Former President Barack Obama and his successor Donald Trump went head to head in dueling rallies on Friday, swapping sharp insults as they made their closing pitches to voters in the final days before the high-stakes 2018 midterm elections.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Miami for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Obama bluntly accused Trump of lying and sowing division in a nation racked by polarization. Obama only recently decided to stop holding back, and at Friday’s rally the former president called Trump’s “constant fear-mongering” a desperate attempt to mobilize Republican voters.
”When words don’t mean anything, when truth doesn’t matter, when people can just lie with abandon, democracy can’t work,” Obama said.
Obama also slammed Trump and Republicans for manufacturing a crisis around a caravan of Central American refugees traveling toward the US.
“We have seen repeated attempts to divide us with rhetoric designed to make us angry and make us fearful, that’s designed to exploit our history of racial and ethnic and religious division,” he said.
When pro-Trump hecklers began harassing him at various points during the rally, Obama seemed to relish the opportunity to respond.
”Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?” he said, to applause and laughter from the crowd. “When I won the presidency, at least my side felt pretty good.”
"Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?" former Pres. Obama asks at Miami rally.— ABC News (@ABC) November 2, 2018
"When I won the presidency, at least my side felt pretty good." https://t.co/knKc448r9i pic.twitter.com/2zaqg0di0Y
“You know what, it’s an old playbook,” Obama said. “It’s one that the powerful and privileged turn to whenever control starts slipping away.”
“They’ll get folks riled up just to protect their power and their privilege, even when it hurts the country, even when it puts people at risk,” he added.
At a rally in West Virginia, Trump said that he had watched Obama’s speech, and then slammed Obama’s legacy.
“Lie after lie, broken promise after broken promise. That’s what he did,” Trump said.
Trump is pursuing an aggressive premidterms push of his own: He will have spoken at more than 30 rallies in the past five weeks before the election; 10 were in the past two weeks alone.
Later, while speaking at another rally in Indianapolis, Trump brought up Obama’s speech again and fixated on the size of the crowd he drew.
“I watched him speak today, he had a very small crowd, they don’t talk about that, and they never talk about how big our crowds are,” Trump said.
Obama’s done holding back
For the past two years Obama has generally chosen to stay out of the public arena, observing the tradition of nonpartisan respect former presidents offer each other and their successors. While he has endorsed Democratic candidates, helped with fundraising efforts, and given occasional speeches, he’s tended to shy away from blunt and public politicking. Up until mid-October, he had held just three campaign events in 2018.
He reportedly didn’t want to eclipse the next generation of Democratic leaders.
But in the final weeks before the midterms, that deference has been outweighed as the stakes became clearer. Obama has ramped up his appearance at campaign events — later on Friday, he hit the trail in Georgia for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams — and hasn’t held back from fierce partisan criticism.
“This November’s elections are more important than any I can remember in my lifetime,” Obama said during his rally for Abrams.