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Obama’s Dress Down of Trump Rare for a President

Obama uses bully pulpit to denounce his potential successor in an unusual step

President Barack Obama's harsh words for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump were rare on the world stage. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama's harsh words for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump were rare on the world stage. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Challenging the foreign policy experience of political opponents is nothing new to the presidential race.  

Publicly dressing down a rival candidate in front of the world — as President Barack Obama did Thursday during remarks at the G7 summit in which he characterized presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump as being “ignorant of world affairs” — could very well be another first in the wildly unpredictable 2016 election.  


Obama: World Leaders ‘Rattled’ by Trump’s ‘Ignorance of World Affairs’


“We’ve thought about this and can’t come up with any firm examples,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political newsletter published by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said of the historical anomaly.  

Foreign leaders have bristled at some of Trump’s pronouncements, as have domestic foes.  


Clinton: Trump’s Foreign Policy Would Be ‘Disastrous’


But Obama’s launching of an assault on the opposite side of the globe speaks volumes about how badly civility has crumbled since the last presidential campaign.  

Just weeks before Election Day 2012, Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney traded friendly barbs about their mutual shortcomings during the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner.  

“After my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas. I have to say, I’m impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem,” Obama joked .  

President George H.W. Bush took a similar tack two decades earlier, slamming Democratic challenger Bill Clinton for advocating that the U.S. seek approval from the United Nations before further intervening in war-torn Bosnia — a stance the Bush camp portrayed as grossly uninformed.  

“It sounds like the kind of reckless approach that indicates he better do some more homework on foreign policy,” Bush spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said .  

Clinton, in turn, took a few shots at future President George W. Bush. But he did so in private.  

Clinton voiced concerns about the Republican contender to then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a series of recently declassified exchanges.  

During a call in October 1999, Clinton shared with Blair the conundrum he was having about derailing Bush’s candidacy.  

“I have to figure out how to expose the fraud that Bush is the new Clinton, establishing a new Republican Party like I made a new Democratic Party,” he said.  

Clinton, unlike Obama, seemed concerned about keeping a low profile.  

“There’s a limit to how much I can do because, in our political culture, I can say what I think but it will hurt if it appears I’m trying to control the outcome of another election,” he noted. “I’ve got to be careful not to tell people how to vote.”  

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