Former President Barack Obama has been casually critical of President Donald Trump but, it seemed, mostly resisted using the derogatory language of progressive activists to describe his successor.
According to “Hillary,” the documentary about Hillary Clinton and her 2016 loss to Trump, however, it seems Obama reserved his more pointed criticism for private conversations and referred to the now-current president as a “fascist” in a phone call with Clinton’s vice presidential candidate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine — at least according to Tim Kaine.
The Atlantic reports that the documentary, which premiered this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival to mostly rave reviews, shows Kaine deep in conversation with Clinton over an exchange he had with the former president over Clinton’s low-key presence on the campaign trail. To reassure Clinton that Obama was on her side despite the criticism, Kaine claimed that Obama had called Trump a “fascist” in conversation.
“President Obama called me last night and said, ‘Tim, this is no time to be a purist,’” Kaine tells Clinton in one memorable scene, per The Atlantic. “‘You’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.’”
Clinton replies, “I echo that sentiment.”
Neither Kaine’s team nor Obama’s was willing to comment on the conversation, and neither confirmed to The Atlantic that Obama actually made the comment.
Hillary Clinton, however, was more than willing to elaborate on the subject of Trump’s supposed “fascism.”
“If you look at the definition [of fascist], which I’ve had the occasion to read several times,” Clinton said, according to the newsmagazine, which held an interview with her at Sundance this weekend, “I think we can agree on several things: One, he has authoritarian tendencies and he admires authoritarian leaders, [Vladimir] Putin being his favorite. He uses a form of really virulent nationalism. He identifies targets: immigrants, blacks, browns, gays, women, whoever the target of the day or week is … I think you see a lot of the characteristics of what we think of [as] nationalistic, fascistic kinds of tendencies and behaviors.”
Obama is a practical politician, and, in accordance with his alleged comments to Kaine, did “barnstorm” battleground states to support Clinton’s bid for the White House. The Clinton campaign kept him at a breakneck pace, perhaps hoping that Obama’s popularity could make up for what Clinton was lacking.
After the 2016 campaign concluded, Obama was openly critical of Clinton, suggesting, according to Politico, that Clinton’s habit of sending surrogates to Rust Belt, midwestern states, ultimately backfired on her, and that her unwillingness to “show up everywhere” hurt her at the ballot box.
“How we organize politically I think is something that we should spend some time thinking about. I believe that we have better ideas, but I also believe that good ideas don’t matter if people don’t hear them,” Obama told reporters just a week after Clinton lost to Trump. “And one of the issues the Democrats have to be clear on is, given population distribution across the country, we have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere. We have to work at a grass-roots level, something that’s been a running thread in my career.”
He has repeated that warning several times this election cycle as well, cautioning Democrats not to limit their appeal to progressives, but to listen and cater to moderates, blue collar workers, and Midwestern swing voters, many of whom voted for Trump over Clinton in 2016.