The 2016 White House Correspondents dinner, taking place April 30 (you can catch live coverage, including arrivals, beginning at 6pm ET on C-SPAN) represents President Barack Obama’s eighth and final appearance at the dinner. During the course of the past eight years, a number of hilarious headliners have hosted the event, from Wanda Sykes and Conan O’Brien to Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel, with Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore hosting this year. But many of them have been overshadowed in entertainment value by the president himself, whose charisma and comic timing have made for some memorable moments at the dinner, and which will make it hard for the next leader to follow in this shoes. Obama’s appearance at the 2011 dinner, in particular, stands out as one of his best moments, and it’s worth looking back on.
Current GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was also making political news back in 2011. Not because he was running for president (he opted out of the race in early May of that year), but because he was one of the main proponents of the “birther” conspiracy theory that posited that Obama was not born in the United States. A few days before the 2011 dinner, Obama presented his long-form birth certificate to the public (although even this still did not shut down all of the conspiracy theorists). The president then made a point of tackling the subject in a humorous way during his appearance at the WHCA dinner, getting in a few choice zingers at the chief “birther” Trump, who was in attendance and could only grin through gritted teeth as he became the joke of the night. It wasn’t long afterward that Trump decided he was not running for president in 2012. Coincidence?
Host Seth Meyers would follow up with a nice takedown of Trump of his own, but it must have been especially satisfying for Obama to dig at The Donald. It was even one instance where some Republicans of the “Never Trump” mindset might have found common ground with the president.
Making Obama’s 2011 appearance even more impressive was the later revelation that, even as he was ripping Trump, the operation to take out Osama Bin Laden was underway and would succeed shortly thereafter. None of Obama’s calm demeanor at the dinner belied the serious situation at hand, which must have been weighing on his mind.
Given Trump’s current state as the leading GOP candidate, I would bet Obama will have at least a few more words on that subject at this year’s dinner, so Donald may end up glad he decided not to attend. In any case, the 2011 Trump takedown represents one example of the president’s stellar performances at these dinners over the years.
So thanks (for the laughs), Obama.
Live coverage of the 2016 White House Correspondents Dinner on April 30 begins at 6pm ET on C-SPAN.