Obama takes Trump fight to Rust Belt

A fiery President Obama dove headfirst into the 2016 debate on Wednesday, launching a broadside against the policies of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Pentagon investigator probing whether acting chief boosted former employer Boeing Trump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral MORE

Obama defended his handling of the economy, arguing his administration’s efforts rescued the country from the economic abyss and warning voters against traveling down the path being forged by Trump. 

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“The primary story that Republicans have been telling about the economy is not supported by the facts,” the president said during a speech in Elkhart, Ind. “It’s just not."

The president’s trip to the northern Indiana city was sold as an official White House event on the economy, but it had all the trappings of an Obama campaign stop. 

He strode on stage at Concord High School without a jacket and his shirtsleeves were rolled up. He spoke in an informal cadence and repeatedly shouted over the roaring crowd of more than 2,000.

The audience booed at the president’s first veiled reference to Trump. “No booing,” Obama responded, “We’re voting.”

The president hammered Trump’s central argument, that international trade and immigration have hurt American workers. He blasted the real estate mogul’s tax plan and called his pledge to roll back regulations under his Wall Street reform law “crazy.” 

“That will not help us win,” Obama said of Trump’s plans. “That is not going to make your lives better. That will help people like him.” 

He tied Trump to other top Republicans who have distanced themselves from him, including 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHead of top hedge fund association to step down Romney knocks Trump over McCain criticism Paul Ryan joins board of Fox Corporation MORE (R-Wis.). 

He said party leaders have for decades claimed that bogeymen, such as “takers” and “the 47 percent,” hurt the economy because it helps them get votes. 

“It is the story that is broadcast everyday on some cable news stations. It's pumped into cars and bars and VFW halls all across America and right here in Elkhart," he said, calling on voters to “challenge the assumptions behind this economic story.”

The president even took a shot at the GOP standard-bearer’s bombastic style, warning voters not to “fall for a bunch of okey doke just because you know it sounds funny or the tweets are provocative.”

“When I hear working families thinking’ about voting for those plans, then I want to have an intervention,” he added. 

But the event also illustrated an obstacle Obama faces as a final-year president who still has yet to officially hit the campaign trail: his speech was not aired live on cable TV networks, as almost every Trump event is. 

Obama returned to Elkhart, the site of his first-ever presidential visit, to extol it as a symbol of the economic recovery that took place under his watch.

He touted the city’s 4.1 percent unemployment rate — down from 19.6 percent at its peak in 2009 — increased high-school graduation rate and lower home foreclosure rate to show the stimulus and auto bailouts have worked.

Republicans have noted that Elkhart’s recovery, like the rest of the nation’s, has been uneven. The city’s jobs are tied to the boom-and-bust recreational vehicle industry, which has seen a recent upswing. 

Republicans argue that the economy rebounded in places such as Indiana despite Obama’s economic initiatives, not because of them. 

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Trump's approval rating stable at 45 percent Kellyanne Conway: 'I think my gender helps me with the president' MORE is running on four more years of Obamanomics, so the president is trying to convince voters his record of weak growth, stagnant wages, and a shrinking middle class is really a success story," said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short

Trump has found strength in places like blue-collar Elkhart. He won Indiana’s GOP primary last month, cementing his status as the party’s standard-bearer. 

In particular, the billionaire's arguments against globalization, such as his pledge to build a massive wall on the U.S. southern border, have been powerful in attracting white working-class voters.

Obama sought to push back on Trump’s arguments.

“Look, in today’s economy, we can’t put up walls around America,” Obama said. “We’re not going to deport 11 million people. We’re not going to put technology back in the box.”

But that argument could become complicated for Obama if and when he hits the campaign trail for Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential nominee.

The former secretary of State has embraced Obama and his policies on the campaign trail as she seeks to turn out the coalition that elected him president twice. 

But one of the biggest policy differences between Obama and Clinton is on trade. Like Trump, she opposes the president's Pacific Rim trade deal.