I have noted here before my distaste for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner as a vapid show of light camaraderie between newsreaders masquerading as journalists, and the politicians they are supposed to be holding to account. I have also said that it’s probably better for the event if the President does not attend, as his absence would allow comedians and the press more flexibility in being openly critical of him rather than merely poking fun at him in jest. For his part, Trump might gain some plaudits for ending an increasingly distasteful Beltway tradition.
But it’s one thing for Trump to skip the dinner. It’s quite another for him to do so in order to hold another of his feel-good revivalist campaign rallies.
The rally is reportedly designed to distract from a one-two punch of bad news for Trump: the WHCA dinner itself, as well as coverage of Trump’s woefully underwhelming first 100 days in office. But there’s some question as to just how effective that will be. First, Trump rallies are nothing new. The President will likely say some incendiary things in order to grab media oxygen, but coming off as even more unhinged than normal won’t help him much. Trump’s biggest hurdle in the short term isn’t a lack of popularity (though that clearly doesn’t help.) It’s his inability to win consensus from Republicans in Congress–to say nothing of Democrats–for his legislative agenda. Trump doesn’t face re-election for another four years, and the biggest threat to his lasting that long is the mounting scandal over Russian election interference and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion therein. So keeping even in a cable news cycle or two is mostly meaningless.
The bigger danger for Trump is that holding a pep rally at a time when his agenda is stalled and the press is openly hostile, makes the President look vain and weak. It gives him the impression of a man so afraid of a roast that he runs from it into the arms of his adoring fans. It reeks of cowardice. A celebrity who behaved that way would endure endless ridicule from the gossip magazines, and Trump is a tabloid celebrity who leveraged his outlandish personality into the White House.
It won’t matter much in the long run, but Trump’s actions once again show him as a thin-skinned man with no work ethic, no sense of humor and no ability to withstand even mild criticism. It will be a fitting miniature capstone on the molehill of his first hundred days’ achievements.