Trump is What Republicans Accused Obama of Being

Tom Nichols draws a contrast between Republican criticisms of the last president and their defense of this one.

Naval War College professor Tom Nichols, a longtime Republican, argues in a WaPo op-ed “Trump is everything Republicans said Obama was.”

Remember when Republicans feared the bungling diplomacy of a vain, inexperienced president and vowed to stop him before he destroyed our security? In 2014, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) warned that President Barack Obama was “inflexibly clinging to campaign promises.” If the novice president expected Congress to “stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) said a year later, he and his party had two words for Obama: “Hell no!”

“Our allies don’t trust us; our enemies don’t fear us; and the world doesn’t know where America stands,” went a 2015 presidential campaign ad for Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). And one Republican foreign policy analyst even wrote that negotiations — with Iran, not North Korea — have “become humiliating, not least because our diplomatic body language is telegraphing an eagerness for a deal — any deal — with such clumsy obviousness that only the dumbest opponent could fail to notice it.”

I’m fairly sure I’m quoting that last one correctly, because I wrote it, back in early 2015. And I think I was right: I remain deeply skeptical about the way the Iran deal was negotiated. But compared with the unconscionable mess that President Trump just left behind at his Singapore “summit” with Kim Jong Un, Obama’s long and arduous discussions with Iran look like Klemens von Metternich convening the Congress of Vienna.

When it comes to foreign affairs — when it comes to everything, really — Trump is weighed down by inexperience, bedeviled by vanity and hobbled by impulsiveness. He’s a celebrity playing at president.

He’s everything, in other words, that Republicans feared Obama would be.

Going all the way back to the 2008 presidential race, Republicans were certain that Obama would be more attuned to the needs of America’s worst enemies than willing to discuss the shared interests of America’s best friends; this captures the destructive arc of Trump’s actions from last week’s Group of Seven meeting in Quebec to the spectacle in Singapore.

Republicans were scathing about Obama’s immense (and obvious) self-regard. But Trump has shown himself to be beyond any of the GOP’s worst nightmares about Obama. A political narcissist transfixed by his own image and utterly addicted to television coverage, Trump is unwilling to be briefed, incapable of being educated and has now blundered into a summit with a monster in exactly the way Republicans were once certain Obama would do if a camera was pointed at him.

There’s more but you get the point.

Tom’s absolutely right here.

As frustrated as I was with John McCain’s selection of the neophyte Sarah Palin as his running mate—which I noted on Day 1 undermined his campaign’s entire rationale—I justified voting for him partly because Obama was so unprepared for the office. I believe his many missteps over the first several months vindicated that judgment. Yet, unlike Trump, Obama was keenly aware of what he didn’t know and made a commendable effort to surround himself with seasoned hands and to pour himself into study to make up for lost time.

And, yes, I thought Obama a little too impressed with himself in the early going, especially in his “I won, get over it” mindset. While it’s quite probable that Mitch McConnell and company would have worked to undermine him regardless, I believe that attitude really cost him early on. But, again, even Obama didn’t think he alone had all the answers. He surrounded himself by a staff and followed something resembling a process for governing. Trump? Not so much.

My longstanding view of Obama’s foreign policy was that his actual policy instincts were quite good but that he frequently undermined himself with over-ambitious marketing and generally poor messaging. (Ironic, given that his skills as a communicator were what got him to where he was as soon as he did.) But Trump starts with lousy instincts and compounds that with his hyper-frenetic governance-by-tweet style.

As Tom notes, those who criticized Obama then are mostly praising Trump now. To be sure, some of that is just the nature of partisanship, especially in today’s media environment. But some of it is just pure delusion. Under seige from an expert commentariat constantly hammering at Trump’s every misstep, his supporters have dug in, refusing to see who he is. Worse, they have convinced themselves that it’s really just part of some master plan.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Donald Trump
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. drj says:

    Worse, they have convinced themselves that it’s really just part of some master plan.

    The master plan is tax cuts and owning the libs – nothing else. And that master plan is being fulfilled just fine, thank you. The rest is just rhetoric and political expediency.

    Do you really think that someone like Mitch McConnell gives an actual rat’s ass about foreign policy or the security of the US?

    Action (or the lack thereof) speaks louder than words.

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  2. MBunge says:

    Hey, look! It’s more criticism of Trump that is completely disconnected from reality and only reflects the consensus of the “experts” who screwed things up so badly that Trump got elected! That’s certainly a change around here.

