Escalating his criticism of Donald Trump to an unusual degree for a sitting president, President Obama said Tuesday that the Republican nominee is “woefully unprepared” for the White House and called on Republican leaders to withdraw their endorsements.
At a news conference at the White House, Mr. Obama said Mr. Trump is “unfit to serve as president.”
In response, Mr. Trump said Hillary Clinton is the candidate who is unfit to serve. He said the president and Mrs. Clinton “have single-handedly destabilized the Middle East, handed Iraq, Libya and Syria to ISIS, and allowed our personnel to be slaughtered at Benghazi.”
“She is reckless with her emails, reckless with regime change, and reckless with American lives,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “Our nation has been humiliated abroad and compromised by radical Islam brought onto our shores. We need change now.”
In modern times, Mr. Obama’s increasing criticism of the opposition party’s nominee is rare for a two-term incumbent president on his way out of office. George W. Bush mostly stayed out of the 2008 race, with the nation in a deep recession and his poll numbers low. Ronald Reagan didn’t inject himself much into the 1988 race, either.
But Mr. Obama is taking it upon himself to compare Mr. Trump unfavorably with previous Republican presidential candidates by saying he is not qualified for the highest job in the land and daring Republicans who are skeptical of Mr. Trump to repudiate him outright.
“He keeps on proving it,” Mr. Obama said, referring to Mr. Trump’s feud with the Khan family, Muslims whose son was killed in Iraq while serving in the U.S. military.
The president also objected to Mr. Trump’s comment Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is not going into Ukraine,” although Russian-backed forces already have seized portions of the country.
“The notion that he would attack a Gold Star family that had made such extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our country, the fact that he doesn’t appear to have basic knowledge around critical issues in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia, means that he’s woefully unprepared to do this job,” Mr. Obama said.
On Twitter, Mr. Trump said Mr. Obama “will go down as perhaps the worst president in the history of the United States!”
Mr. Obama said he has disagreed with previous Republican presidents and contenders, including Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008, but he never “thought they couldn’t do the job.”
Republican leaders such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. John McCain of Arizona all have issued statements in recent days supporting the Khans and their sacrifice and distancing themselves from Mr. Trump’s war of words with the family. The president said party leaders should go further and pull their endorsements of the party’s presidential nominee.
“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? This isn’t a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily and weekly where they are distancing themselves from statements he’s making. There has to be a point in which you say, ‘This is not somebody I can support for president of the United States, even if he purports to be a member of my party.’”
Some critics of the president noted that he lacked executive experience when he was elected in 2009.
“Obama entered office w/o 5 minutes of successful executive experience. Eight years later, he’ll leave it the same way,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said on Twitter.
But one Republican lawmaker, albeit one who is retiring, said Tuesday that he won’t vote for Mr. Trump. U.S. Rep. Richard L. Hanna of New York called the nominee “a national embarrassment” and endorsed Mrs. Clinton.
The president said Republican leaders’ reluctance to abandon Mr. Trump’s candidacy makes their denunciations of him ring hollow.
“I don’t doubt their sincerity,” he said. “I don’t doubt that they were outraged about some of the statements that Mr. Trump and his supporters made about the Khan family. But there has to come a point at which you say somebody who makes those kinds of statements doesn’t have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding, to occupy the most powerful position in the world because a lot of people depend on the White House getting stuff right.”
Khizr Khan, who lost his son in a suicide bombing in Iraq, was a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention last week. He accused Mr. Trump of ignorance of the Constitution and said the Republican nominee had “sacrificed nothing.”
Mr. Trump questioned why Mr. Khan’s wife, Ghazala, said nothing on stage and suggested that she wasn’t “allowed” to speak. She later said she grows too emotional when speaking about her late son.
The Republican nominee said Mrs. Clinton, as secretary of state, and Mr. Obama endangered Americans through weak and misguided policies and incompetence.
“They put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons,” Mr. Trump said. “Then they allowed dozens of veterans to die waiting for medical care that never came. Hillary Clinton put the whole country at risk with her illegal email server, deleted evidence of her crime and lied repeatedly about her conduct, which endangered us all. They released criminal aliens into our country who killed one innocent American after another — like Sarah Root and Kate Steinle — and have repeatedly admitted migrants later implicated in terrorism.”
He went on, “They have produced the worst recovery since the Great Depression. They have shipped millions of our best jobs overseas to appease their global special interests. They have betrayed our security and our workers, and Hillary Clinton has proven herself unfit to serve in any government office.”