Clinton, Trump face off again at Al Smith Dinner

Eric DuVall, Scott T. Smith and Stephen Feller

NEW YORK, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Just 24 hours after squaring off in a caustic final debate, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton found themselves in the same room again Thursday night, albeit under far different circumstances, at the Al Smith Dinner in New York – separated only by a church official.

The quadrennial affair is a high-society fundraiser supporting Catholic Charities, and tradition holds that attendees arrive in white tie. The candidates typically deliver lighthearted remarks, poking fun at themselves and one another.


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Past candidates have shown the ability for self-deprecation.

Cardinal Dolan was the potential peacemaker, with Clinton and Trump on either side.

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Making reference to the previous night's vicious debate from the outset, emcee Alfred Smith IV, ex officio board member of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, said the evening's order of speakers was determined backstage with a coin toss and they knew "no matter how the coin toss ended, our next speaker was going to say it was rigged."

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"The truth is, I'm a very modest person. In fact many people tell me that modesty is perhaps my best quality. Even better than my temperament," Trump said in the most self-deprecating joke he would deliver before running through a routine not much different from his stump speech, and drawing boos through much of his turn at the microphone.

Trump's biggest laugh came at the expense of his wife, Melania, as he made reference to similarities between her speech at the Republican National Convention and speeches given by first lady Michelle Obama.

"But I really have to say that the media is more biased this year than ever before," Trump said. "You want the proof? Michelle Obama gives a speech and everyone loves it. It's fantastic. They think she's absolutely great. My wife, Melania gives the exact same speech and people get on her case! I don't get it."

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He started to lose the crowd, however, as he delivered sharp, politically-tinged lines without much of a punchline. The boos peaked when he referred to criticism of the Clinton Foundation's work in Haiti, saying "Everyone knows of course Hillary's belief that it takes a village, which only makes sense of course in places like Haiti, where she's taken a number of them."


Clinton, on the other hand, spent a lot of time mocking herself from the outset -- "Usually, I charge a lot for speeches like this" -- but she too got as vicious as possible.

"People look at the Statue of Liberty and see it as a beacon of hope," Clinton said. "Donald looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a 4. Maybe a 5 if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair."

Clinton also mocked Trump's dismantling of a teleprompter earlier this week because it malfunctioned -- "I'm sure it's even harder when you're translating from the original Russian" -- and suggested former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg should have spoke at the fundraiser so she could "hear what a billionaire has to say."

After the speeches, analysts drew contrasts between this year's dinner and the interplay of previous presidential candidates roasting each other, pointing out that Clinton and Trump appear to actually not like each other, which made their time behind the podium sound more bitter than playful.

In 2012, Mitt Romney poked fun at his own wealth.

"A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes. Blue jeans in the morning perhaps, a suit for a lunch fundraiser, sport coat for dinner," the tuxedo-clad Republican said. "But it's nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house."


President Barack Obama joked he was tired of arriving at campaign events to disappointed supporters who "were hoping to see Michelle."

The haughty affair has given many a candidate fodder. In 2000, George W. Bush joked: "This is an impressive crowd -- the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base."

In 2008, Republican John McCain cracked a joke that still echoes today: "I come here tonight to the Al Smith Dinner knowing that I'm the underdog in these final weeks, but if you know where to look there are signs of hope. There are signs of hope. Even in the most unexpected places, even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats... I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me. I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary."

The Al Smith Dinner is hosted by New York Bishop Timothy Dolan. Its namesake is the former governor of New York and the first major party presidential nominee to be Catholic. Smith, a Democrat, was defeated by Herbert Hoover in 1928.


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