    Mike

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  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    @MBunge:

    If the OTB oxygen burns your delicate lungs, feel free to go seek out a stuffiness more suited to your tastes.

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  4. Kit says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    If the OTB oxygen burns your delicate lungs, feel free to go seek out a stuffiness more suited to your tastes.

    Anyone quoting My Fair Lady gets a thumbs up in my book.

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  5. M. Bouffant says:

    How exactly was McCain more prepared for the office than Obama?

    Oh, & Hilary’s “character issues”! Well, now you have Trump, an upstanding example of the best in human character. A role model for all the little boys & girls!

    Always projection w/ these people. Maybe they should tear themselves away from their mirrors & deal w/ the real world for a while.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @M. Bouffant:

    How exactly was McCain more prepared for the office than Obama?

    The man had, at the time he was running, a half-century of combined military and government service. He had almost a quarter-century experience as a senior member of the Armed Services committees of the House and Senate. Obama had maybe two years of service as a Senate backbencher before hitting the stump running for a promotion. It really wasn’t even close.

    Oh, & Hilary’s “character issues”! Well, now you have Trump, an upstanding example of the best in human character. A role model for all the little boys & girls!

    I endorsed and voted for Hillary because Trump was unacceptable. That didn’t mean she didn’t have serious character issues. (Not that that has anything to do with the post….)

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  7. Yank says:

    While it’s quite probable that Mitch McConnell and company would have worked to undermine him regardless, I believe that attitude really cost him early on.

    That was always their plan.

    McConnell himself said that the goal was to make him a one-term president the day before Obama took office. Honestly, Obama’s biggest mistake was taking GOP’s concerns about major issues such as healthcare, immigration seriously in his first term. He wasted a lot of time trying to win over Republicans, who were bad faith actors.

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  8. Yank says:

    Also, this article by Nichols again highlights how Republicans (even the smart ones) can’t admit that they were wrong about Obama.

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  9. reid says:

    @Yank: Indeed, if the Republicans had acted in good faith, I doubt we would have heard the “elections matter” and other Obama quotes that bother James so much. That whole thing is just another side of the same coin: everything is okay if you’re a Republican, and Democrats must always be criticized for everything.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @Yank:

    Also, this article by Nichols again highlights how Republicans (even the smart ones) can’t admit that they were wrong about Obama.

    It would be odd, indeed, if Republicans came to widely support Obama. But, while I didn’t vote for him and opposed many of his policies and tactics, I routinely defended him from scurrilous attacks and routinely praised him for his intellect, work ethic, and moral example. Aside from my ideological misgivings, though, I think he’d have been a more effective President with more seasoning.

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  11. reid says:

    @reid: Having said that, I have to give James credit for being one of the more sensible and honorable Republicans; someone who can learn and change given facts. If the party had more of him and less deplorables, we wouldn’t be stuck with the Trump disaster.

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  12. the Q says:

    “He wasted a lot of time trying to win over Republicans, who were bad faith actors…..”

    He had to since he couldn’t win over a majority Democratic house and senate…

    When the wingnut loons take control, they pass their horrible agenda. Reagan, Dubya, Trump…tax cuts for the rich, gut EPA regulations..you know the rest.

    Obama and the Dems, controlling all three branches of gov’t did what exactly? Break up monopolies by enforcing anti trust acts? Give a huge tax cut to the middle class and substantially hit the rich with big increases? Cut the defense budget? Embark on a mammoth infrastructure improvement program?

    That would be no, no, no and no. Quick, name any bill past those two years which are as radical as what the wingnut lunatics do when they get in charge to pay back their corporate and wealthy backers?

    Come on, don’t use the google to answer, just off the top of your tongue or the tip of your head…what did that majority Dem congress do for its constituents compared to the GOP’s huge corporate giveaway?

    Its not even close. Obama needed support of some GOP moderates as the Dems are horrible at keeping their members in line.

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  13. SKI says:

    @MBunge:

    Hey, look! It’s more criticism of Trump that is completely disconnected from reality and only reflects the consensus of the “experts” who screwed things up so badly that Trump got elected! That’s certainly a change around here.

    More evidence that you don’t recognize reality.

    What exactly about what Tom Nichols or James wrote is “disconnected from reality”? Specifics please.

