Yesterday, Obama called Trump "unfit to serve" as president. In fact, he made the case at length.
Using the formal backdrop of a joint news conference with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, Mr. Obama suggested that Mr. Trump would not abide by “norms and rules and common sense” and questioned whether he would “observe basic decency” should he reach the Oval Office.Alarm bells went off for those familiar with basic political dynamics (or schooled, like me, by political scientists contributing to mainstream journalism in recent years). Presidents polarize. When the president comes out in favor of something, the out-party turns agin it, by reflex. That goes triple in the Obama era, when the right wing scream machine has demonized the president's every move, including his birth.
The president said he would have been disappointed to lose in 2008 or 2012, but added that he had never doubted whether his Republican rivals in those races, John McCain and Mitt Romney, could function as president or had the knowledge to make government work.
“That’s not the situation here,” Mr. Obama said.
Yet something strange happened -- or didn't happen -- today. Republican leadership, reeling from Trump's a) relentless attacks on a Gold Star family, b) refusal to endorse two Republican leaders facing primary challenges who have denigrated themselves for him, and c) ejection of a crying baby from his rally, have not denounced the president's all-but-unprecedented direct assault on their nominee's fitness for office.
Republican reaction so far: crickets. Look at major outlet coverage - New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, ABC, NPR. No Republicans calling the presidential intervention inappropriate. None questioning Obama's own fitness to serve, or Hillary "lock her up" Clinton's. This despite the fact that Obama directly challenged the Republican leadership and implicitly accused them of hypocrisy:
But Mr. Obama said the political recriminations from Republicans “ring hollow” if the party’s leaders continue to support Mr. Trump’s campaign.No one in the Republican leadership is willing to make the case that Trump is fit to serve as president.
“The question they have to ask themselves is: If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?” Mr. Obama said. “What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer?”
Obama's direct assault may yet prove to make it harder for Republicans to repudiate Trump. Since 2009, those who have aligned with Obama on anything have been relentlessly punished. But it's remarkable that Republican leadership cannot make an affirmative case that Obama was wrong to break with precedent in this way.
Related: In which Republican pundits hear Obama for the first time