Obama also was mildly critical of the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, saying her campaign didn’t do enough to get her message out.
HONOLULU — President Obama expressed confidence that, if he had run for a third term, he would have defeated Donald Trump, according to an interview released Monday with David Axelrod, his friend and former adviser.
“I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” Obama said on Axelrod’s podcast, “The Axe Files,” referring to his message of inclusion and helping middle-class Americans.
“I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one,” he said.
Several hours after the interview was posted, Trump responded on Twitter. “President Obama said that he thinks he would have won against me,” Trump said. “He should say that but I say NO WAY! — jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”
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He suggested Obama’s record would have prevented the president from securing a victory, citing jobs that have left the U.S., troubles with Obama’s Affordable Care Act and the ongoing threat posed by the Islamic State group as examples.
The White House declined to comment on Trump’s tweet.
Obama didn’t address whether he would have been able to surmount the obstacle that the Electoral College posed for Hillary Clinton. The Democrat failed to secure a majority of electoral votes despite besting Trump by millions in the popular vote.
Obama said she campaigned too cautiously, suggesting that the Democrats’ failure in the election may have stemmed from the prevailing assumption that Clinton’s victory was all but assured.
“If you think you’re winning, then you have a tendency — just like in sports — maybe to play it safer,” Obama said.
The discussion in the interview was pure political conjecture because the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution limits a president to two terms.
Obama also praised Clinton, saying she performed well under difficult circumstances and that there “was a double standard with her.”
“For whatever reason, there’s been a long-standing difficulty in her relationship with the press that meant her flaws were wildly amplified,” he said.
Obama said that while the economy has been improving, “There is a sense, obviously, that some communities have been left behind from the recovery and people feeling anxious about that.”
But it was “nonsense,” Obama said, that Democrats had abandoned white working-class Americans, a group that rallied behind Trump.
“Look, the Affordable Care Act benefits a huge number of Trump voters,” Obama said. “There are a lot of folks in places like West Virginia or Kentucky who didn’t vote for Hillary, didn’t vote for me, but are being helped by this.”
The problem, Obama said, was that Democratic politicians were not communicating to these people “that we understand why they’re frustrated.”
“We’re not there on the ground communicating not only the dry policy aspects of this, but that we care about these communities, that we’re bleeding for these communities,” Obama said.
“There’s an emotional connection, and part of what we have to do to rebuild is to be there,” Obama said. “And that means organizing, that means caring about state parties, it means caring about local races, state boards or school boards and city councils and state legislative races, and not thinking that somehow, just a great set of progressive policies that we present to The New York Times editorial board will win the day.”
In a telephone interview on Monday, Axelrod, now a commentator on CNN, said it was his sense that Obama was “frustrated” that his presidency is ending when his party has suffered such a dramatic loss.
“He believes the momentum is still on his side in the long term,” Axelrod said. “He’s always been a guy who thinks long term and has an amazing ability to do that. I think he’s concerned about the short-term optics but confident about the long-term direction.”
Though Obama railed against Trump during the campaign, he’s largely held his tongue since the Republican’s Election Day victory, in large part to ensure a smooth transition of power. He and Trump have spoken regularly by phone, and Trump has praised his predecessor for the graciousness with which he’s handled the process.
But in recent days, points of tension between their two teams have started to emerge, driven by Trump’s selection of Cabinet nominees who have vowed to dismantle much of what Obama has accomplished. Members of the Obama administration also have been dismayed by requests from Trump’s team for information they fear could be used to try to identify and then eliminate bureaucrats who have worked on Obama priorities like climate change and women’s rights overseas.