Since his Electoral College victory, there's been a lot of speculation about what motivated Donald Trump, a man with zero political experience and a growing career in reality television, to run for president. Was it a desire to make America great again, a need for even more name recognition, or simply an "I'll show them" response to all the haters and the losers? (Trump's words, not mine) While no one but Trump can rightly know what caused him to pursue the White House with such determination, the irony of President Barack Obama roasting Trump's presidential ambitions at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner is now lost on few.
Some, like BuzzFeed reporter McKay Coppins, have argued Trump's 2016 presidential campaign came to be only as a response to those who jeered and taunted him for his presidential ambitions in the past. And certainly there's something to be said for Trump's apparent inability to let things go. It's a trait he's exhibited time and time again in how he responds to his critics on Twitter. What may seem like standard criticism or commentary on a public figure as big as Trump appears to come off as declarations of war to the new president-elect.
Allow me, if you will, to take you back in time to a time when the idea of a Trump presidency was not a reality but merely a punchline. The birther allegations Trump directed at Obama in 2011 made him an easy target for ridicule among Democrats, but perhaps no joke cut as deep as those that came straight out of Obama's mouth.
When Obama revealed his birth certificate during an April 27, 2011 press conference in an attempt to put accusations he hadn't been born in the country to rest once and for all, he referred to Trump and the birther movement as "sideshows and carnival barkers." While Obama refrained from naming Trump at the press conference, it was a different story at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner a few days later.
The core of Obama's White House Correspondents' Dinner speech that year revolved around poking fun at the birther movement and Trump's continued insistence he needed to provide America with a birth certificate. Obama began by turning Trump's love of conspiracy stories into a punchline.
"Now, I know that he's taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald," Obama said. "And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter – like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?"
The president, who America would later learn had just ordered a raid to flush out Osama Bin Laden, then compared the decisions he faces in the Oval Office with those Trump makes in deciding who to fire on each episode of Celebrity Apprentice.
"But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience," Obama said. "For example – no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, at the steakhouse, the men's cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir."
To wrap up his roast, Obama helped the audience envision the changes Trump's presidential ambitions could bring to the White House. Although Trump had told reporters he was "fine with this stuff" when asked prior to the dinner if he thought he'd end up as the punchline of any of the night's jokes, the future president-elect appeared visibly uncomfortable as Obama riffed on him.
Could it be that America has Obama to thank for inspiring Trump to seek the presidency?