President Barack Obama has hammered Donald Trump for his "grab 'em by the pussy" comments, saying earlier this week that they’d disqualify someone applying to work at a 7-Eleven convenience store.
But during a speech in Ohio on Thursday, Obama primarily went after the Republican Party and its elected leaders for allowing Trump to become its presidential nominee in the first place.
"You claim the mantle of the party of family values, and this is the guy you nominate," Obama said, his words shot with irony.
Obama went on to blast Republicans:
They know better, a lot of these folks who ran, and they didn’t say anything, and so they don’t get credit for, at the very last minute, when finally the guy they nominated and they endorsed and they supported is caught on tape saying things that no decent person would even think, much less say, much less brag about, much less laugh about or joke about, much less act on.
You can’t wait until that finally happens and then say, "That’s too much, that’s enough," and think that somehow you are showing any kind of leadership.
There’s an important context for Obama’s speech: He was in Ohio to help drum up support for a down-ballot Democrat struggling mightily in a pivotal Senate race.
Ted Strickland, a former governor of Ohio, is down by about 15 points in most polls to incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman. But Trump is also losing in the state in most polls, suggesting there’s an opportunity for Democrats to narrow congressional races by emphasizing that their opponents have tolerated and abetted Trump.
Obama pressed that message, arguing that voters should see that Republican officeholders are responsible for creating Trump. As Trump has started fading in the polls, Democrats have begun thinking about taking Congress — and many think focusing on Trump is their best bet.
"If your only agenda is negative — negative’s a euphemism — crazy — based on lies, based on hoaxes, this is the nominee you get," Obama said about the Republican leaders. "You made it possible."
Obama: Trump is worse than most Republicans, but the Republicans still enabled Trump
As reported by BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer, Clinton’s campaign made the conscious decision back in May to characterize Trump not as an average Republican but as a foreign cancer that had invaded from outside.
"Clinton once cast Trump as a product of the same old Republican extremism Democrats always talk about," Cramer wrote. "Four months ago, her campaign blew it all up, arguing that Trump isn’t like any other Republican."
That decision has created a tension for Democrats. They want to insist that Trump is an aberration, something far beyond the normal course of partisan politics or the GOP, and thus uniquely unsuited for the presidency. But leading Democrats trying to win back Congress also want to say Trump is a normal Republican, and to say that his racism and misogyny reflects that of Republicans in Congress in general.
Obama tried to square that circle in his comments Thursday. Like Clinton’s campaign, he also characterized Trump as far worse than the rest of his party. "The problem is not that all Republicans think the way this guy does," Obama said.
But even if Trump is an abnormal break from the rest of the party, Obama added, the fact that they allowed him to take it over should also speak to the party’s overall extremism.
They've been feeding their base all kinds of crazy for years, primarily for political expedience. So if Trump was running around saying I wasn't born here, they were okay with that as long as it helped them with votes. If some of these folks on talk radio talked about how I was the antichrist, that's just politics.
They stood by while this happened … And Donald Trump — as he's prone to do — he didn't build the building himself, he just slapped his name on it and took credit for it. And that's what happened in their party. All that bile, all that exaggeration and stuff not grounded in fact, started bubbling up, surfacing. They knew better but didn't say anything.
In other words: Trump really may be much worse than the rest of the Republican Party. But the way Republicans let Trump take over their party should be a damning indictment of them, too.