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Obama: I'm Not Responsible for the Rise of Trump

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens as President Obama speaks during a bilateral news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on March 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Obama said today that he’s not responsible for the rise of Donald Trump, stressing that fury in the GOP base isn’t something “prompted by any actions of mine.”

“I’ve actually heard this argument a number of times. 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,” Obama said at a joint press conference in the Rose Garden with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who will be feted tonight at a state dinner.

The president said “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 have not — you know, I don’t think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example,” he added.

“I don’t remember saying, hey, why don’t you ask me about that? 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.”

Obama continued: “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. You know, 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. And it’s not as if there’s a massive difference between Mr. Trump’s position on immigration and Mr. Cruz’s position on immigration,” he said. “Mr. Trump might just be more provocative in terms of how he says it but the actual positions aren’t that different.”

Obama said he’s “more than happy to own the responsibility as president, as the only officeholder who is elected by all the American people, to continue to make efforts to bridge divides and help us find common ground.”

“…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’m — I’ve taken. And I — 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,” he continued.

“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 a — an effective Republican Party.”

Obama insisted that he wants “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,” he said.

Trudeau, who has joked about Canada’s willingness to welcome Americans fleeing from a Trump presidency, was asked what U.S.-Canada relations might look like if Trump or Canada-born Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) won the presidency.

“One of the things that is abundantly clear whenever a president and prime minister sit down to engage on important issues of relevance to our peoples, is that the relationship, the friendship between our two countries goes far beyond any two individuals or any ideologies,” the Liberal Party leader replied.

“I have tremendous confidence in the American people and look forward to working with whomever they choose to send to this White House later this year.”