The real meaning of Trump's Al Smith fiasco

A presidential election season involves a series of debates. After the last debate, a day or a few days after, the main candidates attend and speak at a charity dinner run by the Archdiocese of New York, to raise money for Catholic Charities. It is the last event at which the candidates will appear together, and the format is that of a roast.

That is more or less the tradition.

Last night, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were at the Al Smith dinner. Here is are the salient facts:

Trump spoke first. He had two or three pretty funny jokes, but the one that I think will go down in history as the funniest required that he throw a woman (who did not know the joke was going to be told) under the bus for his own benefit. Figures.

His other "jokes" were almost entirely taken from his stump and debate speeches; and they were offensive. He didn't use the term "crooked Hillary" but almost. People in the room booed him and yelled out insults to him. The people sitting behind him looked like they had just swallowed live baby porcupines.

I assume both candidates were given the same amount of time to talk. Trump's time on the podium, however, was very short. It appears that he was, essentially, booed off the stage.

Secretary Clinton spoke second. She was very funny. She was gracious. The roast parts of her speech ... and here is the important part ... were just as effective as anything Trump said as jabs against one's opponent, even more so. If you took at face value all the bad things Trump implied in his awkward statements about Clinton, and all the bad things Clinton implied in her very entertaining routine about Trump, Trump would end up with a truly deplorable resumé, while Clinton would look just a tad shady, well within the normal range for a politician.

After Secretary Clinton finished the roast part of her monologue, she talked about other things, larger things, important things, eloquently and effectively.

Trump had everyone booing him and squirming. Secretary Clinton had everyone in stitches, then a bit weepy-eyed.

The final score: Clinton 9, Trump -2. The difference in performance between the two at this event was double the difference between them during the most differentiating of the debates.

So, what is the real significance?

There has always been the suggestion that Trump's intention, from the beginning of the primary process, was to increase his brand's value, maybe sell a book, increase his speaker fee, etc., and not really run for President. I never believed that, I said so at the time, and everyone else was wrong. But, the idea that ultimately he would use this entire run for the presidency as brand enhancement, win or lose, was clearly correct. That would be correct for anyone running for president, and especially for a professional entertainer, which is what Trump is.

(Actually, he is something else. Not an entertainer and not a business person. See the graphic at the top of this post for a hint as to what he is.)

Here's the thing. Last night, two people got to get up in front of a fairly tough audience, including major members of the press, major east coast politicians, and the mucky-mucks of the Catholic Church, and be entertainers for a few minutes. Hillary Clinton, not known to be an Obama-level speaker (either Obama) and often seen as a bit dry, killed it. Donald Trump, the great entertainer, totally screwed the proverbial pooch.

So, now, imagine yourself as a network executive, or a potential investor in the entertainment industry. You are presented with a proposal to develop Trump TV or some other Trumpy project. But you were at the Al Smith dinner, because you are rich and you happen to live in New York. Or maybe you just saw the video. And now you are going to decide whether or not to put substantial funds at risk. While you are thinking about it, you also realize that you would be putting your reputation at risk.

No, that won't happen. Invest elsewhere.

Yes, Trump will be able to develop a post-election quasi network (on the Internet) that will fit in with the broad panoply of such projects, and it may have some value (fiscally, not morally or ethically). But Trump's entertainment mojo as demonstrated in this campaign is negative. He doesn't kill the room, he kills the mood. He was apparently suitable to play the asshole boss on a TV show or two, but his range is very limited, his basic talent non-existent, and his ability to develop in this area nil.

This campaign, rather than preparing him, and a large audience, for an entertainment coup, has proven that he is not up for it, lacks the talent, lacks the appeal. The Al Smith Dinner, which happened at the end of a long period of time during which Trump could have developed his talent, and his act, shows that there is nothing there worth looking at. Indeed, Trump's performance at the Al Smith dinner was so bad, so cringeworthy, that a producer or investor in entertainment would gong the likes of him off the stage in record time.

Trump went bankrupt how many times? Failed in how many relationships? Is gong to lose the presidency by how much? Couldn't even handle a roast at a charity dinner? It just might be that the man isn't really good at anything.

More like this

Heh. At least Palin could get a cable reality show for hunting baby whales from with shotguns from jetskis.

(Actually, he is something else. Not an entertainer and not a business person. See the graphic at the top of this post for a hint as to what he is.)

All washed up? Lost at sea? Up the creek without a paddle?

The meaning of this image eludes me, Greg.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink


Worse...he will be stuck in Maine.

The meaning of this image eludes me, Greg.

As someone who has been to the top of that mountain, I'll take a stab. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point (about 1500 feet above sea level) on Mount Desert Island (most of which is part of Acadia National Park). There are no trees on or around the summit, and since it's so close to the ocean and so high, it's quite windy. So my guess is that Greg is calling Donald Trump a bald, windbag mountain of ... something.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

Yup. Me too. Greg, all of your loyal readers are confused and have no idea what you're getting at.

