Fairly early on in yesterday’s White House meeting with senators on gun policy, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) mentioned the popularity of expanded background checks, despite the political resistance the issue has faced. “You have a different president now,” Donald Trump responded. “You went through a lot of presidents and didn’t get it done…. I think it’s time that a president stepped up.”
Soon after, Trump asked Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to summarize his 2013 background-check bill, which he co-sponsored with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). It led to this exchange:
TRUMP: Do you have support for that, bipartisan support for what you’re saying?
TOOMEY: We had 54 votes in 2013. Most of those 54 voters are still in the Senate.
TRUMP: And not a lot of presidential backup?
TOOMEY: President Obama did support it.
TRUMP: But that was your problem.
It was a confusing back and forth. Trump seemed to be suggesting that Barack Obama didn’t step up to support the background-check bill. Told that the Democratic president was actually on board with the plan, Trump then suggested Obama’s shouldn’t have stepped up to support the bill.
But the broader point was nevertheless clear: in Trump’s mind, Obama should’ve gotten Congress to pass new legislation to address gun violence, which creates an incentive for this president to do what Obama did not.
It was a point he returned to, more than once, insisting for example that Obama “was not proactive in getting a bill signed.” That’s outrageously untrue, but Trump doesn’t care: when congressional Republicans blocked bipartisan measures, that should be seen as an example of his predecessor’s ineptitude.
It seems very easy to believe Trump offered unexpected rhetorical support for progressive priorities on guns precisely because they’re priorities Obama couldn’t get.
Because in this White House, every light is viewed through an Obama-centric lens.
On Tuesday, for example, the head of the National Security Agency says he has not been authorized by his boss – Donald Trump – to disrupt Russian cyberattacks targeting our elections. Asked about this, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied, “Let’s not forget that [the 2016 attack] happened under Obama. It didn’t happen under President Trump. If you want to blame somebody on past problems, then you need to look at the Obama administration.”
The same day, Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers published a report on economic growth – which blamed Obama for assorted ongoing areas of concern.
A week earlier, we learned Trump takes great pride in showing off the Oval Office to White House visitors, apparently because Obama didn’t.
The Washington Post reported, “To hear President Trump tell it, he is tougher than former president Barack Obama. He is smarter than Obama – more shrewd, more effective, more respected. The 45th president is, by his own accounting, superlative to the 44th in almost every way. In private and in public, while devising policies and while crafting messages, Trump frequently draws flattering comparisons with his predecessor – and he does not let the truth intrude.”
Alas, this has been a staple of Trump’s presidency. BuzzFeed published an interesting piece in August based on interviews with “six top European government officials who’ve had firsthand dealings on the international stage with [Trump] and his administration.” Not surprisingly, the foreign officials characterized the American president as erratic, ignorant, and “something of a laughing stock among Europeans at international gatherings.”
But what stood out for me was the description of Trump’s obsession with his predecessor. “It’s his only real position,” one European diplomat said. “He will ask: ‘Did Obama approve this?’ And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: ‘We don’t.’ He won’t even want to listen to the arguments or have a debate. He is obsessed with Obama.”
And while that’s plainly pathetic, it’s consistent with everything we’ve seen from this president – who seems to think about Barack Obama far more than he should, accusing him of all sorts of weird things, including secretly tapping his phones.
When was the last time we saw a president so preoccupied with his predecessor? It’s as if Trump defines himself by his impressions of Obama, and part of him realizes he’s not matching up well.