President Obama, on the eve of his final State of the Union address, rejected the message Donald Trump has capitalized on in his presidential campaign.
“The message that Donald Trump’s putting out has had adherence a lot of times during the course of our history. You know, talk to me if he wins. Then we’ll have a conversation about how responsible I feel about it,” he told TODAY’s Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview less than a week after making anemotional speech on tight gun control efforts.
“But I’m pretty confident that the overwhelming majority of Americans are looking for the kind of politics that does feed our hopes and not our fears, that does work together and doesn’t try to divide, that isn’t looking for simplistic solutions and scapegoating but looks for us buckling down and figuring out, ‘How do we make things work for the next generation.’”
Obama also expressed disappointment that he enters the final year of his term in a deeply divided country, politically.
“It’s a regret,” he said. “And I’ll talk about that a little bit, tomorrow [in the State of the Union]. I could not be prouder of what we’ve accomplished. And sometimes we look at the past through rose-colored glasses,” he said. “It’s been pretty divided in the past. There’ve been times where, you know, people beat each other with canes.”
TODAY was live from the White House Tuesday, providing viewers with a tour inside rooms rarely ever seen by the public. In addition, Vice President Biden joined Savannah Guthrie for an exclusive interview.
“Yes, I think it’s possible,” Biden told Savannah when asked whether he could imagine Trump taking the Oval Office.
The interviews and visit come just hours before Obama makes his final appearance before a joint session of Congress.
Obama’s comments mark his first since addressing the nation last week, when he used his executive authority to skirt congressional lawmakers and tighten gun-purchasing rules.
The president admitted he was surprised by how emotional he got during that news conference. He said he didn’t expect that recalling the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which he described as “one of the worst (days) of my presidency,” would set off such an emotional response.
But he said timing of the event probably played a role. He had just returned from a Christmas vacation where he spent a lot of time with his wife and two daughters, one of whom will be going away to college soon.
That, along with seeing families of the Sandy Hook victims, “who I’ve gotten to know over the course of several years, and thinking about how any parent feels with that loss, it felt very personal to me.”
Obama also admitted that earlier in his presidency, he probably would have choked back the emotion.
“I might have clamped it down,” he said, admitting “there’s no doubt that I am looser now.”
Obama acknowledged that the nation has endured deep trauma over the past ten years, including Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq war and the worst financial crisis to hit the country. But he said the public also should focus on the nation’s resiliency.
“It is sometimes important for us to step back and take measure of how far we’ve come,” he said. “The economy right now is doing better than any other economy in the world by a significant margin. We remain the strongest nation on earth by far.”
And despite Trump’s claims about the impact of terrorism and immigration on the nation, “there are no existential threats facing us.”
Asked if he could envision Trump one day delivering a State of the Union address, Obama said: “Well, I can imagine it — in a “Saturday Night (Live)” skit.”
“Look, anything’s possible,” he continued. “And I think we shouldn’t be complacent. I think everybody’s got to work hard.”
Obama said if he had the chance to go back and advise an earlier version of himself, he would recommend that he “communicate constantly and with confidence” to the public because Americans have a consistent need to hear from their president.
“This place has a tendency to isolate you,” he said.
This story originally appeared on TODAY.com