Follow @lynnsweetWASHINGTON — A little more than a week after President Barack Obama said President-elect Donald Trump was “uniquely unqualified” and “temperamentally unfit” to be commander in chief, Obama is coaching him how to do the job.
“And my advice, as I said, to the President-elect when we had our discussions was that campaigning is different from governing. I think he recognizes that. I think he’s sincere in wanting to be a successful president and moving this country forward,” Obama said on Monday at his first press conference since the election.
Obama spent 90 minutes with Trump last Thursday in the Oval Office, offering the government novice a crash course on the presidency.
Trump, a reality show star and real estate tycoon, comes to the White House with no government or military experience and as protests over his election are breaking out across the U.S.
Obama discussed his meeting with Trump shortly before departing on his last overseas trip to Greece, Germany and Peru, advising him to reach out to women and minorities.
Follow @lynnsweetHe is giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, even as Trump chose Stephen Bannon as a senior strategist. Bannon is a divisive figure and chairman of Breitbart News, a web publication that critics say provides a platform for white nationalism. His appointment is Trump’s first self-induced controversy since winning the White House in a shocking upset over Hillary Clinton last week.
The enormity of the presidency is sinking in for Trump.
Trump seemed surprised foreign leaders were calling to congratulate him on his CBS’ “60 Minutes” interview. “Boy, this really shows you how powerful our country is,” he said. The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s team was not aware that all of Obama’s White House appointees clear out on by noon on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.
Trump, whose presidential run was fueled by his embrace of the “birther movement,” questioning the legitimacy of the first African-American president as someone who not born in the U.S., is a willing student of the two-term president.
That 90-minute meeting last week “could have gone on for four hours,” Trump told 60 Minutes. “. . . It was almost hard breaking it up.”
Obama declined to wade into the Bannon controversy.
“Without copping out, I think it’s fair to say that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on every appointment that the President-elect starts making if I want to be consistent with the notion that we’re going to try to facilitate a smooth transition,” the president said.
Obama has a self-interest in tutoring Trump, who pledged to wipe out key Obama legacy items as soon as he gets into office. Maybe, if they forge a relationship, Obama can convince Trump — now that the campaign is over and he does not need to excoriate Obama — to see some issues in a more expansive light.
For example, Obama is urging Trump not to wipe out his executive order that allows “Dreamers,” immigrant youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own, to remain here.
Trump may turn out to be flexible.
“I also think that he is coming to this office with fewer set hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with. I don’t think he is ideological. I think ultimately he’s pragmatic in that way. And that can serve him well, as long as he’s got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction,” Obama said.
Deconstructing Obama’s legacy can’t all be undone with the stroke of a pen. Government is hard to move, Obama observed, even if the Republicans control the House, Senate and the White House.
“Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Of course, I’ve got concerns. He and I differ on a whole bunch of issues. But the federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat, it’s an ocean liner — as I discovered when I came into office. It took a lot of really hard work for us to make significant policy changes — even in our first two years, when we had larger majorities than Mr. Trump will enjoy when he comes into office.”
Obama was his most direct when it came to his advice for Trump on the matter of his temperament. He told him to fix it.
“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. “Because 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 is paying attention.”