As Barack Obama delivered what was his harshest warning yet about Donald Trump, telling Democratic Convention viewers in a live speech that what is at stake is “our democracy,” the president went off on Twitter.
Obama’s remarks were unusual and even unprecedented in their criticism of a presidential successor.
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama said in his speech. “And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”
As Obama was delivering his remarks live from at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, Trump tweeted, in all caps, “HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, AND GOT CAUGHT!”
Trump has long made unfounded claims that Obama was behind the FBI investigation of contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian sources in 2016. Factcheck.org says that investigators have found no evidence of illegal spying.
He then tweeted, “WHY DID HE REFUSE TO ENDORSE SLOW JOE UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE? WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?”
Obama stayed out of the 2020 primary race and did not endorse until the race was all but over.
Obama also used the speech to lay out the case for Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. His remarks were preceded by a video of a moment in early 2017 when Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He said that Biden “made me a better president – and he’s got the character and the experience to make us a better country.”
“Tonight, I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of these dark times and build it back better,” Obama said. “But here’s the thing: no single American can fix this country alone. Not even a president. Democracy was never meant to be transactional – you give me your vote; I make everything better. It requires an active and informed citizenry.”
Obama words about Trump were notable because the 44th president has shown relative restraint in criticizing his successor, weighing in only occasionally as parts of his agenda were rolled back.
Historian Michael Beschloss tweeted out, “No former President has ever attacked his incumbent successor at a convention like Barack Obama tonight, or even come close.”
Standing in front of an exhibit on the U.S. Constitution, Obama said, “I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president. I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.”
Obama added, “But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
As the president live-tweeted during the speech, some observers noted that Trump was merely proving Obama’s point. Jonathan Martin, national correspondent for The New York Times, wrote, “Shorter Obama: come on, man, guy is just watching TV all day.”