WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday scoffed at the idea that he was to blame for the country’s charged political climate, the rise of Donald Trump and the “crackup” of the Republican Party.
At a White House press conference with Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, Obama blamed Republican leaders who, he said, tolerated uncompromising politics and created an environment where “somebody like Donald Trump can thrive.”
The president argued that Trump, the billionaire Republican front-runner, is not an outlier. He said Trump’s policies, particularly on immigration, are not so different from the proposals of Republican rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
As Obama spoke, Republican candidates were preparing for a Thursday night debate and high-stakes elections in Florida and Ohio next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, anxious Republican officials were coming to terms with the idea that Cruz, their second-least-favorite presidential candidate, may be the only chance to stop Trump’s march to the nomination.
Trump renewed his criticism of the Texas senator, casting the rival he calls “Lying Ted” as too polarizing to break the Washington gridlock or win a general election.
“The problem with Ted is that he’ll never get anything done,” Trump told CNBC. “And the bigger problem is that it’s impossible for him to get elected.”
Some of Cruz’s would-be backers have those same fears. But they fear the prospect of a Trump candidacy more.
Florida Sen. Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are fighting with Cruz to emerge as the strongest alternative to Trump. For now at least, Cruz appears to be ahead.
Former Cruz adversary, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, has reluctantly embraced the idea of a Cruz nomination. Earlier in the year, Graham likened the choice between Cruz and Trump to “being shot or poisoned.”
“He’s not my preference,” Graham said of Cruz. “But we are where we are. And if Trump wins Florida and Ohio, I don’t know if we can stop him.”
The celebrity businessman’s critics hope to capitalize on what they see as another inflammatory reference about Muslims. “I think Islam hates us,” Trump said Wednesday night on CNN. “There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it.”
At the same time, Trump is calling on mainstream Republicans to unify behind him.
“Whatever the establishment is, they should embrace what I’ve done,” he said on CNBC.
In the Republican race for delegates to the summer nominating convention, Trump has 458 and Cruz has 359. Rubio has 151 delegates and Kasich has 54. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.
For the Democrats so far, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has won 762 pledged delegates compared to 549 for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with 10 delegates from recent primaries still to be allocated. When super-delegates are included, Clinton leads 1,223 to 574, more than halfway to the 2,383 needed to win the Democratic nomination. Super-delegates are party and elected officials who can vote for any candidate.