On Monday, before embarking upon his final trip overseas as president, Barack Obama held a lengthy press conference. Most of the questions, unsurprisingly, revolved around the consequences of Donald Trump’s election win last week.
Trump, Obama said, had “expressed great interest in maintaining [the United States’] existing relationships,” which was a way of saying that he is committed to NATO and the Trans-Atlantic Alliance. For his part, Obama said he appreciates being able to communicate to world leaders this week that there will be “no weakening of resolve” on the part of the United States.
Asked about Tuesday’s results and what they mean for the Democratic Party, the president acknowledged that Hillary Clinton’s loss demands a recalibration. “I think it’s a healthy thing for the Democratic Party to go through some reflection. I think it’s important for me not to be big-footing that conversation,” he said. “Democrats should not waver on our core beliefs and principles... the core set of values that are not up for debate.” How the party organizes politically, however, is another question. “I believe we have better ideas—but good ideas don’t matter if people don’t hear them.”
“We have to compete everywhere. we have to show up everywhere. we have to work at a grassroots level,” he continued. “I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It’s because I spent 87 days going” door to door, visiting diners, shaking hands and kissing babies.
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“The challenge for a national party is how do you dig in there and create those kinds of structures so people have a sense of what it is that you stand for. that increasingly is difficult to do just through a national press strategy—because of the splintering of the press. The discussions that have been taking place about grassroots organizing, state parties, county elections. That all will contribute to stronger outcomes in the future.”
“Things change pretty rapidly, but they don’t change inevitably. You have to work for it. Nobody said democracy was easy! And in a big country like this, maybe it shouldn’t be.”
One reporter asked about former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon, who is a white nationalist. “It would not be appropriate for me to comment on every appointment the president elect starts making,” Obama demurred. “The people have spoken. Donald Trump is going to be the next president... It is up to him to select a team.”
“It’s important for us to let him make his decisions. The American people will judge over the next couple of years whether they like what they see,” Obama said. “I did say to him 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 reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign. I think that’s something that he will want to do but this is all happening real fast. He’s got commitments to his supporters that helped to get him here and he’ll have to balance those.”
The president repeatedly expressed his feeling that, presented with the actual responsibility of being president, Trump would either find himself unable or newly unwilling to deliver on some campaign promises. “Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up,” Obama said. “Reality has a way of asserting itself.”
“There will be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well unless he recognizes them and corrects them,” the president continued. “Campaigning is different from governing. I think he recognizes that. I think he’s sincere when he says he wants to be a successful president.”