Cardinal Timothy Dolan was sitting between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Thursday evening at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner in New York City — in what he joked was “the iciest place on the planet.”
But while both presidential candidates offered tough takedowns of one another during what is usually an evening of lightheartedness and fun, Dolan says there were moments of kindness behind the scenes.
“I was very moved by the obvious attempt by both Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump to try to get along, to say nice things privately to one another,” he explained to Savannah Guthrie and Lester Holt on Today. “I was very moved by that — that was pleasant.”
As the host of the dinner for the archdiocese for the past eight years, Dolan acts as a literal bridge to bring the two together. He revealed he was able to do just that, engaging the two in conversation and taking time to pray privately with them together.
“After the little prayer, Mr. Trump turned to Secretary Clinton and said, ‘You know, you are one tough and talented woman.’ ” Dolan recounted. ” ‘This has been a good experience. This whole campaign, as tough as it’s been.’ ”
“And [Hillary] said to him, ‘Donald, whatever happens, we need to work together afterwards,’ ” Dolan continued.
The cardinal, 66, admitted that the amity he described behind the scenes wasn’t as present during both of the candidates’ addresses — saying “you could tell the two of them are kind of awkward together.”
Clinton, 68, and Trump, 70, didn’t hold back during the dinner.
Trump was booed for his jokes about Clinton that some in the audience thought were too harsh – including that she was “pretending not to hate Catholics” and that she is “so corrupt she got kicked off the Watergate commission.”
Clinton also landed some harsh blows on Trump – including that “Donald looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a four. Maybe a five if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair.”
But that tension isn’t necessarily new, Dolan reminded. “Four years earlier I was with Gov. Romney and President Obama, and you could tell there was some iciness,” he said. “The purpose of the evening is to break some of that ice, and thanks be to God it works.”
He said the occasional boos from the audience during Trump and Clinton’s speeches “more or less reflects the sentiments that are going on.” It’s a style of comedy Dolan points out is typical today.
“This is kind of the nature of comedy today where it’s very tough to be self-depreciating,” he said — reflecting on how former presidents like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan previous brought the house down by positioning themselves as the butt of their own jokes.
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“Last night, the two candidates, the butt of their jokes was the other person,” Dolan said. “The characteristic of the evening is self-deprecating, humble humor. And that seemed to be a tougher and tougher goal to achieve.”