Showing a continued willingness to break with tradition, President Donald Trump announced he'll skip the White House Correspondents' Dinner this year for the third time in a row. While leaving for a trip to visit the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico on Friday, he told reporters that he'd yet again have a rally on the same night.
"I'm going to hold a rally," Trump said, "because the dinner is so boring and so negative that we're going to hold a very positive rally instead."
The president added that he hadn't yet chosen a spot for the rally but was deciding between three places. "Everybody wants it," he told reporters. "It will be a big one." On the night of the dinner in 2017 he held a rival rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and in 2018 he chose the township of Washington in Michigan.
"The correspondents' dinner is too negative," Trump repeated on Friday. "I like positive things, okay?"
The annual dinner assembles a group of high-profile journalists and celebrities for a celebration of the free press and some reporting awards. Trump has skipped the event each year he's been in office. The White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) began hosting the dinner in 1921, and commander-in-chiefs have been attending since President Calvin Coolidge did so in 1924, per ABC News. If Trump forgoes the event next year, too, he'll be the only president to entirely abandon the tradition.
If Trump had decided to attend the dinner this April, he might have found it somewhat less "negative" than normal. The WHCA has decided not to bring in a comedian to host the event as usual and instead recruited presidential historian Ron Chernow, author of the bestselling biography of Alexander Hamilton that inspired the hit musical. While Chernow is critical of Trump, he won't be focusing on jokes about the current administration in the White House, as comedian hosts have done. He plans to discuss freedom of the press, according to Politico.
"The White House Correspondents' Association has asked me to make the case for the First Amendment and I am happy to oblige," Chernow said when offered the job. "While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian, I promise that my history lesson won't be dry."
WHCA's decision came after comedian Michelle Wolf's performance at the 2018 dinner caused controversy for the association. Some event attendees said her jokes went too far — in particular, they criticized a quip about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' eye makeup. "I actually really like Sarah," Wolf said in her speech. "I think she's very resourceful. Like she burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye."
Many people rushed to Wolf's defense, arguing that her joke wasn't a criticism of Sanders' looks. Some also contended that it's hypocritical to be offended by a joke about eye makeup while supporting a president who has been widely criticized for how he talks about women.
This year's dinner seems destined to be less controversial than the last. But either way, Trump definitely won't be there. Commenting on the commander-in-chief's expected absence, WHCA President Olivier Knox said Friday, "We're looking forward to an enjoyable evening of celebrating the First Amendment and great journalists past, present, and future."
The 2019 White House Correspondents' Dinner will take place on April 27.