At his first news conference following his party’s shocking loss at the ballot box last week, President Obama appeared to needle Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign for not paying enough attention to rural voters who eventually handed President-elect Donald Trump the upset victory.
“When your team loses, everybody gets deflated, and it’s hard, and it’s challenging,” Obama said. “I think it’s a healthy thing for the Democratic Party to go through some reflection.”
“We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere,” the president said, noting that when he was campaigning he went to many rural places in a very white, blue-collar state like Iowa and ended up winning twice. Clinton lost the state by 10 points.
“I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa,” Obama continued. “It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town.”
But now the two-term Democratic president is tasked with overseeing a peaceful transfer of power to a man he repeatedly called unqualified to succeed him in the Oval Office.
“This office is bigger than any one person, and that’s why ensuring a smooth transition is so important,” the president said, taking questions before he departs on a weeklong trip to Greece, Germany and Peru to meet with foreign leaders.
Throughout much of the news conference, it sounded like Obama was trying to reassure many worried Americans and leaders abroad about an incoming President Trump. He said that at their meeting last week, the president-elect said he would maintain the U.S. commitment to NATO — something the GOP nominee himself questioned on the campaign trail.
“This office has a way of waking you up. Campaigning is different from governing. I think he recognizes that,” the president continued, echoing a theme he would return to many times.
“I don’t think any president comes in saying to himself, ‘I want to make people angry, or alienate half the country,’ ” Obama said, striking a hopeful tone and adding that he didn’t believe Trump was “ideological. Ultimately he’s pragmatic.”
He was pressed by reporters on some of Trump’s recent hires, notably former Breitbart News Chairman Steve Bannon to be a senior adviser and chief strategist. Bannon and Breitbart have ties to the alt-right movement, which is associated with white nationalism.
Obama sidestepped a direct question on Bannon, instead simply saying, “It would not be appropriate for me to comment on every appointment the president-elect starts making.”
But the president had words of caution for his unlikely successor, too. “Do I have concerns? Absolutely. He and I differ on a whole bunch of issues,” Obama said, adding that there are “certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well, unless he recognizes them and corrects [them].”