Politics

Santorum Whacks Obama’s ‘Politically Correct’ Letter to Trump

Former senator rips 'caveats' to 44th president's uncovered note as other CNN panelists heap praise

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) criticized a letter former President Barack Obama penned and left for his successor on Inauguration Day, as “politically correct” and “full of caveats,” during an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

CNN exclusively obtained the text of the 275-word letter Obama wrote for President Donald Trump and left in the Oval Office. Addressed to “Mr. President,” the letter CNN published Sunday contained four main pieces of advice.

The 44th president wanted to ensure that the 45th president worked to help Americans achieve success, to “sustain the international order” with the American leadership that has become “indispensable,” to become a guardian of the country’s “democratic institutions and traditions” like the “rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties” and take time for friends and family.

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“Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure,” Obama wrote in the letter’s introduction. “This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don’t know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful. Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past eight years.”

In concluding the letter, Obama wrote, “Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can. Good luck and Godspeed.”

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Although Santorum praised the bulk of the letter as “very gracious and well written,” the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania said he couldn’t help but feel that Obama slyly leveled a parting shot at his successor in the introduction.

“The introduction was a little, it was politically correct. [Obama] didn’t congratulate [Trump] on his victory. He congratulated him on his run. He also didn’t say ‘America supports you,’ he said ‘millions support you,'” said Santorum, a senior political commentator for CNN.

“So there is — that caveat, there’s a little caveat at the beginning,” Santorum added. “But after that moment I thought the letter was actually very graciously and well written.”

Santorum’s particular criticisms of Obama’s letter were not shared by other members of CNN’s roundtable discussion Sunday.

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Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) gushed over Obama’s letter to Trump, saying, “I think this really speaks volumes to the character of President Obama. These beautiful words of wisdom were presented in a very beautiful way in spite of the fact that President Trump led the effort to delegitimize the first African-American president.”

“President Obama rose above that,” Lee added, saying that Trump has not heeded Obama’s advice.

“Well, what we see President Trump trying to take away health care for millions of Americans. We don’t see him working to create better jobs with good-paying wages and lowering the cost of living,” Lee complained. “And so I hope that President Trump really rereads this letter and understands its wisdom and uses it as a road map to the rest of his presidency.”

Carlos Gutierrez, President George W. Bush’s secretary of commerce, also praised the “nice” letter, although he noted that Obama’s message about maintaining the “international order” appeared to be a jab at the populist-nationalist platform upon which Trump successfully campaigned.

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“If there’s a message in there, when [Obama] talked about keeping the international order, that’s probably a suggestion that is juxtaposed to President Trump’s ‘America First,'” Gutierrez said. “But you know that when you get into recommending to spend more time with family, it becomes a formality. There’s no question that this is diplomacy at work, but these two men are arch rivals. They have been and they always will be, and that’s something to keep in mind when we see these wonderful statements of friendship.”

In direct contrast, Bush’s inaugural letter to Obama was shorter and lacked any noticeable digs designed to criticize his successor.

“Congratulations on becoming our President. You have just begun a fantastic chapter in your life,” Bush wrote. “Very few have had the honor of knowing the responsibility you now feel. Very few know the excitement of the moment and the challenges you will face.”

“There will be trying moments. The critics will rage. Your ‘friends’ will disappoint you. But, you will have an Almighty God to comfort you, a family who loves you, and a country that is pulling for you, including me,” Bush continued. “No matter what comes, you will be inspired by the character and compassion of the people you now lead.
God bless you.”

But Neera Tanden, the president and CEO of the liberal Center for American Progress, also lavished praise on Obama for his “extraordinary” letter while bashing Trump, noting that “usually you do not have to remind the president, a person who has become president, of essential democratic norms like civil liberties and democratic respect for the press.”

“That’s an unusual thing to have to do, I think. And I think it’s spoke to some concerns the majority of Americans had in the election,” Tanden said.

Regardless, Trump reportedly “is said to cherish Obama’s missive,” CNN wrote when it unveiled the letter’s text.

“Upon reading it on Inauguration Day, [Trump] attempted to place a phone call to the former president expressing his gratitude, according to both a current White House official and a former Obama aide. His predecessor was traveling west to California with his family, and couldn’t take the call,” CNN reported.

“It was long. It was complex. It was thoughtful,” Trump told ABC News of Obama’s letter a week after he took office. “And it took time to do it, and I appreciated it.”

Outgoing presidents traditionally pen notes to their successors.

Bill Clinton, husband of Trump’s 2016 Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, told Bush in his letter that although “the burdens you now shoulder are great but often exaggerated,” the “sheer joy of doing what you believe is right is inexpressible.”

Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, wrote Clinton back in 1992 that “your success now is our country’s success,” adding, “I am rooting hard for you.”

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Marianique Santos)

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