In recent weeks, the Republican campaign to blame President Obama for Donald Trump’s rise has become surprisingly common. What started with a silly piece from the Wall Street Journal editorial board has spread and evolved to other pundits and even some politicians.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said last week that “what’s happening in the Republican primary” is at least partly the result of “years of anger with the overreach of the Obama administration.” Soon after, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) argued that were it not for the Democratic president’s level-headed style, Republicans wouldn’t have felt obligated to support such a fool.
Yesterday, a reporter asked the president, “Some of your critics have pointed to the incredibly polarized political climate under your administration as contributing to the rise of someone as provocative as Donald Trump. Do you feel responsibility for that?” Given his response, it appears Obama has given the issue some thought.
“I’ve actually heard this argument a number of times. I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is novel.“Look, I’ve said – I said it at the State of the Union that one of my regrets is the degree to which polarization and the nasty tone of our politics has accelerated rather than waned over the course of the last seven and a half years. And I do all kinds of soul-searching in terms of are there things I can do better to make sure that we’re unifying the country. But I also have to say, Margaret, that, objectively, it’s fair to say that the Republican political elites and many of the information outlets – social media, news outlets, talk radio, television stations – have been feeding the Republican base for the last seven years a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a ‘them’ out there and an ‘us,’ and ‘them’ are the folks who are causing whatever problems you’re experiencing.”
The president added that it’s the Republicans’ efforts from recent years that’s responsible for “creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive. He’s just doing more of what has been done for the last seven and a half years…. [T]here are thoughtful conservatives who are troubled by this, who are troubled by the direction of their party. I think it is very important for them to reflect on what it is about the politics they’ve engaged in that allows the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire, and to do some introspection.”
That’d be easier, of course, if there were more in the GOP prepared to identify the intra-party crisis that opened the door to Trump, and fewer looking for ways to blame Democrats.
Obama went on to say that he actually wants “an effective Republican Party,” not for reasons that have anything to do with electoral politics, but because the country “has to have responsible parties that can govern, and that are prepared to lead and govern whether they’re in the minority or in the majority, whether they occupy the White House or they do not. And I’ve often said I want a serious, effective Republican Party – in part to challenge some of the blind spots and dogmas in the Democratic Party. I think that’s useful.”
I’m very much inclined to agree, though by all appearances, such a dynamic is not yet on the horizon.