Obama blasts Trump in strongest attack ever; urges Republicans to abandon billionaire as ‘unfit’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2016, 3:50am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2016, 6:34am

President Barack Obama, delivering his strongest condemnation of Donald Trump yet, said the Republican presidential nominee is unprepared and unfit to hold the nation’s highest office and urged Republican leaders to disavow his candidacy.

Trump “doesn’t appear to have basic knowledge around critical issues” in Europe, the Middle East or Asia, and he’s shown himself to be “woefully unprepared to do this job,” Obama said in response to a question at a White House news conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Obama questioned how top Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and veteran lawmakers like Senator John McCain, can regularly denounce Trump’s statements while still supporting his bid for the presidency.

“The question I think they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?” Obama said. “What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer? This isn’t a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily. Weekly.”

Obama said he never had reason to question the qualifications or fitness for office of the Republicans who ran against him, McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

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Trump has become embroiled in numerous controversies through his campaign, including suggesting former POW McCain wasn’t a hero, saying a federal judge was biased because of his Mexican ancestry, and, more recently, disparaging a Muslim couple, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was an Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004, after they criticised his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country at the Democratic convention last week.

Later on Tuesday, Trump stunningly withheld his support from top Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. In an affront to his party’s top elected official, Trump told The Washington Post he wasn’t “quite there yet” on an endorsement for Ryan in his primary next week.

Trump’s refusal to back Ryan exposed anew the deep divisions within the party and underscored that the businessman rarely plays by the traditional political playbook. Ryan has been among those urging Republicans to rally around Trump, despite concerns about his candidacy.

Ryan’s campaign said, “Neither Speaker Ryan nor anyone on his team has ever asked for Donald Trump’s endorsement. And we are confident in a victory next week regardless.”

Trump also said he was not supporting Senator John McCain in his primary in Arizona, and he dismissed Senator Kelly Ayotte as a weak and disloyal leader in New Hampshire.

“The question I think they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?”
US President Barack Obama of Republican leaders who endorse Trump

In additional remarks at a news conference and in interviews last week, Trump also appeared to be confused or ignorant of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine since 2014; asked the Russian government to hack into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails -- he later said he was being sarcastic -- and criticised four-star Marine Corps General John Allen after he also denounced Trump’s policies at the Democratic convention.

“There has to come a point at which you say someone who makes those kinds of statements doesn’t have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding to occupy the most powerful position in the world,” Obama said.

Trump responded by issuing a statement attacking the records of Obama and Clinton, who was his first secretary of state.

“Our nation has been humiliated abroad and compromised by radical Islam brought onto our shores,” he said. Obama and Clinton “have betrayed our security and our workers, and Hillary Clinton has proven herself unfit to serve in any government office.”

Obama has increasingly voiced criticism of Trump, both directly and by implication. Tuesday’s remarks, at a news conference alongside a foreign leader, were his most withering.

They also were the most direct challenge to Republican Party leaders.

A few Republican officeholders have said they won’t back Trump, including Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. New York Representative Richard Hanna on Tuesday became the first Republican member of Congress to say he’s backing Clinton, calling Trump unfit. Other Republicans involved in politics also have repudiated Trump.

Obama has made clear he expects Clinton will carry on his legacy, and he plans to campaign on her behalf before the November election.

She has lined up allies outside of politics, including respected Independent Michael Bloomberg and billionaire investors Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban, to attack Trump’s qualifications as well.

Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

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She and Obama have been making appeals to Republican voters disillusioned by Trump,partly by portraying him as outside the party’s mainstream.

While Trump has become practised at overcoming remarks that would be politically toxic to more conventional politicians, he now trails Clinton by 4.4 percentage points, according to an average of head-to-head polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.

Obama plans to hit the campaign trail in earnest with Clinton in September. His goal is motivate his base of young and minority voters, some of whom are uneasy or apathetic about Clinton as the party’s 2016 nominee.