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Obama: Trump 'taking advantage' of voters' anxieties

President Barack Obama speaks to the media during his year end news conference in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on Dec. 18, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)
President Barack Obama speaks to the media during his year end news conference in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on Dec. 18, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama called GOP presidential contender Donald Trump out by name in a wide-ranging interview released Monday by National Public Radio.

The president has publicly slammed Trump's plan to deport several million undocumented immigrants and criticized his comments questioning Sen. John McCain's heroism earlier in his campaign, but this is the first time the president has addressed the candidate by name since he proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. following an apparent ISIS-inspired shooting in San Bernadino, California.

While Obama has alluded to the dangers of some of the anti-Muslim rhetoric coming from the right in the past, he has been careful not to engage Trump directly. But in his interview with NPR, the president accused the GOP front-runner of stoking anxieties over the economy and terrorism within the blue-collar community for selfish reasons.

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“I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That’s what he’s exploiting during the course of his campaign,” Obama told NPR.

The president didn’t stop there. He went on to resurrect the elephant in the room – birtherism — which in many ways propelled Trump into the world of politics and has put him in Obama’s crosshairs in the past.

Obama said there are “specific strains in the Republican Party that suggest that somehow I’m different, I’m Muslim, I’m disloyal to the country, etc. — which unfortunately is pretty far out there, and gets some traction in certain pockets of the Republican Party, and that have been articulated by some of their elected officials — what I’d say there is that that’s probably pretty specific to me, and who I am and my background."

“In some ways, I may represent change that worries them,” he added.

In 2011, Trump led a one-man media campaign to question Obama’s legitimacy as an American citizen, even dispatching investigators to try to uncover proof that was not born in Hawaii. The president grudgingly revealed his long form birth certificate confirming his U.S. citizenship at a press conference in April, hoping to put the "silliness" to rest for good.

Trump later gloated that he had forced the president’s hand, and would continue to question the validity of the president’s birth certificate over the next several years. Obama ridiculed Trump in May 2011 during a White House Correspondent’s Dinner in an a performance that was widely perceived as a win over the perpetual thorn in his side. This year, Obama scored laughs off the former reality star at the Correspondent's Dinner again, when he quipped: “And Donald Trump is here ... Still.

During the 2016 campaign season, Trump has not been shy about making personal attacks on the president, at one point questioning his sanity with regards to his strategy regarding ISIS.

Although, Trump has avoided revisiting allegations about the president’s faith or birthplace, he refused to correct a supporter at a campaign event who called Obama a Muslim and has claimed there's “something going on with him that we don't know about.”

In the NPR interview, Obama defended his administration's strategy on ISIS, which he said would prevail while remaining "consistent with American values."

"The most damage they can do ... is if they start changing how we live and what our values are," Obama said.