President Obama speaks during a joint press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the National Palace in Addis Ababa on July 27.National Journal

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The White House has tried to stay out of the melee surrounding 2016. But in Ethiopia on Monday, President Obama dove headfirst into the fray.

Calling out Republican presidential candidates' "ad hominem attacks," Obama told reporters at a press conference in Addis Ababa, "We're creating a culture that is not conducive to good policy or good politics."

"The American people deserve better," he said. "Certainly presidential debates deserve better. In 18 months, I'm turning over the keys. I want to make sure I'm turning over the keys to somebody who is serious about the serious problems that the country faces and the world faces."

The comments came in response to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's charge Saturday that with the Iran deal, Obama was bringing Jews back to the Holocaust. By trusting Iran, Huckabee said, "he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven."

Obama addressed Huckabee's comments directly, as well as Sen. Tom Cotton's recent attack likening Secretary of State John Kerry to Pontius Pilate and Sen. Ted Cruz's oft-repeated line that the president is "the leading state sponsor of terrorism." That kind of rhetoric, he said, "would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad.

"Maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines," he speculated. "But it's not the kind of leadership that is needed for America right now."

Obama brought up the businessman and GOP presidential candidate's recent attacks on Sen. John McCain, noting that when those kinds of comments are made, "the Republican party is shocked. And yet that arises out of a culture where those kinds of outrageous attacks have become all too commonplace and get circulated nonstop through the Internet, talk radio, news outlets."

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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