- President rejects notion that he caused political divisiveness
- Trump's rhetoric an extension of Republican politics, he says
President Barack Obama said Republicans should look in the mirror to assign blame for the tumult and rancor in their presidential nomination process.
Obama rejected what he termed the “novel” suggestions by some Republicans, such as former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, that his policies and stances have contributed to the divisiveness in the country and propelled billionaire Donald Trump into the lead of the party’s nomination race.
Trump’s rallies have been notable for his bombast against immigrants and Muslims, insults directed at opponents, and vitriolic exchanges and occasional violence between his supporters and protesters. Some Republican leaders and officials have fretted that the tenor of the campaign could rip the party apart, and have floated plans to deny Trump the nomination at the party’s convention in July.
Any Republican “crack-up” isn’t the result of his actions, and there are “thoughtful conservatives” who are troubled by the direction of their party, Obama said Thursday in an expansive response to a question at a White House news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“The Republican political elites, and many of the information outlets, social media, news outlets, talk radio, television stations, have been feeding the Republican base for the last seven years a notion that everything I do is to be opposed, that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal,” Obama said.
Republicans have argued that Obama’s stubbornness has contributed to growing political polarization. Jindal, who gave up his own campaign for the 2016 Republican nomination in November, before a single vote was cast, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on March 3 that Trump’s popularity is a reaction by voters to Obama.
“The president truly doesn’t get enough credit for creating one of the most polarizing forces in American politics today,” Jindal wrote in the piece, titled “President Obama Created Donald Trump.” “There would be no Donald Trump, dominating the political scene today, if it were not for President Obama.”
Obama blamed Republicans for promoting incendiary ideas, including the notion that he wasn’t born in the U.S. and thus was an illegitimate president, that immigrants are a threat, and that the West and Muslim world are engaged in a clash of civilizations.
‘Creating an Environment’
“What you’re seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree, all of those efforts over a course of time creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive,” Obama said. “He’s just doing more of what has been done for the last seven and half years.”
And, Obama said, it was important for conservative leaders “to reflect on” how their actions in recent years allowed “the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire.”
Obama and Trudeau, though, both downplayed the notion that a Republican successor to Obama would sully relationships between the neighbors.
The president joked with Trudeau that an enduring aspect of the U.S.-Canada relationship was threats to move north by Americans concerned by the potential election outcome. Google saw a jump in Internet searches on “move to Canada” from U.S. users after Trump’s victories in the Super Tuesday nominating contests on March 1. Trudeau referenced the possibility of a Trump-inspired immigration surge during a town hall meeting earlier this week.
‘Doing Just Fine’
“I do want to point out, I am absolutely certain that in 2012, when there was the possibility that I would be re-elected, there were folks who were threatening to go to Canada as well,” Obama said.
The Canadian leader was also diplomatic when asked about Trump on Thursday, saying that the relationship between the countries goes “far beyond two people.”
Obama didn’t weigh in on his own party’s contested race, where Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders got a boost this week with his upset win in the Michigan Democratic primary over front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“The Democratic voters are doing just fine figuring this out,” Obama said, declining again to make an endorsement of either candidate.
Obama said his “most important role” will be bringing the party together to support the nominee and win the presidential election. “Of course, I intend to make sure the next president who comes in agrees with me on everything,” he joked.