President Obama on Thursday dismissed the notion that he’s responsible for the rise of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpIt's time to 'Trump' opioid addiction in the United States Trump is right: Student loan debt an 'albatross' on families, young people 6 steps for Republicans to show up at their own town halls and win MORE, who has harnessed voter anger during his presidential run.
“I’m not going to validate some notion that the Republican crackup that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that I’ve taken,” he said during a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Despite his feuds with Republicans in Congress, Obama insisted that he wants “an effective Republican Party.”
“I think this country has to have responsible parties that can govern,” he said, adding the GOP could “challenge some of the blind spots and dogmas in the Democratic Party” on issues such as trade.
He pointed a finger at conservative media and GOP leaders for fueling “a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a ‘them’ out there and an ‘us,’ and the ‘them’ are the folks causing the problems you’re experiencing.”
He cited the movement of people who question his birthplace as a prominent example of that phenomenon.
“I don’t think I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example,” he said. “I don’t recall saying, 'hey, why don’t you ask me about that. Why don't you question whether I'm American or whether I'm loyal or whether I have America's best interests at heart?’”
Trump's rise has disturbed many in the Republican Party, who believe that the bombastic candidate could lose in a match-up with Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton: Trump must speak out against hate crimes, threats Piers Morgan trolls Oscars: 'Chin up, La La Land... you won the popular vote' Trump's clueless rhetoric on nukes makes US vulnerable, not safer MORE while doing irreparable damage to the party's brand.
The billionaire real estate mogul has called for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration to the U.S. and said many Mexican immigrants are "criminals" and "rapists," rhetoric that could turn off wide swaths of general election votes.
Some well-known Republicans have said, however, Obama bears responsibility for voters' affinity to Trump.
"After seven years of the cool, weak and endlessly nuanced 'no drama Obama,' voters are looking for a strong leader who speaks in short, declarative sentences," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this month.
"Middle-class incomes are stagnant, and radical Islam is on the march across the Middle East," the former 2016 candidate wrote. "No wonder voters are responding to someone who promises to make America great again."
Trump’s dominance in the primary contests so far has made it increasingly likely that he will be the GOP’s standard-bearer in the fall. Obama in the past has expressed doubt that Trump will win the election, saying he has faith in the American people’s judgment.
Still, some Democrats fear that Trump’s appeal to the working class could make him a formidable opponent in the general election.
While not the intent of his trip to Washington, Trudeau’s official state visit provided a sharp contrast to Trump.
The Liberal Party leader has pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s civil war, even more than the 10,000 promised by Obama.
The prime minister joked days before his visit that Americans are more than welcome to move up north if Trump is elected president.
“Every time we have a presidential election, our friends to the north have to brace for an exodus of Americans who swear they'll move to Canada if the guy from the other party wins,” Obama quipped. “But typically it turns out fine.”
Trudeau said he’ll work with whoever the next president is.
“Friendship between our two countries goes far beyond any two individuals or any ideologies,” he said.
Obama also indicated he won’t make an endorsement in the tighter-than-expected Democratic presidential primary.
—Updated at 1:04 p.m.