- The presidency 'is not hosting a talk show,' Obama says
- Obama says he'll eventually have opinion on Democratic primary
President Barack Obama said Donald Trump won’t be elected president and the Republican primary campaign has alarmed foreign audiences who expect the U.S. to lead the world.
"I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president," Obama said Tuesday at a news conference after meeting with Southeast Asian leaders in Rancho Mirage, California. "And the reason is, I continue to have faith in the American people. And I think they realize that being president of the United States is a serious job. It’s not hosting a talk show."
While Obama again criticized the tone and substance of the Republican primary campaign, he described the Democratic contest as a "healthy debate." He didn’t say whether he would endorse his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, or her challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but allowed that he and Clinton may more often agree on policy.
“I know Hillary better than I know Bernie, because she’s served in my administration, and she was an outstanding secretary of state,” Obama said. “And I suspect that, on certain issues, she agrees with me more than Bernie does.”
Sanders rode support from young and first-time voters to a decisive victory in New Hampshire and a close second place in Iowa, the primary’s first two nominating contests. Clinton remains the front-runner in national polls, and she is seeking to rebound in the next two nominating contests -- the Nevada caucuses on Saturday and the South Carolina primary a week later.
"Ultimately I will probably have an opinion" on the contest, Obama said. "But for now I think it’s important for Democratic voters to express themselves and for candidates to be run through the paces."
If Sanders, who caucuses with Senate Democrats but identifies himself as a democratic socialist, prevails in Nevada, Obama will face new pressure from party leaders to intervene in the nominating contest ahead of South Carolina.
Black voters, who propelled Obama to a victory in South Carolina over Clinton in 2008, remain loyal to the president and represented more than half the Democratic electorate that year. Clinton currently holds a 21-point lead in the state, according to a survey from Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling released Monday.
Obama has previously made comments interpreted as hints that he would prefer Clinton as the Democratic nominee. In an interview with Politico, Obama called Clinton "wicked smart" while characterizing Sanders as a "bright, shiny object" that appealed to frustrated liberals.
Former White House press secretary Jay Carney said Feb. 11 on CNN that Obama wants Clinton to win.
Obama has repeatedly shown frustration with the tone and tenor of the Republican nominating contest, which has seen conservative firebrand Senator Ted Cruz prevail in Iowa and Trump take New Hampshire.
"Foreign observers are troubled by some of the rhetoric that has taken place in some of these Republican primaries and Republican debates," Obama said on Tuesday, after the meeting with leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations.
The troubling language isn’t limited to Trump, he said: "He says in more interesting ways what the other candidates are saying as well."
During a speech last week at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, where he announced he would run for president in 2007, Obama said political leaders should seek compromise rather than sow anxiety and anger. Obama decried the "smallness of our politics" and warned that when leaders resort to offensive and outrageous attacks, they risked influencing the behavior of children who look up to them.
A week earlier, Obama visited a mosque on U.S. soil for the first time in his presidency to caution against intolerance toward Muslims. The president’s remarks were a rebuke of Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration in the aftermath of Islamic State-inspired terrorist attacks last year in Paris and California.
"Other countries, they kind of count on the United States being on the side of science and reason and common sense," Obama said. "They know if the U.S. doesn’t act on big problems in smart ways, nobody will."
The rhetoric among Republican candidates further coarsened during a debate Saturday night. Trump and Florida Senator Marco Rubio called Cruz a "liar," and Trump criticized former President George W. Bush for being president during the September 11 terrorist attacks. Bush’s brother, Jeb, is running for the nomination this year.
Trump remains the front-runner in South Carolina, where Republican voters head to the polls on Saturday. According to a survey released Monday by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling, Trump holds a 17-point lead over Rubio and Cruz, who are tied for second place.