President Obama on Thursday flatly rejected accusations that he is responsible for the rise of Donald Trump and the Republican primary “crackup,” saying the GOP has only itself to blame for the tinsel-haired showman’s stunning success.
“I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is novel,” Obama told reporters at a joint press conference with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“What I’m not going to do is to validate some notion that the Republican crackup that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that I’ve taken,” the president said.
Trump’s rise to odds-on favorite in the race for the Republican presidential nomination has shocked the political establishment and pundits. Some conservative figures have started to blame Obama for the brash New Yorker’s unexpected political triumphs in the early phase of the 2016 campaign.
Obama, standing next to Trudeau in the White House Rose Garden, acknowledged having “heard this argument a number of times” but charged that Trump flared up out of anger fueled by Republican leaders and conservative media.
President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hold a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
“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; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a them-out-there and an us — and ‘them’ are the folks who are causing whatever problems you’re experiencing,” Obama said.
“What you’re seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree, all 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 a half years.”
A few years ago, Trump became the standard-bearer for the racism-tinged “birther” movement, whose followers profess to believe that the nation’s first black president was born in Kenya rather than his actual birthplace of Hawaii and is thus not eligible for the office he was twice elected to. Obama eventually released his long-form birth certificate.
“I don’t think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example,” he added. “I don’t remember saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you ask me about that? Why don’t you question whether I’m American or whether I’m loyal or whether I have America’s best interests at heart?’”
Obama said Trump’s views on issues like immigration are “not very different” from those of some of his rivals for the GOP nomination, including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. “Mr. Trump might just be more provocative in terms of how he says it, but the actual positions aren’t that different,” the president said.
Obama, who has previously predicted that Trump will not win the White House, said it was time for “thoughtful conservatives” to fight for the soul of their party.
“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,” Obama said. “I want a serious, effective Republican Party, in part to challenge some of the blind spots and dogmas in the Democratic Party.”
Trudeau, asked to weigh in on the 2016 race and what impact a Trump victory might have on U.S.-Canada relations, sidestepped the question.
“I have tremendous confidence in the American people and look forward to working with whomever they choose to send to this White House later this year,” he said.