President Barack Obama is taking the right approach in treating Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as a punch line to a series of jokes.
Like it or not, Trump's rise throughout this election cycle has introduced standards of vulgarity and combativeness into American politics. By making light of Trump's career accomplishments, the president is attacking Trump on subjects which Trump is notoriously sensitive about. While some may see the jokes as petty, it seems to be part of a larger strategy to attack Trump, should he be the Republican nominee.
Trump has been skewered by Obama at three White House Correspondents' Association dinners in the past, according to The New York Times. Obama felt compelled to take swipes at Trump in 2011, particularly due to the allegations the businessman made about the president's heritage and birth certificate.
For example, he said that by releasing his birth certificate to the public, Trump could "get back to focusing on the issues that matter like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?"
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He went on to cite Trump on the 2012 campaign trail when he was arguing against Republican former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts' proposed tax plan. Trump had endorsed Romney in 2012, but the former 2012 Republican nominee came out swinging against Trump several weeks ago, reports WQAM.
This event created another punch line for Obama to use, as he ripped apart the professed shock and outrage that Romney and other prominent Republicans have shown towards Trump's incendiary language in the campaign.
"How can you be shocked?" Obama asked audience members at a fundraiser in Austin, Texas. "This is the guy, remember, who was sure that I was born in Kenya. Who just wouldn’t let it go,"
Since Trump has risen to the top of the GOP presidential race, the president's tone became less humorous and and more outraged. He has clearly become disturbed by the shift in language and policy proposals being put forward on the Republican side, particularly when it comes to issues like accepting refugees from Syria.
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Speaking in the Philippines last year, Obama said: "But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me."
Obama's anti-Trump rhetoric is unlikely to change any firm Democrat or Republican's mind on who they support this election cycle. But his strategy -- taking a moral high ground over Trump and other Republicans while keeping crude jokes in his arsenal -- is certainly a more viable one than the track taken by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whose attempt at insulting Trump's "small hands" will primarily be remembered for Trump's outrageous response during the March 3 debate.
Obama is looking to the general election with his comments, and is attempting to unite various factions within the Democratic Party by increasingly hammering the Republican candidates -- not just Trump. He has told Democratic donors that it is getting close to the time that Hillary Clinton will be the party's nominee, and has indicated he will campaign vigorously on her behalf.
While White House aides are confident Clinton will beat Trump in a general election matchup, Obama's increasing emphasis on Trump during fundraisers and press conferences shows that the Democratic Party does see him as somewhat of a threat -- or at least, a wildly unconventional candidate who may try to take an unconventional approach to winning the White House.
The Democratic National Committee still has to do the hard work of holding onto the support of young voters that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has brought into the party to create a coalition that could confidently beat the Republicans. But Obama's treatment of the Trump campaign as a punch line shows that he is treating presidential politics as the bloodsport it unfortunately is, and shows how Trump's insults can be deflected in a humorous manner.
Will it work as a campaign strategy if Trump becomes the nominee? Who knows. If Trump does end up "shifting to the center" and somehow ends up morphing into a candidate who doesn't engage in vicious invectives about those he dislikes and who doesn't have random outbursts on Twitter, then perhaps a different strategy will be necessary.