Most years, the story that emerges out of the White House Correspondents' Dinner is about a moment: Stephen Colbert's roasting of George W. Bush, President Barack Obama's skewering of Donald Trump, Larry Wilmore's use of the N-word to express his affection for President Obama.
This year, of course, is not most years. The story of the 2017 Correspondents’ Dinner, which will be held in April, will be about presence: who's attending and who isn't. And President Donald Trump will be the big "isn't." But what about Alec Baldwin as Trump?
Wednesday night Alec Baldwin appeared as a guest on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Baldwin has won renown from just about everyone other than the president himself for his impression of Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.” When Kimmel asked Baldwin if he was vying to stand in for Trump at the Correspondents' Dinner, Baldwin said, "Well, I wouldn’t say I’m not lobbying."
The British bookmakers at Paddy Power think it's highly unlikely that Baldwin stands in for Trump at the dinner, giving odds of 150 to 1, meaning those who bet this will happen could win $150 for every dollar they lay down. Perhaps it has something to do with competition. Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert have said they would be happy to sit on the dais in place of the president.
Even by the loose standards of the Correspondents' Dinner, where the gloves are off and hardly any joke is out of bounds, having Baldwin or any comic, stand in for Trump would signal a new level of subversion.
Reuters’ Jeff Mason, the White House Correspondents’ Association president, seemed to splash some cold water on that rumor. Though he was quoted in The Hill as saying nothing would be out of bounds, he added, “the overall mission of the dinner is going to be on full display regardless of who is sitting on the stage. And that’s what we’re focused on. The dinner will be celebrating the First Amendment and celebrating the good work of our members, and lifting up our scholarship winners, as it does every year.”
More likely is a scenario that would actually have much more profound implications: Paddy Power gives 66 to 1 odds that all living presidents will attend the ceremony.
Though it's uncommon for former presidents to weigh in much on the politics of the day, there’s bipartisan agreement among White House alumni that President Trump’s war against the press is destructive. Former President George W. Bush, most recently, told Matt Lauer, "I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive. And it can be corrosive. And it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere."
The mere presence of all five living presidents (three Democrats and two Republicans) at the dinner would be a loud rebuke of Trump’s campaign to delegitimize the mainstream media.