US President Barack Obama has opened his final presidential campaign – against Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
His name won’t be on November’s ballot, but Obama is slowly embracing his role as the anti-Trump, using the contrast between himself and the boastful billionaire to paint Trump as anything but presidential.
A Trump victory in the presidential race would mark an overwhelming rebuke to Obama and the likely demise of many of his policies.
So with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders still fighting it out in the Democratic primary, it has fallen increasingly to Obama to take on Trump in ways that no other Democrat can.
For months, Obama and his aides mostly avoided getting dragged into the fray or letting the campaign din distract from Obama’s agenda.
The White House would sidestep questions about the latest Trump controversies, refusing to turn Obama into a pundit on the race to replace him.
When Obama waded in, it was only to offer implicit rebukes of the Trump phenomenon, such as Obama’s assertion in September that “America is great right now” – a not-so-veiled reference to the business mogul’s campaign promise to “make America great again.”
Now the Trump critique is coming with increasing frequency and ease. Asked whether Trump’s proposals were already damaging US relations, Obama answered unequivocally: “Yes.”
“I am getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made,” Obama said. “They don’t expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House. We can’t afford that.”
The Democratic National Committee quickly circulated video of Obama’s remarks, arguing they illustrated how Trump “simply doesn’t have the temperament necessary to be commander in chief.”
Yet by calling attention to Trump’s positions, the White House risks further elevating him, while giving Obama’s critics a fresh reason to get behind the billionaire businessman.
Obama has said repeatedly he doesn’t believe Trump will win, and White House officials said there was no concerted effort to insert Obama more visibly into the election debate. After all, every minute Obama spends talking about Trump is a minute wasted when it comes to Obama’s many unfinished pieces of business.