On Friday, President Obama renewed his attack on establishment Republican politicians who are backing Donald Trump, despite their nominee’s comments describing how he gropes women, his threats to jail his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, and his claim that Mexico is sending “rapists” over the U.S. border.
Stumping for Hillary Clinton in the swing state of Ohio, Obama said he was “disturbed” by Republican officials “who know better but are still supporting this guy.” He said the Republican Party is responsible for the rise of Trump.
“They are sane people, they’re normal folks,” Obama said of GOP politicians in Congress. But he said they have turned a blind eye and allowed conspiracy theories to flourish, including erroneous stories about Obama being born outside the United States, or creating ISIS with Clinton, or imposing martial law. Now, after their base nominated a candidate who traffics in some of those same conspiracies, the president argued, they’re reaping the consequences of this inaction.
“They stood by and they didn’t say anything, because it was a way to rile up their base and way to mount opposition to whatever we were trying to do,” Obama said. “Over time, because a lot of the hardcore Republican partisan voters were just hearing this stuff over and over again, they started to believe it. That’s what allowed Donald Trump suddenly to emerge. Donald Trump didn’t build all this crazy conspiracy stuff.”
By blaming Republicans for Trump, Obama is breaking from Clinton and her campaign strategy. She and her campaign have explicitly reached out to Republican voters in advertisements and speeches, painting Trump as an outside-the-mainstream candidate who does not represent conservative values. These moderate Republicans could help Clinton win in some areas and give her a broader mandate to enact her agenda if she is elected president.
Obama has a different objective: He wants to protect his legacy by making up some of the historic Democratic losses in statehouses under his tenure, while also winning back the House and the Senate for his party. Pinning Trump on Republicans may boost down-ballot Democrats over their rivals.
“You said you were the party of family values,” Obama continued. “What, you weren’t appalled earlier when he was saying degrading things about women? When he was judging them based on a score of, ‘Are they a 2, or are they a 10?’ That wasn’t enough for you?”
Obama suggested that Republicans walking away from Trump now — rather than at the point when he said some Mexican immigrants are rapists or expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin — are more concerned about “political expedience” than principles.
In his Friday speech making the case against Republicans, Obama praised first lady Michelle Obama for making a nonpartisan pitch against Trump in Manchester, N.H., on Thursday, in which she powerfully condemned Trump’s treatment of women. Obama said he “could not be prouder of her.”
On Thursday, Michelle Obama argued that preventing Trump from becoming president was not a partisan question but a moral one. She said the reports of his comments about and treatment of women had “shaken me to my core,” and that the country must prevent someone who was “demeaning” to women from taking office. “I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics,” she said. “It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong. And we simply cannot endure this, or expose our children to this any longer — not for another minute, and let alone for four years.”
On Friday, the president also needled Trump for posting a billion-dollar loss in the 1990s and for his supposed populist credentials. “Apparently, in a speech yesterday, he started talking about global elites, that there was a conspiracy of global elites,” he said.
“This was a guy who spent all this time hanging around trying to convince everybody he was a global elite. … All he had time for was celebrities. Now he’s acting like he’s a populist,” Obama said, shaking his head. “Come on, man!”
Trump told a crowd in Florida on Thursday that Clinton was part of a conspiracy of global elites to fix the economy against the working class. He spent the early part of this week railing against “disloyal” Republicans who expressed displeasure after the release last week of a 2005 tape in which the developer is heard boasting that he can “do anything” to women, including grabbing their genitals. (Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, were among Republicans who said they would not vote for him after the tape surfaced.) Since then, the New York Times and other outlets have published the accounts of four women who accused Trump of groping them.
Obama left much of the condemnation of Trump’s “unacceptable” comments to his wife, quoting her in his Ohio speech. “If you believe that we are better than what we’ve been hearing, the good news is, as [Michelle] pointed out yesterday, there’s something we can do about it right here in Ohio, a battleground state,” he said.