By Raucous Indignation (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

Maybe a reference to the fact that he has blown his top

A busted flush

Eric, well done on identifying the iconic mountain. Now, consider that it was not named after the car, but rather, both the car and the mountain were named after a person.

Used-car salesman?

Oh, I thought maybe it was because it's a big pile of dirt that looks vaguely like a boob.

(Actually I just wanted my name listed in the same comment section as Raucous Indignation because I like that).

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

Now, consider that it was not named after the car, but rather, both the car and the mountain were named after a person.

OK, that sent me to Google.

I think you are being somewhat unfair to M. Cadillac here. He only seems to have been married once, unlike Donald Trump. And M. Cadillac didn't have any significant inheritance from his father.

@OA: It's basically a big rock, not a pile of dirt. If it were the latter, there would be trees near the summit, and the island would not have been named Mount Desert Island (Île des Monts Deserts--the name refers to the fact that the summits are treeless).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

And I adore Obstreperous Applesauce!

By Raucous Indignation (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

He could get fried clams and a good lobster roll at that shack on the coast??

By Raucous Indignation (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

And I adore Obstreperous Applesauce!

I do, too. I looked for some at my local supermarket, but they said they were temporarily out of stock...

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

Trump started out reasonably well, but then became mean-spirited and vindictive. Clinton was trenchant but charming, and I was surprised and impressed by her timing and delivery. She's generally not good at zingers, but here she was fabulous.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

I should add that what raised Clinton's remarks to fabulous were her serious post-joke comments, which in my opinion displayed a president Americans will be proud of.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

I thought Trump's joke about bumping into Clinton, "Pardon me" etc was the best joke, and even Clinton gave a big laugh over that one.

btw, even if Clinton wins (as seems likely at this point) I think I'll avoid travelling into the US for a while. Given that Trump has given the white supremacists an excuse to bray their ignorance someone like me who is suspiciously perhaps not pure white may find themselves facing naked discrimination and hate. It's bad enough that many border guards seem to have membership in the alt-right without having to deal with that from fearful citizens.

By Dan Andrews (not verified) on 21 Oct 2016 #permalink

Well, damn, I wrote an answer to the question on everyone's mind, but it vanished. I'll try again.

Cadillac was a French governor and explorer of the late 17th and early 18th century. The explorer part made him something of an entertainer of the day, in the sense of a reality show entertainer, not the standard thespian. Like Trump.

A number of edifices are named after him. There were no skyscrapers then, but they were in the business of building cities and claiming mountains. So, a couple of cities including one in Michigan (I think) (plus, he founded Detroit, thus, the car) and one mountain in Maine. Like Trump (with Trump towers, and Trump this and that other thing).

But after his death, long after, historians took a look at the guy and discovered that he was a self promoting incompetent boob. Like Trump.

Two quotes (lifted from Wiki) reflect this analysis of his qualities:

Zoltvany: "he most definitely was not one of the 'great early heroes' and probably deserves to be ranked with the 'worst scoundrels ever to set foot in New France.'"

Casgrain: "...a Gascon adventurer, the most wicked character in the world, a scatter-brain expelled from France for I don't know what reason."

Like Trump.

I expect Dean to elaborate, but you're thinking of Cadillac, Michigan, seat of Wexford county. Named for the explorer, no relation to the GM marque.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 22 Oct 2016 #permalink

Brainstorms has it nailed, the name Cadillac was chosen for the French explorer.
But the town's original name, when it was a center for moving logs out of the middle of the state, was Clam City. The two lakes now called Mitchell and Cadillac were originally known as Big Clam Lake and Little Clam Lake.

There is one bit of note: the two lakes are connected by a canal which, as far as I know, is still called Clam Lake Canal. In the winter it usually freezes before the lakes are covered then, after they are frozen over, the canal thaws.

There is probably a simple explanation, but the fact that it is an item of note tells you all you need to know about the excitement level in the town.

Yes, Cadillac Michigan. And, he founded Detroit.

The canal freezing then unfreezing is very interesting indeed. I'm going to guess that this "canal" was formerly (and still is) a channel, a river like body of water connecting two lakes, which can and does flow in either direction depending on circumstances.

The early freezing would be because it is more protected, shallower, and smaller. All such bodies of water will freeze sooner. The early melting and ice-out would then be because of a shift in the termoclines and currents which brings deeper less cold water from one of the lakes into the canal (I'm guessing the two lakes are very different depths?) which would then melt it off.

I'm also going to guess that the exact pattern being claimed here is typical but not 100% guaranteed every year.

(Sorry, left out an important detail: The shallower lake would have it's charging from groundwater slow down sooner than the larger lake, or perhaps they have different inlets, thus the later in winter or early spring reversal of flow)

I think the canal was built in the late 1800s as an aid to moving logs. I don't know it there was already a channel there.

Greg, two things:

1) Cadillac, the automobile marque, was well-known for it's non-racist sales policy in the early to mid 20th century. Where other high-end brands refused to offer new car loans to black folks, Cadillac offered them to anyone with sound financials, regardless of race. This earned brand loyalty with middle class and well-to-do black families, so it was also a sound business decision, but in any case Cadillac was a half century or more ahead of its time.