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  14. Liberal Capitalist says:

    C’mon folks, nothing to see here… The cardinal rule is: IOKIYAR.

    Dems bad (pictured with blood dripping from their teeth)… GOP good, even if they are GOP in name only. Oligarchs and Nazi’s OK!

    See? Simple! Party before country or logic. What the problem is?

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  15. @SKI:

    Specifics please.

    Don’t hold your breath.

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  16. Kathy says:

    I think what hurt Obama most with the GOP was being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for, essentially, not being George W. Bush. Partisanship or no, it was a slap on the collective face of the Republican party, as well as a public humiliation.

    Not to mention the irony of awarding a peace prize to the first US president to spend the entirety of his two terms at war; some of which were of his own making.

    I know the Prize is awarded by such people as are designated by the Nobel Foundation or which are in the Foundation’s charter, but nominations are accepted, and those making the decisions can be influenced. I don’t know whether Obama personally or his boosters campaigned for the prize.

    I know he could have, and by all rights should have, declined to accept the Prize, on the grounds that he had nothing to deserve it, and there plenty of more deserving recipients. I wonder why he didn’t.

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  17. Joe says:

    When I first read the title of this piece I thought we were going to be talking about the imperial presidency that Republicans railed about with Obama and can’t seem to get enough of with Trump. But, James, your point still is well taken.

    I think with both Obama and Trump, the fundamental problem is the dysfunctional Congress. Obama was forced to get way out in front because Congress would not have approved anything, based on partisan rather than policy grounds. Trump is way out in front because Congress won’t stop anything, based on partisan rather than policy grounds. In either case, presidents in general and these two in particular basically ignore Congress because, from a governing perspective, there is no there there.

    With regard to the double standards of the right-wing treatment of Trump v. Obama, this little clip is a hoot.

    https://www.facebook.com/NowThisNews/videos/1964891360209011/UzpfSTcxMzQ3NjYwOToxMDE1NTM3NjIxODEyMTYxMA/

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  18. Yank says:

    It would be odd, indeed, if Republicans came to widely support Obama. But, while I didn’t vote for him and opposed many of his policies and tactics, I routinely defended him from scurrilous attacks and routinely praised him for his intellect, work ethic, and moral example. Aside from my ideological misgivings, though, I think he’d have been a more effective President with more seasoning.

    My issue is with the narrative Nichols is pushing (which I have heard from other conservatives) in which their criticism of Obama (arrogance, celebrity president etc.) were correct and the GOP is just being hypocritical about Trump.

    I just think they were flat out wrong about Obama and a lot of the hysteria help lead to Trump.

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  19. dmichael says:

    @the Q: What nonsense. At no time was it that “Obama and the Dems, controlling all three branches of gov’t….” When was there a majority of justices in the Supreme Court that would reasonably be characterized as “progressive?” For a period of only 18 months (often erroneously referred to as two years) did the Democrats have a majority in the House and filibuster proof Senate (because Sanders of Vermont caucused with the Democrats). When Scott Brown won a special election in Massachusetts, it was over and the Republicans stymied everything of any consequence from the Obama Administration. One doesn’t have to read recent history. Just be conscious while it happens during your lifetime.

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  20. Gustopher says:

    I’m pretty sure Donald Trump was born in Queens, but I’m not sure that Queens is part of the United States. It’s in Jamaica, isn’t it?

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  21. Moosebreath says:

    @Kathy:

    “I think what hurt Obama most with the GOP was being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for, essentially, not being George W. Bush. Partisanship or no, it was a slap on the collective face of the Republican party, as well as a public humiliation.”

    Sorry, but the timing is far off. Obama did not get awarded the Nobel until long, long after the Republicans in Congress adopted their scorched earth policy.

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  22. Kathy says:

    @Moosebreath:

    He received the PRize in December 2009, about ten months after taking office, and long before the GOP won back control of Congress. They may have decided to oppose Obama in all things beforehand, but they had no way to implement such decision until after November 2010.

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  23. Moosebreath says:

    @Kathy:

    “They may have decided to oppose Obama in all things beforehand, but they had no way to implement such decision until after November 2010.”

    Not true, as they used the filibuster constantly prior to December 2009, not to mention the shell games they played to keep any Republicans from signing on the the Affordable Care Act.

