WASHINGTON – Barack Obama couldn’t help himself.
He had to say it.
In a friendly interview with his former top adviser, David Axelrod, the outgoing president tweaked Donald Trump by saying, had he run again, he would have beaten the president-elect.
“I am confident in this vision because 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. He added that Hillary Clinton’s campaign acted too cautiously out of a mistaken belief that victory was all but certain.
“If you think you’re winning, then you have a tendency, just like in sports, maybe to play it safer,” Obama said in the interview with former adviser and longtime friend David Axelrod, a CNN analyst, for his “The Axe Files” podcast. The president said Clinton “understandably … looked and said, well, given my opponent and the things he’s saying and what he’s doing, we should focus on that.”
Not surprisingly, that didn’t sit well with Trump.
In character, he tweeted this rebuttal: “President Obama said that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! – jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”
Obama explained how he had put together a winning coalition, but his party and Clinton failed to follow through on it.
“See, I think the issue was less that Democrats have somehow abandoned the white working class, I think that’s nonsense,” Obama said. “Look, the Affordable Care Act benefits a huge number of Trump voters. 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 is, is that 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 added that he believes he changed the culture of the country and turned the tide against racism and other forms of bigotry.
Axelrod did not press Obama on many of the most controversial parts of his presidency, such as not taking action to prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria. Such friendly interviews have become a hallmark of Obama’s presidency, whether with friends, comedians or YouTube hosts. Nonetheless, the president, who has done relatively few interviews with mainstream media organizations, repeated his long-stated complaint that the media have filtered his message and that he is subject to unfair criticism by outlets such as Fox News – and Rush Limbaugh.
Obama stressed that he doesn’t plan to get involved in day-to-day responses to a Trump presidency. But the question is: Can he help himself? He did admit he will be an activist ex-president, planning to help mobilize and train a younger generation of Democratic Party leaders and will speak out if his core beliefs are challenged.
He also says he is working on writing a book.