The Al Smith Dinner isn’t really something you can “lose” if you’re a presidential candidate. The annual Catholic charity fundraiser has become a rite of passage for presidential candidates to deliver lighthearted speeches in front of the New York elite. But at the event Thursday night, Donald Trump, never one to be bound by tradition, went on a harsh anti-Hillary Clinton tirade that drew boos and glares from the gilded attendees.
Reading from a list of prepared jokes, the GOP nominee called his opponent Hillary Clinton “corrupt” and accused her of secretly hating Catholics. He brought up her email controversy, saying it was a good thing the invitations weren’t sent by email, otherwise it might have been deleted and she wouldn’t have shown up.
“According to her sworn testimony, Hillary has forgotten more things than most of us will ever, ever know — that I can tell you,” Trump jabbed.
You could hear a pin drop. Trump, not known for being a fan of silent crowds, responded to the awkward quiet by saying, “We’re having some fun here tonight.”
Trump also attacked both the Clinton Foundation and Haiti in one fell swoop.
“Hillary has believed that it takes a village, which only makes sense, after all, in places like Haiti, where she has taken a number of them,” said the Republican nominee said to more boos.
Trump relied on many of the usual applause lines he often gives at campaign rallies. Clinton has been in politics for decades, he said. “What’s her pitch? The economy is busted, the government’s corrupt, Washington is failing. Vote for me.”
But the crowd did not appear to appreciate Trump’s brand of authoritarian humor. The dinner is known for being an evening of self-deprecating fun and good-natured roasting between presidential nominees in the final weeks of the election. President Obama and Mitt Romney exchanged PG-rated barbs at the event in 2012, where the most controversial joke uttered was that Romney and his wife liked to wear black-tie formal wear around their house.
Trump apparently didn’t get that memo.
Clinton, who was seated mere feet away from the dais that Trump was excoriating her from, at first received his jabs with laughter. But as his insults started to sound more like his Twitter feed, her face turned stony.
When it was Clinton’s turn to speak, she had a few choice words of her own for her opponent.
“It’s amazing I’m up here after Donald,” the Democratic nominee riffed. “I didn’t think he’d be O.K. with a peaceful transition of power.”
She added that Trump was “translating from the original Russian” off the teleprompters and that he “looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a 4” in a reference to Trump’s derogatory comments toward women.
But Clinton also took plenty of shots at herself. “I took a break from my rigorous nap schedule to be here,” she told the audience. “Usually, I charge a lot for speeches like this.”
Finally, Clinton ended her speech with a unity message that everyone in the audience seemed to be able to get behind. “Let’s come together, remember what unites us, and just rip on Ted Cruz,” she said.
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