President Barack Obama on Tuesday said Donald Trump will never be president as he sought to portray Republicans in the race unacceptable, and even disconcerting, on the world stage.
Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, he said, is troubling but others in the race have expressed similar anti-immigrant sentiments, and they are all “denying climate change”.
Foreign observers “are troubled by some of the rhetoric that’s been taking place in these Republican primaries and Republican debates”, he said at the conclusion of the US-ASEAN summit.
Ploughing into the 2016 race just days ahead of the Saturday Republican primary in South Carolina — Democrats caucus in Nevada the same day — Obama slammed Trump.
He said he continues to believe Trump “will not be President” because “I have a lot of faith in the American people, and I think they recognise that being President is a serious job”.
“It’s not hosting a talk show or a reality show,” he added, referring to Trump’s popular TV show “The Apprentice” (later called The Celebrity Apprentice) but without naming it.
Trump hit back in a tweet Wednesday: “Interesting how President Obama so haltingly said I ‘would never be president’ - This from perhaps the worst president in U.S. history!”
Interesting how President Obama so haltingly said I "would never be president" - This from perhaps the worst president in U.S. history!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2016
But the president attacked others in the Republican field too. Ted Cruz, for instance, was the target when he said others have taken a strong anti-immigrant position as well.
And, again without naming him, Obama slammed Marco Rubio for disavowing a 2013 immigration reforms bill he co-authored as a member of bipartisan group of senators.
“You’ve got a candidate who sponsored a bill – that I supported – to finally solve the immigration problem, and he’s running away from it as fast as he can,” Obama said.
He added, hitting a pet theme: “They’re all denying climate change. I think that’s troubling to the international community, since the science is unequivocal.”
But he didn’t name anyone other than Trump. And that, said some experts, may have been deliberate. By naming Trump, the president had elevated him above the rest of the field in the eyes of Republicans — it was Trump vs Obama.
Democrats are more comfortable having their candidate — Hillary Clinton, possibly — run against the divisive Trump who looks forever ready to self-destruct.
And not, they argue, go up against a rival much like herself, such as Rubio, who is currently the favourite of the Republican establishment, and is running second in national polls.
Trump, of course, believes he can beat Clinton. But his own party is sceptical, and worries that by the time he were to win the nomination, he would have antagonised everyone but the Republican base rooting for him now.
Where the candidates stand in RealClearPolitics average of national polls:
* Donald Trump — 31.7%
* Marco Rubio — 20.3%
* Ted Cruz — 19.7%
* Ben Carson — 6.7%
* John Kasich — 5.7%
* Hillary Clinton — 49.0%
* Bernie Sanders — 35.3%