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Obama, Biden take turns lampooning Trump in Michigan as campaign winds down

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden brought out the A-list — former President Barack Obama and singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder — on Saturday to drive up turnout among African Americans before Tuesday’s election.

Speaking to a drive-in rally at Flint’s Northwestern High School on Saturday before a similar event later that day in Detroit, Obama and his former vice president appeared together for the first time during the campaign and took turns skewering Republican President Donald Trump.

They blasted his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and touted the bailout of the auto industry during Obama’s first term. Obama criticized Trump, the former star of “The Apprentice,” as a “reality star” who is not up to the task of the presidency 

“He’s still worrying about his inauguration crowd being smaller than mine. It really bugs him,” Obama said.

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“Does he have nothing better to worry about? Did no one come to his birthday party when he was a kid?”

Obama contrasted Biden — a man he said has values of honesty and hard work — with Trump, who he claimed “embolden[s] other people to be mean, and divisive, and racist.”

Under Biden, the United States “won’t be exhausting,” Obama said. “You’ll be able to get on with your lives knowing that the president is not going to suggest that we inject bleach as a possible cure of COVID.”

The high-profile visits come as Michigan reprises its role as a swing state, with Trump making multiple visits this weekend, including stops at Total Sports Park in Washington Township at 11 am. Sunday and 5 p.m. Monday in Traverse CIty and 10:30 p.m. Monday in Grand Rapids.

Biden has consistently led in the polls in Michigan, but experts say a potential vulnerability could be turnout among Black voters. 

In Detroit, Clerk Janice Winfrey predicts turnout of 50 percent, which is slightly above 2016, when Trump upset Democrat Hillary Clinton, but well below participation during Obama’s two elections.

Democrats note that nearly 40,000 people who voted in Wayne County in 2012 didn’t vote in 2016; in Genesee County more than 5,000 people who voted in 2012 didn’t show up in 2016. Trump defeated Clinton by less than 11,000 votes, the narrowest margin in state history.

At another drive-in event on Detroit's Belle Isle Saturday evening, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer noted that some voters stayed home in 2016. “We cannot afford to let that happen again, right? We have an opportunity before us,” she said. “Are we ready?”

At the Detroit event, Obama and Biden were joined by Wonder, a Detroit native; Whitmer; Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing; and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Hills, who is in a tight race for re-election against Farmington Hills businessman John James, a Republican.

Obama and Biden encouraged crowds to return Peters to the Senate. Their speeches in Detroit and Flint were similar. Here are highlights:

Trump and COVID

Obama said Trump failed to respond adequately to the coronavirus pandemic, and Biden highlighted an interview with journalist Bob Woodward in which the president acknowledged that he knew the dangers of the coronavirus early on but didn’t want to incite panic.  

During his rally in Lansing last week, Trump argued the media spends too much time covering the virus. On Saturday, Obama claimed that’s because Trump is “jealous of the COVID media coverage.”

“This pandemic would have been challenging for any president. But the idea that somehow this White House has done anything but screw this up is nonsense,” Obama said.

“We wouldn’t have 9 million confirmed cases of COVID in this nation or 230,000 deaths,” Biden said. “This guy tells us it’s going away. The only way it goes away is if he goes away.”

In Detroit, Obama riffed on Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows saying the United States won’t control the virus.

“We noticed!" Obama said. "Yes, you’re right. That’s why we need Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House.”

Touting the auto industry, jobs

Once again, Michigan’s auto industry and manufacturing sector were the subject of brags from Obama and Biden Saturday. 

Obama claimed he, Biden and Democrats in Congress “rescued the auto industry” and created 1.5 million more jobs in the last three years of their administration than Trump did in his first three years. 

Those numbers are true, but fact checkers have also noted it’s an overstatement to say the Obama administration saved the auto industry because it expanded initial aid put in place by Republican former President George W. Bush. 

Trump also has made somewhat exaggerated claims to saving the auto industry, noting that Michigan experienced a series of investments since he took office, including the state’s first new Chrysler factory in decades in Detroit and Ford’s decision to build a mobility center in the derelict Michigan Central Depot in Detroit. 

Protecting the ACA

Obama said Biden will expand Medicare and “make insurance more affordable for everybody.”

That’s a promise that would require allies in Congress, which is now dominated in one chamber by Republicans. In contrast, Obama said Republicans have tried to repeal “or undermine” the Affordable Care Act more than 60 times. 

Obama argued that Republican candidates who say they want to repeal and replace the ACA while protecting pre-existing conditions are speaking hollow words. 

“It’s been 10 years now and they still don’t have a plan. They’re trying to bamboozle you instead of actually coming up with a plan.”

Republicans have, of course, made many attempts to change the ACA, but it was never successful either because they didn’t have a political majority or, later, because it wasn’t possible to find a solution that wouldn’t affect the most popular aspects of the law, including protections for pre-existing conditions. 

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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