2) Trump TV will find its niche: angry folks with no other outlet, mostly in the white working class. That angry mood that Trump is selling, will find many eager buyers. The lesson is that we can't ignore aggrieved members of the white working class, and we have to reach out to them as with any other constituency. I'm willing to bet that if we do that, we can also help them overcome racism and other bad attitudes that are typically associated with this constituency.

OK, three things;-)

3) Politics and campaigns work on the basis of emotional narratives, as does regular advertising and cinema. An emotional narrative tells a story about a character's feelings: first, they felt X, then they felt Y, then they did something (supported a candidate, bought a product, overcame an obstacle, etc.) and were rewarded by feeling Z. People join up, or buy things, when they are offered an emotional narrative that meets them where they are and gives them something to look forward to if they act on the message. We need to take that into account in the way we reach voters.

G, I didn't know that about the early caddy sales.

So far I can only think of emotional narratives that won'e appeal ... :)

There's also the effective narrative of "if you don't do this / follow this ideology, then these bad things will happen to you / your kids / your job / your society", followed by things such as "this group of people are the cause and they must be defeated or they will take over", followed by "we have the solution and the ability to save you and your children, so give us your power and your money and obey our ideology".

Those who study 1930's Germany may find that narrative familiar. The Conservatives in the US certainly have studied it, and copied it, and it's been working for them, too. Trump is now using it to some of its most deplorable ends.

As with the economic disaster of the "Roaring Twenties", those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Interestingly, these repetitions seem to have ~75 year periods.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 23 Oct 2016 #permalink

The story about Cadillac being the first company to sell to African Americans is distorted at best, and false at worst.

Prior to the Depression Cadillac did not allow blacks into their showrooms at all, and did not allow sales to be made to them.
From the Forbes article (link at end) :
"As Cadillac was losing massive amounts of money in the Depression there was serious talk of eliminating the division. The story is that at one meeting a German man, an executive in charge of Cadillac service nationwide, named Nicholas Dreystadt, asked to speak. He said that he had noticed many service departments consisted of members of the nation’s tiny African-American elite: the boxers, singers, doctors and lawyers who earned large incomes service departments consisted of members of the nation’s tiny African-American elite: the boxers, singers, doctors and lawyers who earned large incomes despite the flourishing Jim Crow atmosphere of the 1930s. Most status symbols were not available to these people. They couldn’t live in fancy neighborhoods or patronize fancy nightclubs. But getting around Cadillac’s policy of refusing to sell was easy: They just paid white men to front for them. Dreystadt urged the executive committee to go after this market. Why should a bunch of white front men get several hundred dollars each when that profit could flow to General Motors? The board bought his reasoning, and in 1934 Cadillac sales increased by 70%, and the division actually broke even. In June of 1934 Nick Dreystadt was made head of the Cadillac Division."

I don't know whether G's comment refers to Cadillac after this shift in their business practice or not. If it does, his comments about being first might be correct. If it tries to imply Cadillac was selling to African Americans earlier than that, it simply isn't true.…

In today's Gooi- en Eemlander one of our well known Dutch psychologists, René Diekstra, warned for the phenomenon of 'false consensus'. In short, the wrong assumption that everyone else will agree with our own sympathy, preferences and choices of life. This implies negligence of the opposite truth as well as carelessness in for instance promoting people referenda to get a public support of a wish expressed by politicians who proclaim a referendum. See the carelessly held referenda about Brexit in Great Britain and about FARC in Colombia. The assumed consensus of the majority appeared not tort exist. The same threat is present in the false assumption that the majority of USA voters 'undoubtedly' will vote for Mrs. Clinton for President by saying that Mr Trump is clearly an ignorant only supported by ignorant people.
Mr Diekstra warns for this belittling approach of voters. It can lead to the opposite, Mr Trump voted as President by people who - rightfully so - don't like to be characterized as ignorant people and or dumb people. Mr Diekstra concludes, the thought that false consensus will decide on November 8 who will be empowered pressing the nuclear button is unbearable. It's a fair warning for all of us who walk in a pink cloud. Laren NH, Monday 24 October 2016, 10:22 AM Dutch time.

By Mr G.J.A.M. Bogaers (not verified) on 23 Oct 2016 #permalink

Sad to say, but Trump got away, with it. What next? Laren NH, Wednesday 14th. December 2016, Dutch time, 0.18 h. AM.

By Gerrit Bogaers (not verified) on 13 Dec 2016 #permalink

@Mr G.J.A.M. Bogaers

You're begging the question that the consensus IS false.
AND that it's in the 97%.

Two beggings.

But how about the echo chamber of WUWT? They have a consensus that AGW is a scam, but no consensus on what proves it.

I also query how this false consensus is known. Is it generally agreed by psychologists that it exists? Then how is it not a false consensus? Does that metric apply in the IPCC and every national scientific body around the world?

And Gerritt pointed out that abuse seems to be workable. See also Brexit.