Trump’s entire political career is built on peddling the lie that Obama was not born in America. And much of Trump’s presidential campaign—at least the parts that weren’t devoted to claiming that Hillary Clinton should be jailed—was spent attacking Obama’s actions in office. Obamacare was a “disaster” that had to be repealed and replaced. The Iran Deal, Cuba thaw, and Paris climate accord were poorly negotiated and bad for America. Obama’s foreign policy, particularly in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, emboldened ISIS. Trump has promised to reverse Obama’s executive actions protecting the children of undocumented immigrants on day one of his administration.
And yet, since becoming president-elect, Trump has seemingly warmed to Obama. Last week he told The New York Times, “I had a great meeting with President Obama. I never met him before. I really liked him a lot.” On Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Trump and Obama had spoken “a handful of times,” including a 45-minute phone call that took place over the weekend.
In the Times interview and elsewhere, Trump has signaled a willingness to rethink his positions on climate change and torture, among other things. As The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein wrote on Monday, Trump may be more malleable than many believe. But Trump’s calculated reality-show battle for secretary of state has already shown tension between the establishment and anti-establishment wings that he is ostensibly trying to unite in his administration. If his thawing on Obama is genuine, it will add even more tensions between these camps—and possibly cost Trump allies in both wings.
Trump won the presidency with a very small tent, and he will be in for some pain if he rapidly tries to make that tent bigger, especially if that comes in the form of catering to Obama. Of course, Trump could also be playing a game, assuaging Obama fans during the lame duck only to throw them and Obama under the bus come January 20.