President Obama has a simple message when it comes Donald Trump: Don’t blame me.
But then he continues with a not-so-simple message that happens to fit with Democratic campaign themes.
The capital may be buzzing about the visit by Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, but at yesterday's White House news conference, the press quickly got to The Donald.
CBS reporter Margaret Brennan asked whether Obama and his administration were “contributing to the rise of someone as provocative as Donald Trump.”
The president seemed bemused, saying: "I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is novel.”
Embedded in the question, it seems to me, is the implication that the Trump phenomenon is a bad thing and Obama might bear some responsibility—beyond the obvious fact that voters often choose a president who is far different from his predecessor. Commentators have spent all kinds of ink and airtime trying to “blame” the media, the culture, and the Republican Party itself for Trump’s dominance in the primaries so far.
In fact, Obama soon pivoted to faulting the GOP—which happens to be a prime Hillary talking point. And no, I am not shocked that he is trying to help his former secretary of State (who he pretty obviously favors over Bernie Sanders) in the race to succeed him.
Obama accused the Republican Party of “creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive. He’s just doing more of what has been done for the last 7-1/2 years.” Then he zeroed in on immigration: “It’s not as if there’s a massive difference between Mr. Trump’s position on immigration and Mr. Cruz’s position on immigration. Mr. Trump might just be more provocative in terms of how he says it, but the actual positions aren’t that different.”
In other words, those Republicans, they’re all a little crazy. This, of course, ignores the fact that Cruz and Rubio are aggressively attacking Trump as unqualified for the presidency, and Trump is hitting them back even harder.
And hey,when Obama spoke of a GOP “crackup” and “circus,” some Republicans and conservative commentators have used similar language in ripping Trump’s impact on the party. It’s hardly amazing that a Democrat would pile on.
But Obama also wandered into familiar territory: blaming the conservative media.
He said he regrets the “polarization” and “nasty tone” of politics, and that he does “soul-searching” about how he can better unify the country.
But the president also said—“objectively”--that “the Republican political elites and many of the information outlets -- social media, news outlets, talk radio, television stations -- have been feeding the Republican base for the last seven years a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a ‘them’ out there and an ‘us,’ and ‘them’ are the folks who are causing whatever problems you’re experiencing.”
Well, some conservatives have worked hard to block Obama, and the Republican Congress hasn’t been very cooperative, with the Senate even ruling out action on a Supreme Court nominee before the president has picked anyone. But that is a two-way street, and Obama and the Democrats have also failed to find common ground.
But on the business about TV and radio and social media outlets: The president of the United States has the biggest megaphone of all. He can drown out any talk show host, blogger or tweeter. He often seems to use media criticism as a crutch to explain away his shortcomings and setbacks.
And now he has a new target in the Republican front-runner who wants his job.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.