In a visit to an Indiana town that has seen a huge drop in unemployment during his administration, President Obama aggressively defended his policies and blasted Donald Trump, calling one of the real estate mogul’s proposals “crazy.”
“America’s economy is not just better than it was eight years ago. It is the strongest and most durable economy in the world,” he said at Concord High School in Elkhart.
Obama added, “By almost every economic measure, America is better off than when I came here.”
And Obama, while not using Trump’s name, repeatedly referred to the “Republican nominee” and specifically denounced his proposals. Obama called deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants a “fantasy,” and dismissed the mogul’s view that large numbers of native-born Americans are losing their jobs to immigrants.
And in his hour-long remarks, the president twice praised Bill Clinton’s stewardship of the economy, an argument he is likely to continue to make if Hillary Clinton emerges as the Democratic nominee.
“If that is what you are concerned about, the economy, the debate is not even close,” he said.
The president interjecting himself into the 2016 race could be an important development.
Political science research has shown if an outgoing president is popular, the nominee of his party is more likely to win. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 51 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s performance, making him more popular than Hillary Clinton or Trump.
Since the start of the year, Obama has used his addresses to bash Trump’s overall vision but has rarely invoked the real estate mogul’s name or referred to Trump’s specific ideas.
Obama did not mention Hillary Clinton or Sanders, although he hinted earlier this year that he favors his former secretary of state.But on Wednesday, much of Obama’s speech was a rebuttal to the rhetoric of the campaign trail. Both Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Trump have raised concerns about U.S. jobs going abroad due to foreign trade agreements, but Obama said, “trade has helped our country a lot more than it has hurt.”
The visit to Elkhart was not just about the November election. It was perhaps Obama’s most passionate and blunt declaration that his economic policies and his broader vision have worked, at a place that he feels is perhaps the strongest evidence of his administration’s successes.
Obama came to Elkhart, a town of 50,000 in northern Indiana, in February 2009. It was the first city he visited as president.
Back then, he highlighted the area’s rapidly increasing jobless rate, which eventually reached nearly 20 percent. In his speech seven years ago, Obama said Elkhart was the kind of place that would benefit from the massive stimulus package that the president was trying to pass through Congress.
“We’ve lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began, nearly 600,000 in the past month alone; when we say that this area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in the United States of America, with an unemployment rate of over 15 percent, when it was 4.7 percent just last year; when we talk about layoffs at companies like Monaco Coach, and Keystone RV, and Pilgrim International — companies that have sustained this community for years — we’re not just talking numbers,” Obama said that February day.He added, “We’re talking about people in the audience here today. People not just in Elkhart, but all across this country. We’re talking about people who have lost their livelihood and don’t know what will take its place.”
Elkhart’s unemployment rate is now below 5 percent. Officials in the area say that some of the gains in the community come from local factors, such as the improvement of the recreational vehicle industry, along with both state and national policy.
The national jobless rate, which was more than 10 percent early in Obama’s tenure, is now at 5 percent. The president and his team say that recovery is one of the biggest achievements of his presidency.
But that message has been challenged strongly over the last year, by presidential candidates from both parties, particularly Sanders and Trump.
But his remarks were largely defending his record and trying to tell voters about the stakes in this November’s election.Obama acknowledged some of the challenges on Wednesday, even at what was essentially a declaration of victory. He noted the rising gap between the wealthy and the poor in the U.S. and the stagnant wages of millions of American workers.
“I came here precisely because this county votes Republican,” said Obama, who won only 36 percent of the vote in Elkhart County in 2012, losing the county to Mitt Romney by 26 percent.
“That’s one of the reasons I came here. Because if the economy is really what’s driving this election, then it’s going to be voters like you who are going to have to decide between two very different visions.”
This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.