Obama says Republicans going along with Trump because they're 'intimidated'

Dartunorro Clark and Phil Helsel
·4 min read

Former President Barack Obama told MSNBC in an interview Thursday that it has been troubling to watch Republicans defend President Donald Trump's baseless voter fraud claims.

"These are just bald assertions, they have been repeatedly rejected by the courts, and I think I’m less surprised by Donald Trump doing this. He has shown only a flimsy relationship with the truth," Obama told MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart in an interview. "I’m more troubled that you’re seeing a lot of Republican officials go along with it, not because they actually believe it, but because they feel intimidated by it."

Obama sat down to discuss his recently released 768-page best-selling memoir “A Promised Land," which covers his first term in office. In past years, Obama had been reluctant to openly criticize Trump and other Republicans. But his biting criticism of the president and his party comes two weeks after an election that Trump refuses to concede to Obama’s former vice president.

"Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the United States. Kamala Harris is going to be the next vice president," Obama said. "I have been troubled, like every American, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or independent should be troubled, when you start having attempts to block, negate, overturn the people’s vote when there’s no actual evidence that there was anything illegal or fraudulent taking place."

Obama also excoriated conservative-leaning news outlets for giving a platform to the claims.

"And the degree to which you’ve seen some news outlets that cater to the right and the conservative viewpoint, somehow try to prop up these bogus claims," he said.

Few Republican lawmakers have publicly acknowledged that Biden will be the next president — vacillating between loyalty to a president who still enjoys strong support among the GOP base and their oath to protect the guardrails of democracy, which are being tested in the middle of an economic and public health crisis. Numerous Republicans have promoted the president's baseless claims of voter fraud in several states and promoted his legal team's meritless lawsuits in court, many of which have failed.

Obama said in the MSNBC interview that "at the end of the day, I don't think any of this will be successful."

"I think that you have enough Republicans with integrity, including officials in places like Georgia, that have said, 'We’re just going to count and call it the way we see it.' And that’s what they're supposed to do. That's what we should expect any public official to do," he said.

Some current and former Trump officials have privately reached out to Biden's transition team, but the Trump administration is still delaying the formal, orderly transition of power — a move some Republicans have raised concerns about while also supporting the president's losing legal fight.

Obama was asked about a recollection in his book of riding to his inauguration with outgoing President George W. Bush and of seeing protesters on the route with signs calling for Bush's indictment.

Obama wrote that he "felt quietly angry on his behalf," that the protests seemed graceless and unnecessary, considering Bush was in his final hour as president, and that Obama was troubled by the divisions the protests showed.

"I think that 2008's very different than 2020," Obama said. "The way Donald Trump's behaving in transition is very different than the way George Bush behaved on his final months, when he was in office — and because, we're in the middle of a pandemic, we don't know what inauguration's going to look like."

"But I think Joe Biden is right to say that we should all make an effort to do our best to lower the temperature and listen to the other side," Obama said.

"But, I think when you have a current president whose entire style is to fan division, that's hard while he's on the stage," he added. “In some ways, I think it will be useful for us to just get back to the normal arguments between Democrats and Republicans.”

Obama also said that "there are things that transcend partisanship," like the oath of office to uphold the Constitution and the rules and the laws of the nation.

"You know, I didn’t enjoy having to call Donald Trump and congratulate him for having won the night of his election four years ago, but I did it because that’s part of my job," he said.

"And the same way that George Bush called me and invited me and facilitated my transition — you know, that’s part of the continuity of our democracy that allows us to have arguments, have differences, but at the end of the day, still be confident that this is a government of, by and for the people," he said.

The MSNBC special also included conversations with members of My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative Obama launched during his presidency aimed at breaking down barriers for young men and boys of color, that touched on mentorship, education and race — and the bias that still affects them despite their success.