During a speech on his economic record today, President Obama issued a scorching warning to Americans about Donald Trump: “Don’t think this agenda’s going to help you. It’s not designed to help you.”
The president sounded at turns exasperated and confounded as he addressed the people of Elkhart, Indiana, a town he last visited during the throes of the recession in 2009, and which he said he chose today “precisely because this county votes Republican.”
“If the economy is really what’s driving this election, then it’s going to be voters like you who will have to decide between two very different visions of what’s going to help strengthen our middle class,” Obama told the crowd before laying out what he believes the differences between those visions are.
For Obama, the speech was a chance to boast about his administration’s economic achievements—including the country’s consistent job growth and a shrinking deficit—while bashing the presumptive Republican nominee for president, who Obama believes would derail that progress. Without ever mentioning his name, Obama took Trump to task over everything from his tax policies to immigration to trade to his “provocative” tweets.
“I’m not here looking for votes,” Obama said. “I’m here because I care deeply as a citizen about making sure we sustain and build on all the work that communities like yours have done to bring America back over the last seven and a half years.”
Not that Obama shied away from sounding the kind of populist note that has characterized the 2016 campaign season. He called Trump’s proposal to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants “a fantasy” and rejected the idea that immigrants are responsible for stagnating wages in this country. Instead, he laid the blame on another popular target—corporate elites.
“Those decisions are made in the board rooms of companies where top CEOs are getting paid more than 300 times the income of the average worker,” he said.
He went on to frame Trump as a candidate who only has the interests of the rich at heart. He attacked Trump’s plans to overhaul the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill, and lambasting his proposed tax plan which would provide a major tax cut to the top .1 percent of American earners.
“That will not make your lives better,” Obama said. “That will help people like him.”
On trade, Obama called the idea that “other countries are killing us on trade,” which is a frequent Trump talking point, a myth. He argued, instead, that while trade and technological advancement have hurt certain industries, they’ve helped others, like agriculture and technology. He also emphasized the importance of trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership in dictating the terms of trade.
“If you don’t want China to set the rules for the 21st century, and they’re trying, then TPP makes sure we set the rules,” Obama said.
On that point, at least, Obama was not just fighting Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric. Both Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have publicly opposed the deal as well. With that exception, the president’s talk could have easily been ripped from the stump speeches of either of the Democratic candidates on the campaign trail. On nearly every economic issue—from pay equity to labor standards to investment in infrastructure—Obama painted a doomsday scenario on the right.
“When I hear working families thinking about voting for those plans, then I want to have an intervention,” Obama said.
“If we fall for a bunch of okey doke, just because it sounds funny or the tweets are provocative then we’re not going to build on the progress that we started.”
Tell us how you really feel, Mr. President.