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Trump: I fell asleep during Obama speech

While speaking at a fundraiser in Fargo, North Dakota, President Trump said he fell asleep during President Obama's speech at an Illinois college.

Posted: Sep 9, 2018 12:26 PM
Updated: Sep 9, 2018 12:47 PM

Just as Barack Obama was warning that America is in the grip of a politics of fear that undermines norms and political accountability, President Donald Trump was unleashing his latest assault on traditions of governance that underpin the nation's democracy.

"These are extraordinary times. Dangerous times," Obama warned in an extraordinary indictment of the behavior of a successor to whom he handed power in January 2017 and who has torn at the conventions that restrain presidents ever since.

It was a revealing moment in an enthralling clash of philosophy, temperament and style that unfolded Friday between a current and former president who epitomize opposing currents in an epochal political moment and are now in direct conflict ahead of the midterm elections.

The campaign trail face-off between Obama and Trump also capped a consequential week that saw the awakening of the Washington establishment after John McCain's funeral turned into an indictment of Trumpism and in which Trump battled an enemy within his own administration.

Obama, ditching his self-imposed political exile, warned of a moment of unique national peril, in which demagogic forces -- aka Trump -- are undermining the structures of democratic government to build their own omnipotence.

"They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their own power," Obama said in a major speech in Illinois.

"It shouldn't be Democratic or Republican to say that we don't pressure the attorney general or FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents -- or to protect members of our own party from prosecution just because an election's coming up," he said.

At almost the same moment, aboard Air Force One, the current President told reporters he wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to hunt a senior official within his administration who sent the White House reeling with a devastating anonymous New York Times op-ed that branded him unfit for power.

"Here's criticism where you can't fight back. 'Cause you have somebody doing it anonymously," Trump said, after he effectively ordered the criminal investigative functions of the state to purge an opponent who has not committed a crime but has merely exercised a First Amendment right.

It was far from the first time Trump has appeared to shun conventions designed to shield the instruments of justice from political interference. He has spent months lambasting the FBI and the Justice Department over the Russia investigation. Earlier this week he complained that Sessions should not have allowed two Republicans to be indicted over corruption allegations.

Friday's competing appearances were the latest intense intersection of two giant, idiosyncratic political opposites who are again waging a struggle for the political soul of their nation.

Ever since Trump made the birtherism conspiracy his bridge to politics from the tabloid life of a tycoon and real estate star, he and Obama have been locked in a mutually antagonistic embrace, as opposites in decorum and ideology.

That mirror image was on show Friday.

Opposing styles

Obama, serene and intellectual, chose the conventional medium for a politician, a long, reasoned, multi-layered speech, to frame a political problem -- the conditions that led to the rise of Trump -- and to give Democrats a battle plan to restore America's ailing democracy.

He bemoaned missing checks and balances in Washington, the indifference of Republicans to Trump's power grabs, the predominance of bullies, and walls being put up around America, and he diagnosed a "backlash from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change."

In signature style, he called on young people to vote, campaign and fight for their democracy, and argued that despite everything there is a unifying American "common ground."

At times, he appeared to be renewing his own faith in a brand of politics that shot him to power from nowhere in 2008 but whose effectiveness has been called into question -- even by some more radical Democrats -- as Trump crushes his legacy and the GOP monopolizes power.

Trump, the king of the barbed tweet, who reinvented the way to win the White House, brawled on social media, sparred with reporters and in a stream-of-consciousness campaign speech of his own displayed his more gritty, authoritarian and aggressive political methodology

He mocked Obama's approach. "I watched it, but I fell asleep. I've found he's very good for sleeping," Trump said in Fargo, North Dakota, before reeling off a list of his administration's achievements and slamming America's foreign trade partners.

"I don't want to be taken advantage of by other countries in the world," he said.

The thrust of Obama's argument was that America is a great nation that has slumped into crisis because its core values are being trampled. Trump's -- in line with his strongman's instincts -- was that he inherited a humbled and disrespected country and he had already redeemed it.

He told his crowd that a strapping man had come up to him at his event with tears rolling from his eyes and said: "I want to thank you, Mr. President, for saving our country."

Same aim

In essence, Trump and Obama were trying to do the same thing -- electrify grass-roots voters and drive turnout in midterm elections that both view as the most crucial for decades and that will be crucial to the fate of the Trump presidency.

Obama is a singular political figure. While he won two impressive general election victories, he found it more difficult to bestow his appeal to Democrats in midterm elections, when he was not on the ballot. It may be even more difficult to do so when he is out of power.

