Barack Obama turns his sights on Donald Trump

Outgoing president looks to preserve his administration’s achievements while helping Hillary Clinton win in November

Obama addressing students at Rutgers University earlier this month.
Obama addressing students at Rutgers University earlier this month.EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ (AFP)
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Barack Obama entra en campaña contra Donald Trump

US President Barack Obama cannot run for a third term, but he is preparing what might be called his third presidential campaign.

If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination in mid-July and goes on to win the elections in November, he could jeopardize the achievements of the Obama administration.

A candidate who has based his campaign on insulting immigrants, Muslims and international allies might even potentially threaten the country’s world standing.

Obama has questioned Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” which seems to suggest the United States has entered an era of decline

Trump will almost certainly face Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton on November 8. The former secretary of state will have to wait until the Democratic Convention in late July, but her rival, Bernie Sanders, is already trailing too far behind to overtake her.

“Four more years!” a well-wisher shouted from the crowd on Sunday as Obama delivered a commencement speech at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “I can’t,” he replied, smiling. The Twenty-second Amendment ratified in 1951 forbids presidents to run for a third term. Obama’s second and final mandate will end on January 20, 2017, the day either Clinton or Trump takes over.

Over the last few months since the real estate mogul and reality television star unexpectedly emerged as the likely Republican nominee, Obama has spelled out his arguments against Trump in several speeches.

To begin with, Obama has questioned Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” which seems to suggest the United States has entered an era of decline: Trump claims only he can stop this downward spiral. Sanders largely shares the same catastrophic vision of the nation. Obama does not.

“America is better. The world is better. And stay with me now, race relations are better since I graduated,” he said on May 7 in his commencement speech to graduates at Howard University, the historically African-American institution in Washington.

Obama cited lower rates of poverty, crime, and teenage pregnancy, more women in the labor force and more African-American university graduates. “It also happens to be better off than when I took office,” he added.

It is a tradition for presidents to give commencement addresses to share their vision of the world beyond the bipartisan battles in Washington. Although Obama did not mention Trump explicitly at Rutgers, he certainly jumped into the fray saying: “When you hear someone longing for the ‘good old days,’ take it with a grain of salt...The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s becoming more connected every day. Building walls won’t change that,” he said, presumably referring to Trump’s proposals to build a wall along the border with Mexico to keep immigrants from entering the country.

Obama has also called Trump out on his unabashed political incorrectness and supposed willingness to call things by their name and to challenge political correctness.

“In politics, ignorance is not a virtue,” Obama added. “It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That's not keeping it real, or telling it like it is. That's not challenging political correctness.” He noted that when people get sick, they want an experienced doctor to treat them and that when they fly, they want experienced pilots.

“And yet in our public lives, we suddenly say, ‘I don’t want somebody who’s done it before’?” he asked derisively, referring to Trump’s lack of political experience, a factor that some pundits see as one of the most important reasons for his success as a presidential candidate.

Obama has not openly supported Clinton but he has suggested that she would be the best candidate to continue his policies. Key players in the Obama administration and associates who helped him during his past campaigns are now working for her.

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Similarly, the president has avoided mentioning Trump by name in his speeches, but it is clear he is not afraid to get his hands dirty in helping Clinton defeat her Republican rival.

What to do with Bill is the question Clinton must ask herself before November 8, given that the role played by her husband in the campaign so far has been ambivalent. The two-times former president is famous for his empathy and ability to connect with voters, but it has to be said he is not the force he was back in the 1990s, and has gone off script on a number of occasions over recent months.

It remains unclear what role he will play if Clinton becomes president, and it is hard to imagine him as a male version of the first lady. On Sunday, Hillary Clinton told supporters at an event in Kentucky that she will put him in charge of “revitalizing the economy” because “he knows how to do it.” The Democratic hopeful gave no further details regarding Bill’s role in her economic team.

 English version by Dyane Jean-François.

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