It doesn’t matter what President Barack Obama says these days, his listeners are bound to hear two words: Donald Trump.
With his proclivity for dominating the conversation, the Republican presidential nominee is forcing Obama’s final few months to be viewed almost entirely through the prism of campaign politics. As Obama carries out his presidential duties, voters can’t help but wonder what the role would look like if it were inhabited by the gaudy billionaire.
At the United Nations this week, Trump trailed the president both metaphorically and physically, as world leaders took stock of what a dramatic shift a Trump presidency would mean for American leadership.
The fusion of the campaign with real-world governing was on vivid display Monday when White House and State Department officials mingled in the same Manhattan hotel lobby where Trump’s advisers were gathered as their candidate met upstairs with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Obama was staying in the hotel, while Trump was using the meeting to try to show his readiness to go head-to-head with a foreign leader. Democrat Hillary Clinton met with the Egyptian at the same hotel earlier in the day.
The next day, Obama’s final speech to the U.N. General Assembly took him on a world tour of global hotspots and areas of progress. Yet social media and news coverage of his address was preoccupied with what he said — or was believed to have said — about Trump. On three occasions in the speech, Obama urged leaders not to put up “walls” around their nations.
“The world is too small for us to simply be able to build a wall and prevent it from affecting our own societies,” Obama said near the end of his speech. Referring to the Zika virus, he said later, “mosquitoes don’t respect walls.”
Though he never mentioned him by name, Obama and his speechwriters were clearly cognizant that the observations were sure to be perceived as pejorative references to Trump. The Republican has built his unlikely campaign around a steadfast promise — mocked by some, hailed by others — to build a border wall and force Mexico to pay for it.