Before the election, President Barack Obama warned that Donald Trump was unfit to serve in the White House.
But now that Trump has been elected and will take office in January, the 44th president even had some favorable things to say about his successor. Speaking at the White House before he leaves on his final trip overseas, Obama said he complimented Trump at their meeting last week.
“We had a very cordial conversation and that didn’t surprise me, to some degree because I think that he is obviously a gregarious person,” Obama said. “He’s somebody who I think likes to mix it up and to have a vigorous debate.”
And he said Trump tapped voters’ anxiety, but also enthusiasm “in a way that was impressive.” The connection that Trump made with voters, Obama said, allowed him to withstand events that might have torpedoed another candidate.
“That’s powerful stuff,” Obama said.
He also suggested the Republican is coming to the White House “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 is pragmatic in that way. And that can serve him well as long as he has got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction.”
Obama has sought to make the transition between presidents seamless and said he’s urged Trump to reach out to groups worried about the harsh nature of his campaign.
“Because of the nature of the campaigns and the bitterness and ferocity of the campaigns that it’s really important to try to send some signals of unity,” Obama said. “I think that’s something that he will want to do but this is all happening real fast.”
Obama noted Trump has commitments to supporters that helped to win the White House “and he’s going to have to balance those over the coming weeks and months and years.”
Trump’s decision to appoint the pugnacious Breitbart editor Steve Bannon as a senior strategist has infuriated some groups, but Obama held his tongue, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate “if I want to be consistent with the notion that we are going to try to facilitate a smooth transition.”
Those who didn’t vote for Trump have to realize it’s up to him to set up his own team, Obama said.
“That’s how democracy works. That’s how this system operates,” said Obama, who nevertheless sounded a rueful note that 43 percent of those eligible to vote had not done so.
Obama said he believes Trump is sincere in “wanting to be a successful president and moving this country forward.”
He continued, “I don’t think any president ever comes in saying to himself, ‘I want to figure out how to make people angry or alienate half the country.’ I think he’s going to try as best he can to make sure that he delivers not only to the people who voted for him but for the people at large.”
And he noted, “the good thing is that there are going to be elections coming up so there’s a built-in incentive for him to try to do that.”
He noted he had considerable differences with Trump and concerns about him taking office. But he suggested Trump can’t make huge changes in a hurry.
“The federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat. It’s an oceanliner, as I discovered when I came into office,” Obama said, throwing a bit of shade as he asserted that “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.”