, less-than-classy aesthetic taste. All the while, Trump was sitting in the audience, and a few brief glimpses by the cameras showed a pretty unhappy-looking guy, albeit with a tense smile. At least, that's how it came across.
But Trump has since strenuously denied he was bothered by the jokes, and now he's blaming the media's reporting that he was steamed five years ago for his refusal to attend in 2016. As he told Cusack:
The press is dishonest. If the press would be honest, I'd go because I'd have a good time. ... But no matter how good a time I had, the press would say, "Donald Trump was miserable." What would I need that for?
For what it's worth, Trump will be in solid company. None of the other presidential candidates have given any indication they'll be attending either, and that makes a sort of sense. After all, there's campaigning to be done, right? Suffice to say, if you're trying to become the person up on the stage cracking the jokes, you might as well take a pass for a year and focus on the big prize.