Former President Barack Obama tore into President Donald Trump in a fiery speech Tuesday as unable to take “the job seriously,” faulting him for lacking a plan to address the coronavirus, emboldening racism, working to rip away health care protections without an alternative, tweeting conspiracy theories and engaging regularly in lies and indecent behavior.
It was a rare gloves-off moment for the popular former president in going after his successor, who trails Democratic nominee Joe Biden in polls less than two weeks from Election Day, in both personal and policy terms.
“His TV ratings are down. So you know that upsets him. But the thing is, this is not a reality show, this is reality,” Obama said at a drive-in rally in Philadelphia. “And the rest of us have to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously.”
“He did inherit the longest streak of job growth in history,” he added. “But just like everything else he inherited, he messed it up.”
Obama, who has been stingy with his public appearances but making targeted efforts to nudge voters to turn out, pleaded with Americans to cast ballots for Biden, his former vice president, and deliver Trump a defeat so resounding that he cannot try to de-legitimize the result.
The Biden campaign sees Obama as uniquely capable of reaching voters who are less enthusiastic about the current nominee, including Black men, Latinos and young Americans. The former president urged them not to allow a repeat of 2016, when low Democratic turnout contributed to Hillary Clinton’s narrow defeat.
While Biden is over-performing Obama’s margins in polls among seniors and white college graduates, he’s under-performing among Latinos and young people, who vote less regularly but are important to the Democratic coalition.
“We’ve got to turn out like never before. We cannot leave any doubt in this election,” he said. “We can’t be complacent. I don’t care about the polls. There were a whole bunch of polls last time. Didn’t work out. Because a whole bunch of folks stayed at home, and got lazy and complacent. Not this time. Not in this election.”
At a smaller roundtable with local officials in Philadelphia before the rally, Obama said he understood why young people can be disillusioned about voting, arguing that doesn’t make everything “perfect” but that it “makes everything better.”
The best way for leaders to encourage groups like young Black men to vote, he said, is to “advertise that it’s the cool thing and the right thing to do.”
Obama accused Trump and Republicans for working to rip away health care coverage by fighting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, his signature legislative achievement, without offering an alternative plan, calling their behavior “shameful.”
“It’s been comin’ in two weeks for the last 10 years. Where is it? Where is this great plan to replace Obamacare? They’ve had 10 years to do it,” he said at the rally. “They don’t have one.”
Obama faulted Trump for threatening to use the legal apparatus of the U.S. government against his political opponents, saying that’s “not normal presidential behavior.”
The ex-president mocked Trump for having a previously unknown Chinese bank account.
“He continues to do business with China, because he’s got a secret Chinese bank account. How is that possible?” he said. “Can you imagine if I had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for re-election? You think Fox News might’ve been a little concerned about that? They would’ve called me Beijing Barry!”
Ahead of Obama’s speech, Trump campaign manager Tim Murtaugh said, “Joe Biden is clearly not up to the rigors of campaigning for president, so he’s calling in Barack Obama as a reinforcement.”
“Biden has been a failure for 47 years in Washington and is now compromised by the Communist Party of China,” he said. “And Obama can’t help Biden defend his own record of putting foreign interests ahead of working Americans in bad trade policies, crushing our energy jobs under massive regulations, killing manufacturing jobs, and refusing to enforce our borders.”
Obama made the case for Biden and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, saying they’d attack the coronavirus with a national strategy and appoint qualified people and not “hacks” to run the government.
“With Joe and Kamala, you’re not going to have to think about the crazy things they say all day. And that’s worth a lot,” he said. “It just won’t be so exhausting.”