Obama Can’t Help but Campaign for Himself

President spends post-election press conference touting achievements, trying to frame legacy

President Obama spent much of a press conference Monday, meant to focus on the preparations for a peaceful transition of power, celebrating his own record in office — a record voters just implicitly repudiated by handing Democrats disaster at the polls on Nov. 8.

Obama offered reporters at the news conference — his first since Trump’s victory — an image of a nation firmly on the pathway to prosperity. He pointed to a falling unemployment rate, rising wages and incomes — at least recently — a rising stock market, fewer uninsured residents, and progress on carbon emissions. On foreign policy, the president said Iraqi forces are in the process of retaking Mosul from the Islamic State.

“The people have spoken, Donald Trump will be the next president … It will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies.”

In his signature style, the president rattled off all of his proudest achievements without telling the second half of the story. The falling unemployment rate conceals a record-breaking number of Americans who have abandoned the workforce or who remain underemployed in the service industry. The wage growth Americans have finally notched has been sputtering and comes on the heels of two decades with no real increase to median household incomes. The rising stock market, many experts warn, is built on bubbles. The decline in the number of uninsured Americans has come at enormous cost to many Americans’ health care premiums and choices. In Iraq, coalition forces would never have been forced to retake Mosul if the premature withdrawal of U.S. forces from that country had not been ordered by President Obama himself — according to his foreign policy critics.

The unspoken counterpoints to his self-promotion did not slow down the campaigner-in-chief. Obama said Donald Trump would have “time and space” to make decisions.

“When we turn over the keys, the car’s in pretty good shape,” he said. “We are indisputably in a stronger position today than when we were when I came in eight years ago.”

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Obama lobbied on behalf of some of his signature issues, most notably the Affordable Care Act. He said repealing the law has been the “holy grail” of Republicans — but predicted it will not be so easy for his critics to craft a replacement that would preserve some of the popular benefits the law conferred while also maintaining insurance for some 20 million Americans who would lose it if Obamacare were repealed.

He said he would urge Trump to consider the consequences before undoing his executive actions on immigration.

“We do need to make sure that we have an orderly, lawful immigration process but that if it is orderly and lawful, immigration is good for our economy,” he said. “It keep this country young. It keeps it dynamic. We have entrepreneurs and strivers who come here and are willing to take risks.”

On international commerce, he said: “If you were to just eliminate trade deals with Mexico, for example — well, you’ve got a global supply chain.”

Despite the routine self-promotion and attempt at framing the Trump agenda in an unflattering context, it will soon be President Obama who must take on the awkward role of Trump defender.

As he prepares to embark on his final foreign trip as president, Obama said that part of his job during meetings with allies “is to let them know that there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America’s commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship and a recognition that those alliances aren’t just god for Europe, they’re good for the United States.”

It is a strange position for a president who demonized Trump on the campaign trail, insisting that he was temperamentally unfit for the Oval Office and even calling him inhuman at one point. But that was then. Now that Trump won last week’s election, Obama touted bipartisan consensus about America’s role in the world.

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“There is enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity across the nation,” he said. “That will continue.”

Obama called Trump “pragmatic” rather than ideological and characterized his meeting with Trump last week as a “free-flowing and, I think, useful conversation.” He said he told Trump that “gestures matter” when trying to unify the country. And the president reiterated the outgoing administration’s commitment to the peaceful transfer of power.

“It’s part of what makes this country work,” he said. “And as long as I’m president, we’re going to uphold those norms.”

Obama also declined to criticize Trump’s appointment of his campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, as his White House counselor and chief strategist.

“The people have spoken,” he said. “Donald Trump will be the next president … It will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies.”