How could it be that a birther no less is the leading contender for the Republican nomination for president of the United States? Columnist Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times last month: “It isn’t an accident that this is the way the Obama era ends – with a reality TV demagogue leading a populist, nationalist revolution.”
Obama responded at a joint press conference with Justin Trudeau on March 10:
I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is novel. (Laughter.)
Look, I’ve said — I said it at the State of the Union that one of my regrets is the degree to which polarization and the nasty tone of our politics has accelerated rather than waned over the course of the last seven and a half years. And I do all kinds of soul-searching in terms of are there things I can do better to make sure that we’re unifying the country. But I also have to say, Margaret, that, objectively, it’s fair to say that the Republican political elites and many of the information outlets — social media, news outlets, talk radio, television stations — have been feeding the Republican base for the last seven years a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a “them” out there and an “us,” and “them” are the folks who are causing whatever problems you’re experiencing.
And the tone of that politics — which I certainly have not contributed to — I don’t think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example. I don’t remember saying, hey, why don’t you ask me about that. (Laughter.) Or why don’t you question whether I’m American, or whether I’m loyal, or whether I have America’s best interests at heart — those aren’t things that were prompted by any actions of mine.
And so what you’re seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree, all those efforts over a course of time creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive. He’s just doing more of what has been done for the last seven and a half years.
And, in fact, in terms of his positions on a whole range of issues, they’re not very different from any of the other candidates. It’s not as if there’s a massive difference between Mr. Trump’s position on immigration and Mr. Cruz’s position on immigration. Mr. Trump might just be more provocative in terms of how he says it, but the actual positions aren’t that different. For that matter, they’re not that different from Mr. Rubio’s positions on immigration — despite the fact that both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio, their own families are the products of immigration and the openness of our society.
So I am more than happy to own the responsibility as President, as the only office holder who was elected by all the American people, to continue to make efforts to bridge divides and help us find common ground. As I’ve said before, I think that common ground exists all across the country. You see it every day in how people work together and live together and play together and raise their kids together. But what I’m not going to do is to validate some notion that the Republican crack-up that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that I’ve taken.
And what’s interesting — I’ll just say one last thing about this — there are thoughtful conservatives who are troubled by this, who are troubled by the direction of their party. I think it is very important for them to reflect on what it is about the politics they’ve engaged in that allows the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire, and to do some introspection.
Because, ultimately, I want an effective Republican Party. I think this country has to have responsible parties that can govern, and that are prepared to lead and govern whether they’re in the minority or in the majority, whether they occupy the White House or they do not. And I’ve often said I want a serious, effective Republican Party — in part to challenge some of the blind spots and dogmas in the Democratic Party. I think that’s useful.