By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - Former U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday assailed his successor, Donald Trump, as deeply unfit for the office he occupies and argued that voting for his former No. 2, Joe Biden, was necessary to ensure the survival of American democracy.
"He's shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves," Obama said of Trump during the third night of the Democratic National Convention.
After avoiding direct criticism for most of Trump's first term, the scathing broadsides from Obama constituted an unusually harsh appraisal of one president by another - although Trump has rarely hesitated to attack Obama, often leveling accusations of misconduct without evidence.
Obama blamed Trump for the 170,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus, the millions of jobs lost to the ensuing recession and the diminishment of the country's democratic principles at home and abroad.
His assertion that Trump, a Republican, is incapable of meeting the demands of the presidency echoed the remarks from his wife, Michelle Obama, on Monday, that Trump "simply cannot be who we need him to be."
"Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job because he can't," Obama said. "And the consequences of that failure are severe."
On Twitter, Trump responded to Obama's appearance in all capital letters, suggesting Obama's decision to endorse Biden only after his Democratic rivals dropped out indicated doubts about Biden's candidacy.
But on Wednesday, Obama delivered a full-throated endorsement of Biden and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, saying they "actually care about every American, and they care deeply about this democracy."
Biden, 77, was formally nominated on Tuesday night to take on Trump, 74, in the Nov. 3 presidential election. Obama, 59, was unsparing in his praise for his former vice president, saying Biden became a "brother" to him.
"For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision," he said. "He made me a better president – and he's got the character and the experience to make us a better country."
CHANCE TO SECURE LEGACY
For Obama and Biden, the election is a chance to help secure their administration's legacy, including the restoration of dozens of policies on immigration, climate change and healthcare that Trump has systematically sought to dismantle.
The Biden campaign will deploy Obama, who remains a popular figure, as a key backer during the campaign's closing months, although the coronavirus pandemic has all but eliminated traditional in-person events such as rallies.
Obama's address to the virtual convention was delivered from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, the city where the U.S. Constitution and the country's founding democratic principles were drafted.
"The one constitutional office elected by all of the people is the presidency," he said. "So at a minimum, we should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us. ... But we should also expect a president to be the custodian of this democracy."
Trump, he said, had failed those tests.
An emotional Obama urged Americans to vote, warning that Trump and his Republican allies can win only by suppressing and undermining votes, rather than on the merits of their policies.
"Do not let them take away your power," Obama said. "Do not let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you're going to get involved and vote."
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)