Obama: GOP "Crack-Up" Goes Beyond Trump
President Obama described the Republican Party’s presidential nominating process as a “circus” and a “crack-up” Thursday, arguing he is not the catalyst for the GOP’s internal unrest or the anti-immigrant policies that have fueled Donald Trump’s ascent.
“What you're seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree [prompted by] all those efforts over a course of time, creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive,” the president said during a joint White House news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Obama’s disdain for Trump, evident since the real estate mogul relentlessly fanned the debunked falsehood that the president was born in Africa, is nothing new. But Obama’s forensic analysis of the Republican Party’s discord – at a key moment when primary voters may anoint Trump the GOP nominee while establishment conservatives seek to stop him – was delivered with some relish.
Asked about the presidential front-runner whose anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to prompt denunciations from Republican officials as well as world leaders, Obama said Trump is an echo chamber, not an outlier.
“He's just doing more of what has been done for the last seven and a half years,” the president said in the Rose Garden.
“In terms of his positions on a whole range of issues, they're not very different from any of the other candidates’. And it's not as if there's a massive difference between Mr. Trump's position on immigration and Mr. Cruz's position on immigration [or] from Mr. Rubio's positions on immigration, despite the fact that both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio, their own families, are the products of immigration and the openness of our society,” the president added.
Obama suggested Republicans have deliberately played with fire, and then found themselves burned.
“There are thoughtful conservatives who are troubled by this, who are troubled by the direction of their party,” he continued. “I think it is very important for them to reflect on what it is about the politics they've engaged in that allows the circus we've been seeing to transpire, and to do some introspection.”
The strength and effectiveness of the Republican Party have been damaged, he suggested, and that’s a worry for everyone.
“I think this country has to have responsible parties that can govern and that are prepared to lead and govern, whether they're in the minority or in the majority, whether they occupy the White House or they do not,” Obama added.
The example he cited was trade, where Republicans and the administration largely agree, while Democrats remain divided about the impact on jobs, the environment and worker rights.
The alarm bells going off inside the Republican Party are not just about candidates’ offensive rhetoric, but about policy ideals important to the nation’s prosperity, he argued.
“I'm absolutely persuaded that we cannot put up walls around a global economy,” Obama said, referring to anti-trade sentiments in both parties.
“To sell a bill of goods to the American people and workers that if you just shut down trade, somehow your problems would go away, prevents us from actually solving some of these big problems about inequality and the decline of our manufacturing base and so on,” Obama said with Trudeau by his side.
The president said conservatives undercut their arguments about trade’s beneficial effects on the U.S. economy when they show “no interest in helping workers” and advocate “busting up unions, and providing tax breaks to the wealthy.”
“And certainly, it's not going to be heard if it's coupled with vehement anti-immigrant sentiment that betrays our values,” he continued.
The president’s political dissections occurred hours before a GOP candidate debate in Miami, and days before important March 15 primary contests, including in Florida and Ohio, which may move Trump closer to the 1,237 delegates he needs to capture the nomination. Trump has called the delegate requirement an “arbitrary number,” but has said he believes he can leap that hurdle before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.
At the moment, Trump has 458 delegates, while his rivals, Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, have together amassed 564. Ben Carson gathered eight delegates before suspending his presidential bid. The splintered results and rivalry among the four remaining candidates this month have prompted hand-wringing inside the Republican National Committee about a possible contested nominating process this summer.
Asked about the Democratic presidential race and whether he would endorse Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders during the nomination fight, Obama responded indirectly.
For months, the president’s aides said he would vote in the March 15 primary in Illinois. His spokesmen have punted for weeks, and did so again March 10, when asked if Obama submitted his ballot to his adopted home state. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last year that he doubted the president would disclose his choice, although Obama has done little to mask his enthusiasm for Clinton as his potential successor.
“I think that the Democratic voters are doing just fine working this out,” the president told reporters, without commenting on Clinton’s commanding delegate lead or Sanders’ victories in nine states.
“I think it's useful that we've had a vigorous debate among two good people who care deeply about our country and who … have fought hard on behalf of working people in this country for a long time,” the president said. “I think it's been a good conversation. My most important role will be to make sure that after the primaries are done, I'm bringing everybody together so that we focus on winning the general election.”