President Obama issued his most scathing assessment of the Republican nomination battle to date on Tuesday when he declared that Donald Trump “will not be president.”
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Donald Trump “will not be president” despite his commanding lead in the Republican field, President Obama flatly declared Tuesday, while asserting that a restive electorate would ultimately make a “sensible choice.”
Bluntly questioning front-runner Donald Trump’s temperament, Obama said, “Whoever is standing where I’m standing right now has the nuclear codes with them, and can order 21-year-olds into a firefight.”
A restive electorate ultimately will decline to elect Trump, he predicted.
“The American people are pretty sensible,” Obama said. “And I think they’ll make a sensible choice in the end.”
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Although he referred specifically to Trump, Obama also took care to warn about all of the Republican candidates.
“Not a single one of them” is talking about some of the world’s biggest problems, he complained.
The words represented Obama’s most energetic criticism of the Republicans running to replace him.
For months, he has mostly kept a studied distance from the fray and resisted invitations to engage in political analysis.
But GOP candidates are promising to dismantle Obama’s entire legacy if they win the Oval Office, and polls show Trump dramatically in the lead in South Carolina going into the state’s Saturday primary. Such numbers are infusing his campaign with more momentum on the heels of his decisive win in New Hampshire last week.
Asked about the president’s comments at a South Carolina forum, Trump responded with relative restraint, saying only that Obama had done a “lousy job as president” and that he would have defeated him in 2012 had he run.
“For him to say that is actually a great compliment,” Trump argued of Obama’s criticism.
“You look at our budgets, you look at our spending, we can’t beat ISIS, Obamacare is terrible — we’re going to terminate it, we’re absolutely going to terminate it. And you look at everything, our borders are like Swiss cheese, this man has done such a bad job, he has set us back so far, and for him to say that is actually a great compliment.”
Trump then shared this message for the president: “You’re lucky I didn’t run last time, when Romney ran, because you would have been a one-term president.”
In his comments Tuesday Obama admonished not only politicians engaging in theater but reporters who cover the campaign as “entertainment” as well — and whose own outlook has also been tempered by the responsibilities of the office for seven years himself.
After two days of meetings with 10 Southeast Asian leaders here at the presidential getaway estate of Sunnylands, Obama said he is also worried about what the campaign speeches and interviews are doing to American relations abroad.
Foreign observers are troubled by some of the rhetoric, he said. In the past, Obama has singled out in particular Trump’s pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country and deporting anyone not living in the country legally.
Obama said Trump isn’t the only one he’s worried about.
“This is not just Mr. Trump,” Obama said. “There’s not a single candidate in the Republican primary that thinks we should do anything about climate change. … The rest of the world looks at that and says, ‘How can that be?’ ”
Voters are venting, he said, but that ultimately “reality has a way of intruding.”
“I have a lot of faith in the American people. And I think they recognize that being president is a serious job,” Obama said. “It’s not hosting a talk show, or a reality show. It’s not promotion. It’s not marketing. It’s hard. And a lot of people count on us getting it right.”
Obama also downplayed the fight on the Democratic side between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, saying there was broad agreement in his party on principles but a different view of “tactics, trying to figure out how do you actually get things done.”
Obama said he might eventually express his personal view in the race but that, “for now, I think it’s important for Democratic voters to express themselves and for the candidates to be run through the paces.”
“The thing I can say unequivocally,” he added, “is I am not unhappy that I’m not on the ballot.”