Donald Trump opened himself to charges of hypocrisy by lashing out at Michelle Wolf for her speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
The comedian let loose with a flurry of barbs targeting White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who (unlike Trump) attended the event and gamely took the heat. According to a transcript of Wolf's speech, she said: “We're graced with Sarah's presence tonight. I have to say I'm a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in 'The Handmaid's Tale.'
“Every time Sarah steps up to the podium, I get excited because I'm not really sure what we're going to get. You know, a press briefing, a bunch of lies …. I actually really like Sarah. I think she's very resourceful. Like, she burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she's born with it; maybe it's lies. It's probably lies.”
The comic concluded: “I'm never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You know, is it Sarah Sanders? Is Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it Cousin Huckabee? Is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what's Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know: Aunt Coulter.”
Many people, including some Democrats, thought the comments went too far. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted: “That (Sanders) sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.” On MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” host Mika Brzezinski noted that “watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable.”
Trump reacted angrily, with a series of tweets slamming Wolf. He also questioned whether the White House Correspondents Association should continue to hold the dinner. He wrote that the event is “DEAD as we know it,” adding: “This was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country and all that it stands for. FAKE NEWS is alive and well and beautifully represented on Saturday night!”
The following day, the president referred to Wolf as “filthy,” claimed “she couldn't even deliver her lines” and wrote that she “totally bombed.” He demanded: “Put Dinner to rest, or start over!” Margaret Talev, the WHCA's president, refused to back down. She rebuked those who suggested the organization should apologize, but admitted that Wolf did not reflect the WHCA's “mission.”
Talev, a Bloomberg News reporter and CNN commentator, explained: “Last night's program was meant to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide.”
Wolf had some defenders, who praised her for confronting the administration. The comedian did not limit herself to ripping Sanders. She also had unflattering things to say about Trump, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and other associates of the president. Wolf got a lot of laughs, though some members of the audience were not amused. Talev argued that “comedy is meant to provoke thought and debate.”
The problem with the president weighing in on the debate about Wolf's performance is that he has his own long history of publicly ridiculing women. During the 2016 campaign, Trump blasted rival Republican candidate Carly Fiorina for her appearance. “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” he infamously declared. “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
Trump also demeaned the wife of another GOP contender by sending out a candid picture of Heidi Cruz, alongside a glamour shot of his own wife (Melania, a former model). And no one can forget Trump threatening Hillary Clinton by leading chants of “Lock Her Up” at his campaign rallies.
Long before he entered politics, the real-estate mogul was famous for saying nasty things about women. Television anchor Megyn Kelly, while moderating one of the GOP presidential debates, reminded the candidate: “You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs,' 'dogs,' 'slobs' and 'disgusting animals.'”
Trump is particularly notorious for his vicious attacks on Rosie O'Donnell, who frequently belittled him during her tenure as a co-host of “The View.” Trump once called the comedian and actor “crude, rude, obnoxious and dumb.”
Recently, the president lambasted another woman. He dismissed the Times' Haberman as “a third-rate reporter known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with.” Never mind that Trump has done a number of interviews with Haberman, and has been photographed with the journalist on several occasions.
Of course, women are not alone in facing Trump's wrath. His list of controversial comments extends to Mexicans, Muslims, the news media, disabled people and the parents of slain military personnel, to name a few.
All of this is not to say that there aren't very reasonable criticisms to be made of the fact that Michelle Wolf went after Sarah Huckabee Sanders specifically, someone who despite being involved in the Trump administration, does not have the very long and nasty track record of comments that Donald Trump does. Sarah Sanders also attended the dinner and played along with the jokes despite their personal nature. This is therefore not a commentary on whether the jokes themselves were or were not appropriate but rather a commentary on the fact that Trump's own hypocrisy regarding these matter knows no bounds. Trump is simultaneously a perennial critic of people's looks, actions, and character, while famously maintaining one of the poorest attitudes and thinnest skins in the public sphere when on the receiving end of similar rhetoric.
His lack of respect for others disqualifies him as a critic of comedians, or anyone else.