Columns

Obama: Trump Should Recognize, Correct 'Certain Elements of His Temperament'

Image Credit Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — President Obama said he hopes that Donald Trump works on his temperament in the Oval Office “because when you’re a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you’re president of the United States.”

“I think what will happen with the president-elect is there are going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well unless he recognizes them and corrects them,” Obama told reporters today in the White House briefing room. “…Everybody around the world’s paying attention. Markets move. National security issues require a level of precision in order to make sure that you don’t make mistakes. And I think he recognizes that this is different, and so do the American people.”

Obama faced reporters to “clear out some of the underbrush” about the presidential election before heading overseas on his last foreign trip as president to Athens, Berlin and Lima, Peru.

Amid a Wall Street Journal report that Trump “seemed surprised by the scope” of the president’s job in their 90-minute meeting last week and that Trump’s aides were “unaware that the entire presidential staff working in the West Wing had to be replaced at the end of Mr. Obama’s term,” Obama said his team “stands ready to accelerate in the next steps that are required to ensure a smooth transition and we are going to be staying in touch as we travel.”

“I remember what it was like when I came in eight years ago. It is a big challenge,” he said when asked about the WSJ report. “This office is bigger than any one person and that’s why ensuring a smooth transition is so important. It’s not something that the constitution explicitly requires but it is one of those norms that are vital to a functioning democracy, similar to norms of civility and tolerance and a commitment to reason and facts and analysis.”

Of Hillary Clinton’s loss, Obama said “it’s a healthy thing for the Democratic Party to go through some reflection” but “it’s important for me not to be big-footing that conversation.”

“I believe that we have better ideas. But I also believe that good ideas don’t matter if people don’t hear them. And one of the issues the Democrats have to be clear on is the given population distribution across the country. We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere. We have to work at a grassroots level, something that’s been a running thread in my career,” he said.

“I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW Hall, and there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points. There’s some counties maybe I won, that people didn’t expect, because people had a chance to see you and listen to you and get a sense of who you stood for and who you were fighting for.”

Obama said he discussed with Trump the need to rapidly respond to crises and “tried to be as honest as I could about the things I think any president coming in needs to think about.”

“I have been blessed by having, and I admittedly am biased, some of the smartest, hardest-working, and good people in my administration that I think any president has ever had,” he added. “And as a consequence of that team, I have been able to make good decisions. And if you don’t have that around you, then you will get swamped. So I hope that he appreciated that advice.”

The president said since he came into office during the recession, “one of the advantages that I had is that that I was too busy to worry about how acclimated I was feeling in the job — we just had to make a bunch of decisions.”

Trump “will have time and space, I think, to make judicious decisions.”

“The incoming administration doesn’t have to put out a huge number of fires. They may want to take the country in a significantly different direction. But they have got time to consider what exactly they want to achieve,” Obama said. “And that’s a testament to the tremendous work that my team has done over the last eight years. I am very proud of them for it.”

Obama wouldn’t comment on Trump’s appointments but said the new administration would be “a reminder that elections matter and voting counts.”

“And so, you know, I don’t know how many times we have to relearn this lesson because we ended up having 43 percent of the country not voting who were eligible to vote. But it makes a difference,” he added. “So given that President-elect Trump is now trying to balance what he said in the campaign and the commitments he made to his supporters with working with those who disagreed with him and members of Congress and reaching out to constituencies that didn’t vote for him, I think it’s important for us to let him make his decisions.”

He noted that he did say to Trump that “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 and to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign.”

“He’s going to be the next president and regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up and those – those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don’t match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick because reality has a way of asserting itself,” the president noted. “And some of his gifts that obviously allowed him to execute one of the biggest political upsets in history, those are ones that hopefully he will put to good use on behalf of all the American people.”

Obama said he got the impression from speaking with Trump “that he is coming to this office 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 is, he is pragmatic in that way,” he added. “And that can serve him well as long as he has got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction.”

“Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Of course I have got concerns. You know, he and I differ on a whole bunch of issues. But you know, the federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat. It’s an oceanliner, as I discovered when I came into office. 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.”