CLEVELAND — President Barack Obama ripped Donald Trump here Friday as a man who’s embraced an attack on the “global elite” only after failing to be accepted as a member of the global elite himself, attacking the Republican nominee for running an anti-American campaign with paper-thin support that’s all about InfoWars.com conspiracy theories.
Rallying a skeptical crowd for Hillary Clinton at a small airport, Obama framed the 2016 election as a choice about democracy and moral values that goes way beyond politics — about the country coming together to reject a dangerous, self-centered cynic without “the basic honesty that a president needs” and the party that propelled that man to be its nominee.
Issues like global warming and immigration reform are important, Obama said, but this race is more about America standing up for itself and Americans standing up for the people who’ve come before them.
“Donald Trump’s closing argument is: What do you have to lose?” Obama said. “The answer is everything.”
Warning that Trump is trying to poison the entire system and nation in a ploy to dispirit the country and depress turnout, Obama urged the people here and everyone else to fight back with their votes. “Don’t fall for it,” he said.
Obama cast Trump as a false prophet, lying about who he is and what he believes. Thursday, at his own campaign events in Ohio, Trump said he was taking on the global elites. That’s absurd, Obama responded.
“This is a guy who spent all his time trying to convince everyone he was a global elite. … All he had time for is celebrities. And now suddenly he’s acting like a populist,” Obama said. “Come on, man.”
Nor is Trump the tough guy he purports to be, the president insisted, taking aim at Trump teasing the idea of the election being rigged against him, as he’s done every time his polls have dipped since the summer.
“He seems to be in the middle of the game making excuses all the time for why he might be losing,” Obama said, eagerly goading Trump. “It’s always interesting to me to see people who talk tough but don’t act tough. Because if you’re tough, you don’t make excuses.”
That’s in contrast to Clinton, whom Obama repeatedly praised for being “in the arena” and fighting for voters, waging a campaign, talking about ideas. He spoke directly to people who say they care about civil rights, inequality, Bernie Sanders’ agenda, and even values like civility, courtesy, honesty and kindness; the only way to sincerely act on those beliefs, Obama said, is to vote for Clinton.
All that Trump’s left with, the president said Friday, returning to an argument he started sounding out Thursday in Columbus, are the rabid conspiracy nuts and the Republicans who’ve aided and abetted them over the past eight years : “Donald Trump didn’t build all this crazy conspiracy stuff. Some Republicans who knew better stood by silently.”
What Trump’s left with are those people, and the kind of people who’ve taken up the InfoWars.com conspiracy site’s offer to pay people for crashing Clinton campaign events if they get on camera screaming that “Bill Clinton is a rapist.”
Obama went right at a heckler who’d made his way into the center of the crowd to hold up a piece of paper with a mock-up of the famous 2008 Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster, done instead with Bill Clinton’s face and the word “rape.”
Obama used to flare with annoyance when hecklers would interrupt him, but he’s started rolling with them more often. Friday morning, Obama turned the heckler into a prop, representing a perfect symbol of the flimsy campaign Trump is running.
“If you’re confident about the other guy, just go to his rallies,” Obama said. “You don’t have to spend time over here. Go knock on doors for your guy.”
He smiled as the security worked its way through the crowd to get to the man.
“Unless you’re getting paid to be here,” he said. “Everybody’s gotta make a living.”
He looked out at the crowd.
“Come on everybody,” he said, “let’s do our little chant: Hillary, Hillary, Hillary!”
And the crowd responded, chanting along with him.
Trump wants to be a tyrant, Obama said, but he won’t let the human rights violations that he’s fought against in other countries as president take root at home.
“Around the world, we talk to other countries, we say no, in a democracy, you can’t just threaten to jail your opponents. There are things called due process,” Obama said. “You can’t just jail or ban reporters you don’t like, because there’s this thing called the First Amendment.”
As for Trump’s telegraphing that he might not concede if Clinton wins, Obama said that represents an anti-American cult of personality: “If you lose, then you say congratulations, but then you move on, because our country, system of government is bigger than any single individual.”
As Obama’s limo arrived, Aretha Franklin’s “Freedom” was playing over the loud speakers. As he waited to take the stage, will.i.am’s “Yes We Can,” with a selection the president’s 2008 speeches running as a spoken intro played. He took the stage to U2’s “City of Blinding Lights,” just like in 2008.
Eight years ago, Obama told the crowd, one of his last rallies was right here in this same spot, at Burke Lakefront Airport. He remembered those days.
“You can lift again the politics of hope. Let’s not go backwards. Let’s go forwards,” Obama said.
Elect Clinton to stop Trump, Obama told them. Elect Clinton to save America, he argued. Elect Clinton, Obama said, for the same reasons they believed in him in 2008.
“Don’t fall for the easy cynicism that says your vote doesn’t matter. Don’t fall for what Trump tries to do that just tries to make everybody depressed. Don’t believe. I promise you: Your vote matters,” Obama said. “Send a message of progress, send a message of hope.”
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