The president was joking, only he sort of wasn’t. There’s been a discernible change in his tone over the course of his appearances. When he came to Charlotte, in July, he just seemed happy to be out on the trail, and focused on how great Clinton was. By the time he got to Greensboro on October 11, Clinton was at perhaps her acme. After two debates, one tape of Donald Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women, and several accusations out there, the Republican seemed cooked. Obama was in high spirits, ready to close the deal with a series of jokes at Trump’s expense.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the landslide. With five days left, the race looks as close as ever, both nationally and in North Carolina. Hence Obama’s effective message on Wednesday: Are you kidding me, America?
“This choice actually is pretty clear, because the guy that the Republicans nominated—even though a bunch of them knew they shouldn’t nominate him—the guy they nominated who many of the Republicans he is running against said was a con-artist and a know-nothing and wasn’t qualified to hold this office—this guy is temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief and he is not equipped to be president,” Obama said.
He’s said things like that before, but now he was just getting started. This was Obama as media theorist, a role he seem to enjoy, subscribing to the claim that Trump’s long spree of bizarre comments has produced a sense of fatigue.
“And this should not be a controversial claim,” Obama continued. “It really shouldn’t. I mean, it’s strange how, over time, what is crazy gets normalized and we just kind of assume, well, you know what, he said a hundred crazy things, so the hundred-and-first thing we just don’t even notice.”
Obama didn’t mention the controversy that has precipitated a crisis of confidence for Democrats—the letter written by FBI Director James Comey last week, informing members of Congress of the discovery of new emails potentially related to the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Obama is caught in a tricky triangle between Comey, the Republican who he selected to lead the FBI, and Clinton, his designated heir. In an interview published earlier Wednesday, Obama offered veiled criticism of the FBI.
“I do think that there is a norm that when there are investigations we don't operate on innuendo and we don't operate on incomplete information and we don't operate on leaks,” Obama said. “We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.”
In Chapel Hill, he stuck to criticizing Trump, methodically laying out an indictment of the Republican nominee’s character, temperament, and preparedness.
“Look, we have to acknowledge, he’s got support,” Obama said. “He’s got support here in North Carolina. He’s got support in other states. And part of it is, is because he’s been able to convince some people that he’s going to be their voice.” But he insisted: “We have to stop thinking that his behavior is normal, that it’s within the bound of what has, up until this point, been our normal political discourse.”