Obama’s tutorial for Trump
WASHINGTON– A new reality show debuted on Monday — “Presidential Apprentice.”
If there’s one way to get Donald Trump’s attention, it’s via television, and President Barack Obama used a White House news conference to openly coach the man who will succeed him in January.
Obama dispensed advice on how to do the top job and tips on how to behave as commander in chief, in a rolling presidential tutorial.
He also sought to reassure anxious Americans about the prospect of a volatile character like Trump in the Oval Office. Before embarking on his last foreign trip as president, Obama told a nervous world that the next president was committed to America’s overseas security alliances.
Obama also mounted a fierce defense of his own presidency — challenging Trump to build on his achievements not to destroy them and urged the new president to reach out to women and minorities scared about his impending administration.
But most of all, Obama appeared to be continuing a process he started last week in a 90-minute White House meeting to get Trump, who has no government experience whatsoever, up to speed before his inauguration on January 20.
“As I said to the President-elect when we had our discussions … campaigning is different from governing. I think he recognizes that. I think he’s sincere in wanting to be a successful president,” Obama said.
Only a week ago, Obama was on the campaign trail in New Hampshire for Hillary Clinton, branding Trump unfit to handle the nuclear codes. Yet on Monday, the President argued that the magnitude and the stakes that come with being the most powerful man in the world would moderate Trump’s rhetoric and behavior.
“Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up,” Obama said. “Those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don’t match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick because reality has a way of asserting itself.”
But the President also warned that the flamboyant rhetoric and freewheeling behavior on which Trump built his political brand, could backfire as president.
In effect he was telling Trump: Be careful what you say.
“I think what will happen with the President-elect is there are going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well unless he recognizes them and corrects them,” Obama said. “When you’re a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you’re president of the United States.
“Everybody around the world’s paying attention. Markets move. National security issues require a level of precision in order to make sure that you don’t make mistakes,” he added.
Trump’s supporters are unlikely to embrace the idea that Obama has anything to teach Trump. Many of them believe his presidency has been a disaster at home and abroad and reveled in the denunciations of the President by Trump on the campaign trail. Many conservatives meanwhile find Obama professorial and patronizing, so may also balk at his performance on Monday.
And even though Trump has expressed appreciation for his treatment by the President since the election, he grabbed power by breaking every single convention in the political rulebook — and may be planning to do the same to the presidency.
Leaks about the kind of people under consideration for Trump Cabinet appointments meanwhile appear to indicate that the next President has every intention of carrying out the anti-Obama agenda he campaigned on.
The Republican Party is also salivating, with control over Congress, the White House, and soon with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, about eradicating Obama’s legacy.
That is one reason why Obama’s supporters, who watched their President humiliated by what many saw as Trump’s racist birtherism campaign, might be puzzled about the outgoing commander in chief’s magnanimity.
With that in mind, he stressed that he had clear differences with Trump.
“Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Of course I have got concerns. You know, he and I differ on a whole bunch of issues,” Obama said.
But the advice did not stop coming.
Obama said the most important point he made to Trump was the need to set up a proficient staffing structure, including the chief of staff, national security adviser and White House counsel.
“I hope it was useful,” Obama said. “I hope that he appreciated that advice.”
No one really knows what Obama is thinking behind his cool cat demeanor or if he is still harboring hidden grief at the prospect of his eight years of achievements being wiped out.
Some White House officials however have privately expressed surprise at how little the incoming Trump team understands about running a government, and top staffers remain shocked at Clinton’s defeat.
Yet the emerging detente between Obama and Trump is fast becoming one of the most intriguing relationships in politics.
The President asked Americans to give his successor time and said it would not be right for him to weigh in on the appointment as a top White House adviser of Steve Bannon, a firebrand who has close links to the alt-right white nationalist movement on the conservative fringe.
He did reveal another nugget of advice he gave to Trump on Thursday: “One of the things I advised him to do was to make sure that, before he commits to certain courses of action, he has really dug in and thought through how various issues play themselves out.”
While never saying specifically that he believed Trump was qualified to be president, Obama did speak almost admiringly of the “Trump phenomenon” and the real estate mogul’s connection with his political base.
“That’s powerful stuff,” he said, and praised Trump as a pragmatist and not an ideologue.
In fact, Obama was so complimentary towards Trump that it was tempting to wonder whether he had ulterior motives beyond the smooth transfer of power.
Certainly, the President could benefit from having Trump’s ear if any of his legacy is to survive.
He has already impressed upon Trump how he might be advised to retain some of the more popular provisions of Obamacare, which the new president has vowed to repeal.
And he may have observed that people who are nice to Trump and show him respect appear to have more influence than the President-elect than those who dismiss him out of hand.
But while he was surprisingly cordial to his successor, Obama also spelled out a clear warning. He made a case that he had nurtured the country back to health after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and offered the American people yardstick to judge the new presidency.
“I think the President-elect rightly would expect that he is judged on whether we improve from that baseline and on those metrics or things get worse. And if things get worse, then the American people will figure that out pretty quick,” Obama said.
Obama made a case that some of his proudest political achievements, including the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement reflected the gap between rhetoric and reality in Washington.
He said both were examples of international agreements that bind other countries into action that was beneficial to the US were the kind of deals that should be carried on across administrations.
Amid reports of hate crimes and deep anxiety among some ethnic groups about Trump’s campaign rhetoric, Obama also advised his successor to reach out and do more to unite the nation.
“It’s really important to try to send some signals of unity and to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign,” Obama said.
If there was an common theme to Obama’s appearance, it was that the campaign is over, and it’s now time for Trump to step up.
“Now comes the hard part,” Obama said. “Now is governance.”