COLUMBUS, Ohio — President Obama’s message to Republicans on their candidate Donald Trump? You built this.
“The problem is not all Republicans think the way that guy does,” Obama told about 2,000 people at the Ohio Democratic Party’s fundraising dinner in Columbus. “The problem is they’ve been riding this tiger for a long time. They’ve been feeding this base all kinds of crazy for years.”
The president also had tough words for Republicans, like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and state Auditor Dave Yost, who recently rescinded their support for Trump after a video showed the GOP nominee bragging about kissing and groping women. Portman has a double-digit lead in polls over Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland.
The dinner was just days after the 11-year-old video that showed Trump using vulgar language as he spoke to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. On Wednesday, multiple stories, including in the New York Times and People magazine, broke about women who said Trump had touched them inappropriately. The Trump campaign has denied the allegations and threatened to sue the Times.
“They don’t get credit for at the very last minute when finally the guy that they nominated and they endorsed and they supported is caught on tape saying things that no decent person would even think, much less say, much less brag about, much less laugh about or joke about, much less act on,” Obama said. “You can’t wait till that happens then say it’s too much.”
Republicans were less amused.
“That rhetoric won’t work in our state, which re-elected the entire Republican statewide ticket by double digits in 2014,” Ohio Republican Party spokeswoman Brittany Warner said.
Obama slammed Trump — who was speaking to a Cincinnati rally at the exact same time —for his rhetoric and actions toward women. But he reserved some of his harshest criticism for Republicans who knew better and didn’t stop fringe parts of their party that fed on conspiracies like the allegation that Obama wasn’t born in America.
“Don’t act like this started with Donald Trump. He took it to a whole other level. I have to give him credit,” Obama said.
That might resonate with some Republicans in Ohio, who chose Gov. John Kasich over Trump in the primary. But Clinton and Trump are locked in a close race in Ohio. They were virtually tied in two polls released Thursday.
“If you know Ohio, it’s going to be close,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said. But “Donald Trump couldn’t even win the primary here. This isn’t Trump country.”
This wasn’t exactly a crowd of undecided voters, though.
“Every day, there’s going to be more women and more tapes and more examples of Donald Trump’s lack of character. I cannot imagine how Donald Trump can be elected to anything by Nov. 8,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
The first lady delivered an impassioned speech during a Clinton rally in New Hampshire, saying Trump’s controversial comments about women should be taken seriously.
Obama had a tough act to follow — first lady Michelle Obama. She proved herself as the Clinton campaign’s No. 1 surrogate at a New Hampshire event Thursday morning: “I can’t believe that I’m saying that a candidate for president of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women.”
Or as her husband put it, “She was pretty good.”
Contributing: USA TODAY
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