'No Former President Has Ever Attacked' Like Obama Did

Historian tweets that Obama's convention speech was unprecedented
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 20, 2020 12:10 AM CDT
Updated Aug 20, 2020 5:41 AM CDT
Trump, Obama Spar Over DNC Speech
In this Oct. 26, 2018 file photo, former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally in support of Wisconsin Democratic candidates in Milwaukee.   (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The barbs were flying between President Trump and his predecessor before night 3 of the Democratic National Convention even began. Excerpts of Barack Obama's DNC speech were released in advance, including his comment that he had once hoped Trump "might show some interest in taking the job seriously." Before the night officially kicked off, Trump tweeted, "Welcome, Barack and Crooked Hillary. See you on the field of battle!" (Hillary Clinton also spoke Wednesday night at the virtual convention.) Then, while apparently watching Obama's speech in real time, Trump tweeted, "HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, AND GOT CAUGHT!" and then, "WHY DID HE REFUSE TO ENDORSE SLOW JOE UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE? WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?" More on Obama's speech and the rest of the evening:

  • Trump also slammed Obama during a press conference before the DNC events got started. "President Obama did not do a good job. And the reason I'm here is because of President Obama and Joe Biden, because if they did a good job I wouldn't be here. And probably, if they did a good job, I wouldn't have even run," he said.
  • Fox News calls Obama's speech "a blistering attack" while Deadline goes with "scathing." Other lines included, "He’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends" and "Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t." Obama said that during Trump's presidency we've seen "our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before."

  • Obama, who spoke from Philadelphia's Museum of the American Revolution, also criticized Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his attacks on mail-in voting. "They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter," he said. "We can’t let that happen. Do not let them take away your power. Don’t let them take away your democracy."
  • The word from historian Michael Beschloss on Twitter: "No former President has ever attacked his incumbent successor at a convention like Barack Obama tonight, or even come close."
  • Obama also, of course, talked about Biden. "Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother," he said. "Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief. Joe’s a man who learned early on to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity, living by the words his parents taught him: 'No one’s better than you, but you’re better than nobody.' That empathy, that decency, the belief that everybody counts. That’s who Joe is."
  • Clinton was no kinder to Trump in her remarks. "If Trump is re-elected things will get even worse," she said. "Remember back in 2016 when Trump asked what do you have to lose? Well, now we know. Our health care, our jobs, our loved ones."
  • Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren also spoke. "Joe Biden is the president we need right now—battle tested, forward looking, honest and authentic. He has never forgotten who he is fighting for," Pelosi said, per the BBC. "And Kamala Harris is the vice-president we need right now, committed to our Constitution, brilliant in defending it and a witness to the women of this nation that our voices will be heard."
  • Also up Wednesday was Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting. "Words once came easily, today I struggle to speak. But I have not lost my voice. America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words," she said, per CNN. "We can be on the right side of history. We must elect Joe Biden. He was there for me, he'll be there for you too. Join us in this fight. Vote vote vote."
  • The night wrapped up with Kamala Harris formally accepting her nomination as vice president. She said she envisions America as a "beloved community, where all are welcome, no matter what we look like, no matter where we come from or who we love. A country where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth." She said Trump's "failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods."
  • Harris also addressed the civil unrest in the nation: "Let's be clear: there is no vaccine for racism. For George Floyd. For Breonna Taylor. For the lives of too many others to name. For our children. For all of us," she said. "We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work. A president who will bring all of us together—Black, White, Latino, Asian, Indigenous—to achieve the future we collectively want."
  • Trump was apparently listening to her speech, too: "BUT DIDN’T SHE CALL HIM A RACIST??? DIDN’T SHE SAY HE WAS INCOMPETENT???" he tweeted. The BBC points out that while Harris and Biden clashed over race issues during the second Democratic debate, she has never called him racist and in fact went out of her way to say she does not think he is racist.
(More Election 2020 stories.)

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