Los Angeles (CNN)Maybe it’s his rapidly approaching return to life as a normal citizen. Or the knowledge that, two weeks from Election Day, his preferred successor is enjoying a decisive edge over Donald Trump. Or maybe it was just the West Coast vibe.
In California this week, a loosened President Barack Obama left few Republicans spared in a fierce reproach of the party he now has little reason to placate. During a political swing through oceanfront gardens and tastefully appointed living rooms of La Jolla and Beverly Hills, Obama expanded his ire beyond the GOP presidential nominee in a cutting and specific fashion, savaging his longtime political opponents as craven, hypocritical and ultimately responsible for their own demise.
“The things that you’re hearing Trump saying, they’re said on the floor of the House of Representatives all the time. The Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives are repeatedly promoting crazy conspiracy theories and demonizing opponents,” Obama told donors crammed into a modern art-bedecked study in San Diego. “Donald Trump didn’t build that. He just slaps his name on it and took credit for it.”
With Democrats confident in their presidential chances and gleeful in their attempts to tie down-ballot Republicans to Trump, Obama’s barely constrained distaste for the opposition party has exploded in the fading days of the campaign. After eight years of attempting to preserve potential political alliances, if not actively fostering them, Obama is unloading now on a party he says was Trump long before the real estate mogul descended his escalator as a presidential contender.
In an earlier era, the personal insults and aspersions that have been lobbed Obama’s direction by the GOP were largely ignored, or at least downplayed by a White House hopeful to do business with the party that controlled Congress for six of his eight years in office.
That’s not to say Obama didn’t criticize Republicans — he did, harshly, for their economic policies and foreign policy plans, including during a hard-fought race against Mitt Romney in 2012. But when it came to the conspiracies peddled by the GOP’s conservative mouthpieces — that he was born in Kenya, a closet Muslim, or a secret socialist — the strategy had been to remain largely above the fray.
Now, with little reason left to hold his tongue on Republican dysfunction, Obama is instead swinging for the party as a whole, almost a decade’s worth of pent-up frustrations emerging for a fiery comeuppance.
“For months he observed a primary campaign that he was reluctant to engage in,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Los Angeles Tuesday, where Obama was raking in campaign cash at the Spanish revival mansion owned by “Glee” and “American Horror Story” creator Ryan Murphy. “Once the general election started, there was some pent-up interest, you might say, in engaging in the debate.”
Author and presidential historian Jon Meacham had another way of describing Obama’s looseness of late.
“Some two-term presidents have a little senior-itis. This guy’s never had so much fun,” Meacham said on CNN Monday. “He’s out there beer-bonging rhetoric.”
In the funnel this week: GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who as former chairman of the House Oversight Committee was long a thorn in the White House’s side but now, facing an unexpectedly tight battle for his California district, is promoting his cooperation with the Democratic President.
The turnabout, in Obama’s description, took some chutzpah.
“This guy has spent all his time simply trying to obstruct, to feed the same sentiments that resulted in Donald Trump becoming their nominee,” Obama told donors who shelled out $10,000 for an hour with the President. “Now he’s sending out brochures touting his cooperation with me. Now, that is shameless.”
Obama even wrote off Republicans’ photo-line pleasantries offered at his annual Christmas party for lawmakers.
“Some of them say, ‘I’m praying for you,’ “he said, “and I don’t question the sincerity that they are praying for me: ‘Please, change this man from the socialist Muslim that he is.’ “
Issa was the latest in a string of Republicans on Obama’s burn list, coming after Sens. Rob Portman and Marco Rubio, and Nevada Senate hopeful Rep. Joe Heck, all of whom he castigated for their flexible approach toward supporting Donald Trump.
“When Donald creates his TV station, I’m sure that Joe Heck will be on there giving interviews,” Obama sneered during a rally in North Las Vegas on Sunday. “Even as he rescinded his endorsement of Trump, he said I want to support him. I really do. Really? So how does that work? You’re for him, but you’re not. But you’re kind of for him. What the heck?”
For a president known for complex oratory and rhetoric, the ease of using Heck’s last name seemed too good for Obama to pass up; he deployed some variation of “what the heck?” or “heck no!” at least eight times.
It’s not only the President who has sharpened his arrows in the final stretch of an ugly campaign. The first lady, Michelle Obama, has rebutted and responded to the attacks against her husband more personally this year than she’s ever been willing to previously, unleashing the hurt and anger in a way political spouses are rarely willing to do.
Even Obama’s press secretary Earnest, normally a buttoned-up face of administration policy, has begun directing more cutting barbs from his briefing room podium, including a joking (in his telling) suggestion that Donald Trump used cocaine at the presidential debates.
Obama, meanwhile, told Jimmy Kimmel Monday he spent the debates mostly laughing at the billionaire. Asked to read one of Trump’s tweets predicting he’d “go down as perhaps the worst president in the history of the United States,” Obama responded with boastful confidence.
“At least I will go down as a president,” he said.
Overlooking the Pacific at a mansion in La Jolla Monday, Obama used similarly straightforward terms to drive home his concerns about Trump’s claims of a rigged election.
“Even if you were just playing in the playground when you’re like five or six years old — you always met those — you know there was always the kid who, like, if they weren’t winning, they’d be all like starting to have a tantrum and start whining and complaining about this isn’t fair,” Obama said. “Well, no, you just got beat, that’s all.”