(CNN)Donald Trump abandoned decades of tradition Thursday night with a tough takedown of Hillary Clinton at an annual charity dinner that prompted booing of the Republican presidential nominee.
Clinton’s remarks, too, largely lacked the self-deprecating humor that is typical at the Al Smith dinner, which benefits Catholic charities and is often one of the final opportunities for presidential candidates to share a stage before the election.
But where Clinton’s remarks singed, Trump’s burned — costing him an opportunity to take some of the heat off his campaign as it struggles through the final three weeks of the 2016 contest.
“I wasn’t really sure if Hillary was going to be here tonight because, I guess, you didn’t send her invitation by email. Or maybe you did, and she just found out about it through the wonder of WikiLeaks,” Trump said. “We’ve learned so much from WikiLeaks. For example, Hillary believes that it is vital to deceive the people by having one public policy and a totally different policy in private.”
When the audience booed at that line, Trump said, “That’s OK, I don’t know who they’re angry at, Hillary, you or I. For example, here she is tonight, in public, pretending not to hate Catholics.”
The jeers from the audience were unusual for the event.
“I’ve been to that dinner like six, seven, eight times,” Christine Quinn, the former speaker of New York’s city council, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I’ve never heard boos like that. Never.”
Also unusual for the Al Smith dinner: Neither offered any kind words about the other.
The night, which followed another brutal debate on Wednesday, underscored that Americans face a choice in two and a half weeks between two candidates who plainly don’t like each other and have waged one of the most negative campaigns in recent memory.
Trump opened with light-hearted remarks — referencing his “beautiful hands” and joking that the event with more than 1,500 attendees was for him “a small, intimate dinner with some friends. Or as Hillary calls it, her largest crowd of the season.”
But the mood turned dour when Trump began to directly take on Clinton.
Trump skewered Clinton’s use of a personal email server and accused her of ducking FBI questions. He pointed to WikiLeaks’ hack of Democratic emails and accused her of hating the Catholics for whom the event is a high-dollar fundraiser, with attendees paying at least $3,000 each.
“According to her sworn testimony, Hillary has forgotten more things than most of us will ever, ever know — that I can tell you,” Trump said, to crickets. “We’re having some fun here tonight.”