In an extraordinary statement against a former president, the Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has told Barack Obama to “keep his mouth shut” over criticism of Donald Trump, calling him “classless”.
Last week, remarks by Obama were leaked to Yahoo News that were highly critical about Trump and his administration, seeming to break a convention in US politics that former occupants of the White House rarely criticize their successors.
Speaking to alumni of his administration, Obama said he was worried about the “rule of law”, in light of the justice department’s decision to drop its case against the former national security adviser Michael Flynn. That’s the issue at the heart of Trump’s attempts to gin up an “Obamagate” scandal, which on Tuesday morning he again claimed “makes Watergate look small time!”
Obama also said the response to the coronavirus pandemic had been “an absolute chaotic disaster”.
McConnell was speaking to Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump in an online fundraiser on Monday night.
Asked about Obama “slamming” the administration for its response to the coronavirus outbreak, he said: “I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut.
“You know, we know he doesn’t like much this administration is doing. That’s understandable. But I think it’s a little bit classless frankly to critique an administration that comes after you.”
He added: “You had your shot. You were there for eight years. I think the tradition that the Bushes set up of not critiquing the president who comes after you is a good tradition.”
There is a tradition of former presidents not commenting on or attacking their successors in the Oval Office, but Trump is not part of the informal club which currently includes Obama, George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and he has regularly attacked those who went before him.
Plus, Obama’s views of Trump are pretty well known, if usually by indirect routes and leaks to the press. For example, in a Hulu documentary about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign against Trump, the Virginia senator Tim Kaine is seen to say the then president thinks Trump is a fascist.
In the remarks leaked to Yahoo News, Obama said he would be hitting the campaign trail for Joe Biden this fall to help him try to unseat Trump and make him a one-term president. Biden leads Trump in key swing states and national polling and McConnell is also presiding over a Senate majority that now looks increasingly at risk as Republican popularity dips.