Lauer Asks Obama About GOP Candidates ‘Running’ on ‘Fear’

During a lengthy interview with President Obama conducted on Monday and aired on Tuesday’s NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer worried about Republican presidential candidates playing on the “fear” of the American people: “That fear, though, is still incredibly real....And in some ways, it's driving the current presidential campaign. You've got a guy like Donald Trump and others who have recognized and identified that fear....And in some ways, they’re running on it.”

Lauer wondered if the President felt “responsible” for the state of the presidential race: “Do you take responsibility for that?...after seven years of the Obama presidency, do you feel your responsible for a certain hunger out there for the message that Donald Trump is putting out?”

Obama replied: “You know, talk to me if he wins, then we'll have a conversation about how responsible I feel about it. But I’m pretty confident that the overwhelming majority of Americans are looking for the kind of politics that does feed our hopes and not our fears.”

The line of discussion began with Lauer observing:

I know in your speech it's traditional to say, “The state of our union is strong.” When it comes to the emotional state of our union, when I go out and I talk to people, the words I hear them use most often in terms of how they’re feeling right now – they talk about fear, they talk about frustration, they talk about fatigue. Any of those words surprise you?

The President acknowledged those feelings but tried to downplay the concerns:

I think, you know, we went through a lot over these last ten years. We went through Katrina. We went through the Iraq war. We went through the worst financial crisis in our lifetimes. We are still battling terrorism. People are still recovering from some of the economic blows that hit, and it is sometimes important for us to step back and take measure of how far we've come. The economy right now is doing better than any other economy in the world by a significant margin. We remain the strongest nation on Earth by far and there are no existential threats facing us.

Tell the Truth 2016

Later, Lauer pressed him on the terrorism threat:

ISIS is such a huge concern for people. Not only are they carrying attacks out in the Middle East anymore, but they’re inspiring attacks in Europe and here in places like San Bernardino. I think even in Philadelphia over the weekend. Your daughters are young ladies. When they get to be your age, President Obama, do you believe in your heart that they’ll be living in a world that is dealing with the threat of radical Islam on a daily basis?

Obama remarked: “I am absolutely confident we will have defeated ISIL. I don't think we have to wait until they’re 54 for that to happen.”

In part two of the interview, aired in the 8 a.m. ET hour, Lauer fretted over Obama’s legacy if a Republican were elected: “Early next year, if tradition holds, you and Mrs. Obama are going to go to the main door of the White House, it will open and a motorcade will pull in, and the incoming president, whether it's a man or a woman gonna get out of that car. How much jeopardy will your legacy be in if that person is not a Democrat?”

The President seized the chance to blast his GOP opponents:

Well, I'm going to be working hard to make sure that it is a Democrat and there's no doubt that given what the Republican candidates have said, that there are going to be some things that I think are really important that they’re going to try to reverse.

Even something as controversial in the Republican Party as ObamaCare. When something works or the evidence shows that it's helping people, and you want to stop it just for ideological reasons, it turns out to be a little more difficult. You know, certainly when they start dealing with foreign policy and if they think that somehow by talking a little tougher they’re gonna somehow change the complexities of the Middle East, for example, now turns out that's not how it works.

And so I think there is a really useful awakening that takes place when you walk into this office. A lot of the campaign rhetoric, you realize, has to give way to some very hard, tough realities.

At another point in that portion of interview, Lauer asked Obama about getting “extremely emotional” while pushing executive action on gun control.

Obama responded:

There's no doubt that I am looser now. There have been times during the course of the presidency where I've tightened up. You know, as you go into your last year you start realizing that ultimately how well you've done here is going to be judged not by tomorrow's polls or today's headlines, they’re going to be judged by, you know, people who are looking back at you 20, 30 years from now and so you better let it rip.

Here is an excerpt of the interview aired on January 12:    

7:07 AM ET

(...)

MATT LAUER: As you stand in that room, you will be looking out over a room that arguably is as divided as it has ever been. Do you see that as a failure of your presidency? You came to town saying it was about hope and change, you were going to change the tone in Washington. You wanted to unite people.

BARACK OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: And they’re not united. Is it a failure?

OBAMA: It's a regret. I could not be prouder of what we've accomplished and sometimes we look at the past through rose-colored glasses. It's been pretty divided in the past. There have been times where people beat each other with canes and we had things like the Civil War, so there have been times where it's been pretty rough. But there's no doubt that politics in Washington are so much more divided than the American people are, and part of what I want to do in this last address is to remind people, you know what? We've got a lot of good things going for us, and if we can get our politics right, it turns out that we're not as divided on the ideological spectrum as people make us out to be.

LAUER: I know in your speech it's traditional to say, “The state of our union is strong.” When it comes to the emotional state of our union, when I go out and I talk to people, the words I hear them use most often in terms of how they’re feeling right now – they talk about fear, they talk about frustration, they talk about fatigue.

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: Any of those words surprise you?

OBAMA: No. I think, you know, we went through a lot over these last ten years. We went through Katrina. We went through the Iraq war. We went through the worst financial crisis in our lifetimes. We are still battling terrorism. People are still recovering from some of the economic blows that hit, and it is sometimes important for us to step back and take measure of how far we've come. The economy right now is doing better than any other economy in the world by a significant margin. We remain the strongest nation on Earth by far and there are no existential threats facing us. But if we make some good choices now, whoever the next president is, whoever is controlling the next Congress, there's no reason why we shouldn't own the 21st century.

LAUER: You said there's no existential threat facing us. That fear, though, is still incredibly real.

OBAMA: Yeah.

LAUER: And in some ways, it's driving the current presidential campaign. You've got a guy like Donald Trump and others who have recognized and identified that fear.

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: And in some ways, they’re running on it.

OBAMA: Yeah.

LAUER: Do you take responsibility for that? And the reason I ask it is, people said after eight years of George W. Bush in the White House, the American people were hungry for your message of hope and change.

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: So after seven years of the Obama presidency, do you feel your responsible for a certain hunger out there for the message that Donald Trump is putting out?

OBAMA: Well, you know, the message that Donald Trump’s putting out has had adherents a lot of times during the course of our history. You know, talk to me if he wins, then we'll have a conversation about how responsible I feel about it. But I’m pretty confident that the overwhelming majority of Americans are looking for the kind of politics that does feed our hopes and not our fears. That does work together and doesn't try to divide us. That isn't looking for simplistic solutions and scapegoating, but looks for us, you know, buckling down and figuring out how to do we make things work for the next generation.

LAUER: So when you stand and deliver that State of the Union address, in no part of your mind or brain can you imagine Donald Trump standing up one day and delivering a State of the Union address?

OBAMA: Well, I can imagine it in a Saturday night skit. Look, anything’s possible, and I think, you know, we shouldn't be complacent. I think everybody's got to work hard.

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC