Former President Obama criticized President Trump for ramping up racial tensions on Monday. This is a rare intervention in political debates from the 44th president.
What remains to be seen is how Trump will respond.
By late Tuesday evening, Trump had managed to restrain himself, by his combative standards. His only response was a tweeting of comments made by Brian Kilmeade on “Fox & Friends” that suggested an unfair correlation was being drawn between Trump and mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 dead.
It would be unusual for Trump to keep quiet for long given Obama’s criticism and his feelings for his predecessor, with whom he often seems to be in competition.
Trump has continually criticized Obama and often suggests that his predecessor is handled too kindly by the media. In fact, just weeks ago, he said the former president should be under investigation for his book deal.
Trump frequently criticizes Obama’s record on foreign policy and the economy. He argues his own success in those areas outshines the former president’s, and the president seems irritated with any sense that Obama is more popular than he is.
Bill Carrick, a California-based Democratic strategist, asserted that Trump is “very, very jealous of the esteem in which the American people hold Obama, and he feels the need to take cheap shots at him all the time.”
“Of course, that reinforces why everyone likes Obama and doesn’t like him. It’s ridiculous,” the Democrat said.
If Trump retaliates against Obama’s Monday statement, it carries its own risks. It could look petty in the immediate aftermath of the mass shootings to go after Obama, and the president would risk renewing the debate about his willingness to inflame racial tensions by taking on the nation’s first black president in heated terms.
Obama’s four-paragraph statement on Monday took much more direct aim than usual at Trump, condemning “leaders” who use language “that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments.”
The former president also contended that such language “has been at the root of most human tragedy throughout history, here in America and around the world.”
The former president has said that the most difficult day of his presidency came in December 2012, when 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Obama became wept while speaking at the White House in the aftermath of that mass shooting and later described the failure of Congress to enact stricter gun controls as “shameful.”
“There is no surprise that he would come forward on this issue,” said Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.