In new chapters of “Obama: The Call of History,” New York Times correspondent Peter Baker depicts the former president questioning his legacy and personally insulted that voters elected Trump instead of Clinton, whom he campaigned for heavily in the closing days of the 2016 contest.
“This stings,” Obama told staffers during an Oval Office meeting in the weeks after the election, a source told David Remnick of The New Yorker. “This hurts.”
Baker describes Obama as deeply skeptical of Trump and mystified at why voters chose him over the more experienced Clinton. And he writes that Obama and some of his aides faulted Clinton and her campaign decisions for the outcome, which shocked the then-president.
“To Obama and his team, however, the real blame lay squarely with Clinton,” Baker writes in the book. “She was the one who could not translate his strong record and healthy economy into a winning message. Never mind that Trump essentially ran the same playbook against Clinton that Obama did eight years earlier, portraying her as a corrupt exemplar of the status quo. She brought many of her troubles on herself.”
Obama, who helped steer his vice president Joe Biden away from a 2016 bid, believed Clinton’s victory was all but assured.
“Obama woke up on Election Day convinced, like most of the country, that he would not be handing the nuclear football over to Donald Trump,” Baker writes. “The reality television star, he thought, was a joke. No way Americans would turn to him.”
On election night, Obama was watching a movie in the White House theater when troubling signs began emerging.
“Huh,” he said, according to former first lady Michelle Obama’s memoir. “Results in Florida are looking kind of strange.”
In public during the aftermath of Trump’s victory, Obama adopted a resolute attitude and worked to facilitate a smooth transition to the Republican administration. During their post-election meeting in the Oval Office — the first time they’d ever met — Obama told reporters he was “encouraged.”
But privately, Baker writes Obama “seemed mystified by the encounter.”
“At various points throughout the meeting, he told (aides), Trump kept steering the conversation back to the size of his campaign rallies — he could draw huge crowds and so could Obama but Hillary Clinton could not, Trump said,” Baker writes, citing recollections contained in former Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes’ book.
Later, Baker recounts Obama second-guessing his progressive approach to the presidency as his administration was winding down.
“What if we were wrong?” Baker recalls Obama asking his aides, citing Rhodes. “Maybe we pushed too far.”
“Obama did not seem convinced,” Baker writes.” ‘Sometimes,’ he said, ‘I wonder whether I was ten or twenty years too early.’ “