On March 12, The New York Times turned the clock back five years to an overlooked moment that may have been the beginning of Donald Trump's bid for the White House.
It was the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, the annual event that reminds regular Americans just how cozy the press is with the government it's supposed to cover in an adversarial manner. In 2011, many of the journalists in the room were still star-struck, still convinced that President Barack Obama was the transformative figure who'd end political divisiveness and usher in the era of Hope and Change.
Wearing a bow tie and a mischievous grin, Obama took a warm-up dig at Mitt Romney -- his eventual opponent in the 2012 race -- before spending the next four minutes mocking Trump, who was sitting in the audience.
"Say what you will about Mr. Trump," Obama said, "he certainly would bring some change to the White House."
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Then the president pointed toward a projector screen, showing a crudely Photoshopped White House with a garish vertical extension topped by Trump's name and bright purple neon. That joke followed earlier jabs about Trump's "birther" skepticism.
"No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald," Obama said, "and that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like, 'Did we fake the moon landing?' 'What really happened in Roswell?' And 'Where are Biggie and Tupac?'"
The journalists in the room laughed as if Obama were Louis CK, and Trump smiled and waved as the crowd looked for a reaction.
As the Times notes, Obama is still laughing, and still taking digs at the Republican front-runner. But as Trump stands on the verge of a major party nomination for the presidency, his campaign is no longer the joke most people thought it was. Obama himself might be the one responsible for turning the idea of a Trump presidency from a joke to a serious goal for the real estate magnate, who by all accounts craves approval and credibility.
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Obama might be the last person snickering, and that's probably not going to do him -- or Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton -- any favors if the president hits the campaign trail as often for Hillary as he says he will.
In another speech, according to the Times, Obama mocked Trump for his tough-guy stance on ISIS, and for his cordial relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Those jokes might play well to an audience of journalists who want to laugh and look like they're in on the joke, but they're not going to play well to crowds of regular Americans.
People in America's dilapidated, economically ruined former industrial centers aren't going to belly laugh at jokes from a president who hasn't done anything for them in eight years. People aren't going to find ISIS jokes funny amid graphic news reports about beheadings and genocide.
Indeed, Obama seems to enjoy belittling Republican rhetoric on national security and terrorism, which is not a good look for him on days like today, when the Islamic State reminded the world it can still strike prime civilian targets with impunity. The March 22 attacks proved ISIS hasn't been crippled by renewed vigilance, not when the fundamentalist group can hit an airport and a subway station in one of Europe's major capitals.
If Obama keeps on joking, he runs the risk of hurting the eventual Democratic nominee more than helping. It's not far-fetched to imagine campaign ads tying Clinton to Obama, with a voiceover of the latter making jokes about terrorism over footage of blood-soaked women and children stumbling out of ruined airport terminals.
The decision-makers and strategists who run the Democratic party should remind Obama that he's the president, not a comedian. The time for joking is over.