“I think I can’t characterize it without…” Obama began before stopping. “At some point over a beer—off the record.”
It was a noticeably different tone than the one employed by the White House after the meeting: That it was "a little less awkward" than the media might have imagined, in the words of Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
For much of the wide-ranging profile, which draws from several interviews, Obama discussed the slanted media and political environment which led to last week's victory of President-elect Trump. He highlighted the effect of fake and distorted news sites that profited handsomely from Trump’s candidacy, and to which the President-elect may owe part of his success.
“An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll,” Obama said. “And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”
He contrasted Trump’s success in such a hyper partisan media environment with his own, just eight years ago.
“In southern Illinois, in those counties I won, I was at V.F.W.s and fish fries hearing people’s stories and talking to folks, so that they knew me. They weren’t getting me through Fox or Rush Limbaugh or Breitbart or RedState,” he said. “I’ve said it before, but if I watched Fox I wouldn’t vote for me!”
But Obama characterized Trump as symptomatic of a more fundamental weakness in the Republican Party, saying “we’ve seen this coming.”
“Donald Trump beating fifteen people said less about his skills and more about the lack of skills of the people he beat,” Obama said, noting that even mainstream Republicans like former House Speaker John Boehner failed to push back against “these currents.”
“Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years,” he continued, noting that Trump was “able to distill the anger and resentment and the sense of aggrievement.”