He made up a story about President Barack Obama trying “11 times” to call Kim Jong Un. He expressed suspicion of Obama’s post-presidency Netflix deal and book deal. He claimed he, “not Obama,” captured ISIS prisoners.
President Donald Trump mentioned his predecessor’s name 10 times in one Cabinet meeting two weeks ago. All 10 were unprompted.
Trump has had a years-long fixation with Obama that predates his presidential campaign. But it has appeared to intensify in recent months, at least judging by the frequency of his public disparagement.
October capped a five-month stretch in which Trump talked or tweeted about Obama far more than he did at any other point in his presidency.
Trump used Obama’s name 106 times in June, the most of any month of his presidency; 80 times in October, his third-highest monthly total; 68 times in July, his fourth-highest monthly total; 61 times in August, his fifth-highest monthly total; and 51 times in September, his ninth-highest monthly total.
Over the five-month period, Trump mentioned Obama an average of 2.4 times per day. If you add in his 69 mentions of the “previous administration” or “last administration,” it was 2.8 times per day.
Through October, Trump had mentioned Obama by name 537 times during 2019 as a whole – an average of 1.8 times per day. That’s a 36% increase from the 395 mentions (1.3 per day) Trump made of Obama in 2018 through October of that year and a 169% increase from the 200 mentions in 2017 (0.7 per day) through October of that year.
All of the data in this article is courtesy of Bill Frischling of Factba.se, the excellent website that tracks all of Trump’s public utterances.
The increasing frequency of Trump’s Obama-bashing has coincided with a general increase in the amount Trump has spoken, both to reporters and at his campaign rallies. As he has unshackled himself from prepared texts and stern handlers, he has appeared to reveal his true sentiments more freely.
Trump has escalated his attacks on Obama even as Obama has stayed largely quiet about him. Obama did blast Trump during the midterm election campaign, and he has criticized particular Trump policies on rare occasions, but he has generally refused to respond to Trump’s barrage of derision.
True to form, Obama’s office declined to comment on how much Trump has been commenting on him.
Trump’s history of Obama-bashing
It’s not clear how much of Trump’s Obama-bashing is personal and instinctual – Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has argued that Trump has a “chronic and debilitating case of Obama envy” – and how much is political and strategic. The White House and the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for an explanation.
During Obama’s first term, Trump burnished his following among Republican voters by becoming a leading promoter of the racist conspiracy theory that Obama was an illegitimate president because he supposedly was not actually born in the United States. During his campaign of 2015 and 2016, Trump again excited the party faithful with scathing, exaggerated denunciations of Obama.
“Trump jump-started his political career by claiming then-President Obama was not an American. Beyond subscribing to that racist conspiracy theory, President Trump also knows that attacking Obama gins up his base and solidifies support for him by comparison,” said Christina Reynolds, who served as director of media affairs early in the Obama administration and is now vice-president of communications at EMILY’s LIST, which works to elect female Democrats who support abortion rights. “At a point when some Republicans are starting to openly question him, he seems to be going to back to the old classics, so to speak.”
Jon Favreau, the “Pod Save America” podcast co-host who served as White House director of speechwriting for Obama, said he “cannot see the political wisdom” in attacking someone as popular as Obama “who’s not even your opponent.” In an August poll by Fox News, 60% of registered voters had a favorable opinion of Obama; 41% had a favorable opinion of Trump.
Favreau said Trump “of course never offered a word of criticism when he actually met President Obama during the transition, because he’s a coward in person.”
“But he always needs multiple enemies on the stump, and he must hate that his predecessor is wildly popular and he’s wildly unpopular,” Favreau said.
Following their post-election meeting in the Oval Office on November 11, 2016, Trump referred to Obama as a “very good man.”
It’s not only the frequency of Trump’s mentions of Obama that stands out – it’s the palpable disdain he exudes for his predecessor. Many of Trump’s references are dripping with contempt.
Four times since August, he has publicly wondered why people consider Obama a “great president.” At a campaign rally in Mississippi on Friday night, Trump claimed he had beaten not only the “Bush dynasty” and “Clinton dynasty” but the “President Barack Hussein Obama dynasty” – and said the only time he has ever seen Obama “work hard” was when Obama campaigned against him.
“He was outsmarted by Putin. He was outsmarted. President Putin outsmarted President Obama,” Trump claimed, at an August press conference, about Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
“I want to thank you, President Obama, for giving me 142 open judges. How you allowed that to happen is beyond me. It’s beyond me,” Trump said in a speech to a police conference on Monday – exaggerating by 38 the number of judicial vacancies he inherited from Obama and ignoring the role of Senate Republicans’ obstruction.
“We just got al-Baghdadi – which President Obama was trying to get for a long time, and he was unable to get,” Trump said in an interview with ABC 7 Chicago the same day.
While it is normal for sitting presidents to refer at least occasionally to their predecessors or vanquished opponents, Factba.se data suggests no other recent president came anywhere close to Trump’s regularity.
From June 1983 to October 1983, the same period of Republican President Ronald Reagan’s tenure, Factba.se counted 16 times Reagan mentioned his predecessor and defeated Democratic opponent, President Jimmy Carter, or spoke of the “previous administration” or “last administration.”
From June 2011 to October 2011, Factba.se found only one mention from Obama of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush or the Bush administration – and it was positive. On the 10-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Obama said, “After 9/11, to his great credit, President Bush made clear what we reaffirm today: the United States will never wage war against Islam or any other religion.”
Trump, conversely, mentioned Obama, the Obama administration or defeated opponent Hillary Clinton 462 times between June and October of this year – not including mentions on Twitter, which obviously didn’t exist for Reagan.