WASHINGTON – Previewing his midterm elections campaign message, former President Barack Obama on Friday launched a direct and blistering attack on President Donald Trump and Republicans and called on Americans to get to the ballot box in November to “restore some semblance of sanity to our politics.”
At one point referencing the “crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House,” Obama told students and others gathered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that even if they don’t agree with Democrats on certain issues, they should still be “concerned with our current course” and want to see a “restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in government.”
“It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents,” he said, a reference to Trump’s demands. “Or to explicitly call on the attorney general to protect members of our own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up.”
Obama’s scathing attack on Trump comes during a tumultuous week for the White House and represents a departure for Obama, who has kept a low profile since leaving office. He has typically avoided even mentioning Trump by name in speeches.
Not on Friday.
More: Transcript of former President Obama’s speech, blasting President Trump
Speaking to a packed auditorium with about 1,100 students, faculty and community members, he said young people are coming of age during a time when the powerful and privileged are pushing back on America’s ideals.
“It did not start with Donald Trump,” Obama said. “He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.”
The solution, he said, is not the purported resistance movement inside the administration that is working to thwart Trump’s worst impulses, as described by a senior official who this week wrote an anonymous New York Times op-ed. Obama said that’s not how democracy is supposed to work.
“They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House, and then saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’re preventing the other 10 percent,'” he said. “There is actually only one real check on bad policy and abuses of power, and that’s you. You and your vote.”
Trump mocked Obama’s speech before supporters in North Dakota.
“I’m sorry, I watched it, but I fell asleep … I found he’s very good – very good for sleeping,” he said.
Later, as he made his pitch for Republican candidates, Trump told his supporters: “Isn’t this much more exciting than listening to President Obama’s speech?”
Some Republicans pounced on Obama’s remarks to bash his two terms in office and defend Trump.
“The more President @BarackObama speaks about the ‘good ole years’ of his presidency, the more likely President @realDonaldTrump is to get re-elected,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted. “In fact, the best explanation of President Trump’s victory are the “results” of the Obama Presidency!”
Said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens: “In 2016, voters rejected President Obama’s policies and his dismissiveness toward half the country. Doubling down on that strategy won’t work in 2018 either.”
Obama also unloaded on the Republican Party, saying that it has become a home for the politics of “division, of resentment and paranoia” and that its members are abdicating their responsibilities by doing nothing “when the president does something crazy.”
Obama blamed the GOP for unwinding campaign finance laws, attacking voting rights, handing out tax cuts without regard to deficits, casting votes to deprive people of their health insurance, rejecting science and undermining alliances. He also questioned a “cozying up” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“What happened to the Republican Party?” he said.
Obama said it’s not an exaggeration to say the midterm elections are the most important in his lifetime.
“As a fellow citizen, not as an ex-president … I am here to deliver a simple message, and that is that you need to vote because our democracy depends on it,” he said.
The speech comes ahead of his first midterm campaign events, beginning Saturday, in the political battleground of Orange County, California, where he will stump for several Democratic House candidates.
More: These are the women candidates making history in 2018
More: Civil rights groups on high alert for cyberthreats
Obama heads to Cleveland on Sept. 13 to campaign for Ohio Democratic gubernatorial nominee Richard Cordray. He also will campaign this month in Illinois and Pennsylvania and will headline a fundraiser for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in New York City.
Last month, Obama released a first round of endorsements – 81 candidates up and down the ballot – and there will be a second round of endorsements and additional campaign activity in advance of the midterms, according to his office.
Katie Hill, Obama’s communications director, said Obama hopes to use his standing across the country to help elect Democrats.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers said Friday that Obama’s campaign events will help Republicans.
“For three cycles President Obama fired up Republicans like nobody, and I’m happy if he wants to do it again,” he said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington.
Obama’s re-emergence comes as both parties are girding for a November election widely seen as a referendum on Trump. The outcome will decide control of Congress and three dozen gubernatorial contests.
Analysts say Obama’s star status among Democrats will help drive turnout among African-American, Latino and young voters in key suburban House districts and cities. They also said he is better positioned than almost anyone else in the party to raise huge amounts of campaign cash.
Obama left office with a 57 percent approval rating, and like most presidents, his standing has only improved since departing the West Wing. More than six in 10 respondents to a Gallup Poll released in February said they approved of the way Obama handled the job.
Former first lady Michelle Obama, a co-chair of the group When We All Vote, also ia getting involved. She is urging Americans to participate in a week of action, Sept. 22 through 29, to get people registered to vote.
“My father taught me that voting is a sacred responsibility, one that none of us can take for granted,” she tweeted last month. “And #WhenWeAllVote, we can make our voices heard.”
My father taught me that voting is a sacred responsibility, one that none of us can take for granted. And #WhenWeAllVote, we can make our voices heard.
Join me and @WhenWeAllVote for a Week of Action this September to get fired up for Election Day: http://whenweallvote.org/events
10:53 PM – Aug 22, 2018
30K people are talking about this
Twitter Ads info and privacy
Former President Barack Obama is throwing his weight behind a long list of Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. USA TODAY