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  24. Kylopod says:

    @dmichael:

    For a period of only 18 months (often erroneously referred to as two years) did the Democrats have a majority in the House and filibuster proof Senate

    It wasn’t anything close to “18 months.” It was 6 months: from the time Al Franken was seated in Jul. 2009 to Scott Brown’s victory in Jan. 2010.

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  25. Kari Q says:

    @Kathy:

    He received the PRize in December 2009, about ten months after taking office

    And about 11 months after the GOP had already decided to oppose everything he did, even if it was embracing policies they had previously supported.

    Mind, I thought it was utterly incomprehensible that Obama won the Peace Prize, but it wasn’t the source of Republican opposition.

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  26. mattbernius says:

    @Kylopod:
    It’s also worth noting that during that time, at least two Democratic senators had significant health issues as well that prevented them from participating in many votes.

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  27. Kathy says:

    @Kari Q:

    Oh, not the source, no. The source is Obama was a Democrat, black, and popular. But getting the Nobel and accepting him was pretty bad optics. And the republicans were furious about it (not without reason), which really didn’t help Obama at all.

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  28. Scott says:

    One of the more disturbing things about Trump is the growing cultlike aspects of his followers. We all talk about Republican tax cuts, regulatory changes, etc and bemoan them but at a deeper level, I am disturbed at the power of radical Christianity at the core of Trump’s followers. You go and read a Facebook thread and they talk about Trump in fervent religious terms as if he is the Second Coming. It doesn’t matter what he says it will be true in their minds.

    Bear in mind that much of his cabinet is inhabited by these right wing Christian fanatics (Pompeo, DeVos, Pruitt) and that he totally panders to this wing. There is a lot of overtones of apocalyptic, end times themes embedded in the policies.

    As a practicing Christian, I find all this borders on the blasphemous.

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  29. An Interested Party says:

    It’s more criticism of Trump that is completely disconnected from reality and only reflects the consensus of the “experts” who screwed things up so badly that Trump got elected!

    What must it be like to defend the Orange Toddler? One has to completely deny reality and shed all self-respect to perform in that role…

    @Joe: Wow, that video really is a hoot…Fox “News” is a pathetic excuse for a “news” network…they make the old Pravda seem like excellence in journalism…

    And the republicans were furious about it (not without reason), which really didn’t help Obama at all.

    Absolutely NOTHING Obama could have done would have helped him with Republicans…well, maybe if he had ditched Biden, put a Republican in as his VP, then committed seppuku…but even then, Republicans probably would have complained that he took too long to do all of that…

    As a practicing Christian, I find all this borders on the blasphemous.

    Just borders? Any so-called Christian who supports this decadent disgrace is a rank hypocrite…

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  30. Kylopod says:

    @Scott:

    You go and read a Facebook thread and they talk about Trump in fervent religious terms as if he is the Second Coming.

    There was some of this during the Bush era–remember Jesus Camp and the kids praying to a life-size cardboard cutout of Dubya? But whatever my issues with Bush–and they were many–it wasn’t quite as absurd as this. I’m not trying to whitewash Bush here, who was after all responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. On a personal level, though, I never had any reason to doubt he was a believing and committed Christian. He wasn’t someone sleeping with pornstars while being married to his third wife who was herself two decades his junior. He wasn’t someone whose entire public career was built around shamelessly flaunting the material rewards of wealth and fame. Evangelicals who worship Trump make about as much sense as if they worshiped Andrew Dice Clay. They’re no longer simply misguided and intolerant–which was bad enough–they’ve completely jumped the shark.

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  31. TM01 says:

    I’ve always thought that Obama was exactly what liberals fear Trump is or will become.

    What Dictator Trump hasn’t done:
    Change laws all by himself. End due process on campus via that guidance letter on sexual assault. Use the IRS to target his political opposition. Violate court orders. Spend money not appropriated by Congress. Used the espionage act against whistle blowers and journalists. Bugged the House Of Representatives.

    You could also add alienate our allies and cozy up to our enemies as well, but I suppose they’ve both done that, just to different ones.

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  32. Jay L Gischer says:

    Thanks for this post. In some of the comments we see just what the media environment has wrought, as some are working off an entirely different set of facts than others.

    That situation worries me more than pretty much any other condition of the current situation. Because it means that things like Trump are repeatable. All that’s required is to blast a narrative into the ether at loud enough volume.

    We live in an age of unprecedented propaganda.

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