Trump is also unique, and it is not clear whether he will be any more successful in transferring his magnetic appeal with the grass roots to Republican candidates in midterm polls.

Obama found out how a presidency can be crippled by the loss of the House of Representatives. Unless Trump can buck history, he may experience an even more painful defeat, given the multiple political and legal storms already battering his White House.

Their combat on Friday opened up intriguing new possibilities for the fall campaign, and risks for both.

Obama had stayed out of the spotlight for the last 19 months for a reason, apart from honoring the tradition that presidents don't usually criticize their predecessors. He knows that he has now given Trump the political target he has often lacked during his presidency.

Obama, who is reviled by many Trump voters, could become an organizing catalyst for grass-roots Republicans as well as Democrats.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham spotted the opening for Republicans and for Trump in 2020, by tweeting: "The more President @BarackObama speaks about the 'good ole years' of his presidency, the more likely President @realDonaldTrump is to get re-elected."

On the other hand, many Democrats and others who remember Obama's presidency and conduct in the White House fondly have often wondered why he has not been more vocal in taking on Trump. There is still no Democrat with the capacity to frame a political problem, distill a message and deliver it as well as Obama.

Still, his re-emergence was not universally welcomed by serving Democratic lawmakers.

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons told CNN's Wolf Blitzer he was worried that the midterms could become fixated on personalities rather than the needs and concerns of voters.

"We have got a President who is really adept about making the day about him, day in and day out. My concern here is President Obama may be simply feeding that dynamic where it is all about President Trump," he said.

But one thing is clear: With Obama and Trump going at it, the fall campaign just got a lot more interesting.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 98190

Reported Deaths: 2969
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7189161
DeSoto569464
Harrison394175
Jackson358570
Rankin337280
Madison334190
Lee293572
Forrest254275
Jones252780
Washington227879
Lafayette221240
Lauderdale2078126
Bolivar187370
Oktibbeha181952
Lamar176237
Lowndes160858
Neshoba1599104
Panola151631
Sunflower149146
Leflore143882
Warren141850
Pontotoc130116
Monroe125369
Pike124954
Copiah119933
Scott118027
Coahoma117530
Lincoln112353
Marshall111821
Grenada110136
Holmes110060
Yazoo106733
Simpson105847
Tate101938
Union101224
Leake96538
Adams94937
Wayne91521
Pearl River91453
Prentiss88418
Marion87537
Itawamba85921
Alcorn83411
Covington83223
George78513
Tallahatchie78324
Newton78124
Winston74619
Tishomingo71039
Tippah70518
Chickasaw69524
Attala67225
Clarke61149
Walthall60426
Clay59919
Hancock59822
Jasper58415
Noxubee55816
Smith55115
Calhoun52912
Tunica50015
Montgomery47020
Claiborne46516
Yalobusha44414
Lawrence43914
Perry43221
Quitman3905
Greene38917
Stone38013
Humphreys37715
Jefferson Davis34711
Amite34210
Webster33913
Carroll33112
Wilkinson30818
Kemper29115
Sharkey26714
Jefferson2439
Benton2333
Franklin1993
Choctaw1876
Issaquena1063
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 137564

Reported Deaths: 2399
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson20221352
Mobile13558295
Tuscaloosa9029118
Montgomery8894187
Madison800580
Shelby616450
Lee601761
Baldwin564052
Marshall398345
Etowah357545
Calhoun356944
Morgan334929
Houston295421
Elmore273948
DeKalb246121
St. Clair237937
Walker236987
Talladega219030
Limestone215720
Cullman192220
Dallas179926
Franklin179430
Autauga179127
Russell17903
Lauderdale175934
Colbert168426
Blount162915
Escambia162024
Jackson161112
Chilton160930
Dale141844
Covington141628
Coffee13936
Pike122011
Chambers117942
Tallapoosa117385
Clarke110916
Marion97629
Butler91740
Barbour8967
Winston75112
Marengo72820
Pickens67215
Randolph67213
Bibb66411
Lowndes65927
Hale65328
Geneva6505
Lawrence63625
Cherokee62013
Bullock61015
Clay5929
Monroe5928
Washington56012
Crenshaw54532
Perry5436
Conecuh53811
Wilcox53211
Henry5145
Macon48318
Fayette47311
Sumter43419
Cleburne4085
Lamar3822
Choctaw35212
Greene30615
Coosa1743
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