Fact Check: Is Obama the only president to criticize a successor?

May 11, 2020, 2:01 PM | Updated: 3:49 pm
Some people tweeting #ObamaGate -- including President Donald Trump -- argue the former president played a role in igniting the investigation into Russia's ties to Trump's victory. Photo: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

Twitter users awoke to a polarized world over the weekend, with both #ObamaGate and #TrumpGate trending across the country. Supporters from both sides took to social media after recent allegations and conspiracy theories originated when Michael Flynn’s case was dropped by the Justice Department. 

What is #ObamaGate?

On the one hand, those tweeting #ObamaGate — including President Donald Trump — argue the former president played a role in igniting the investigation into Russia’s ties to Trump’s victory.  Pres. Trump took to Twitter to argue that Barack Obama targeted incoming officials during his last months in office to “sabotage the new administration.”

“The biggest political crime in American history, by far!” Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday. 

Mr. Trump fired Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser for the Trump administration, after Flynn reportedly lied to Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. Flynn pleaded guilty to this charge but later appealed. 

President Trump initially acknowledged that Flynn lied to Pence — prompting the president to fire Flynn. However, after Flynn reversed course, Mr. Trump supported Flynn’s case, which was dropped by the Justice Department Thursday. 

What is #TrumpGate?

Those on the other side of the aisle, tweeting #TrumpGate, responded to these allegations with attacks on the current president. The attacks centered on the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller and his findings from the Russia investigation. Those findings implied possible acts of obstruction of justice on the part of President Trump. 

However, Mueller did not establish a criminal conspiracy through the report — noting that while it does not incriminate the president, it didn’t necessarily exonerate him either. 

Fact check: Claims Obama is first to “speak against successor”

Among the hundreds of #ObamaGate retweets President Trump sent over the weekend was a widely circulated meme with a photo of former President Barack Obama stating, “First Ex-President To Speak Against Successor.” Mr. Trump retweeted the meme, writing, “He got caught, OBAMAGATE!”

The meme had been seen on the Internet in past years. Now it’s adding fuel to the current #ObamaGate fire on Twitter. 

Is Obama the only president in U.S. history to denounce his successor? 

The short answer is no. There are several presidents in recent history who have spoken out against their successors to different news and media outlets. 

Barack Obama

The 44th president has openly declined to publicly attack President Trump in several cases. However, he has been more outspoken in recent months as the November election nears. 

During a speech at the University of Illinois in September 2018, Mr. Obama called Mr. Trump a “symptom, not a cause” of division in the U.S. 

“He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years,” Obama said. “A fear and anger that’s rooted in our past, but it’s also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”

Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton has taken a turn at criticizing his successor, George Bush, for the handling of the Iraq war — noting there was no “military victory” at the hand of Bush’s administration.

“There is no evidence that, whether we have a good day in a particular community or region in Iraq, that we have either the political reconciliation process within the country working or any diplomatic process that’s got a chance to help with the neighbors,” the Democrat said of his Republican successor in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America in July 2007. 

George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush, like Mr. Obama, had a general rule of not speaking against successors. Yet, he did so often while campaigning for Republican candidates during the 1994 mid-term elections. 

Bush repeatedly offered criticisms of Mr. Clinton, accusing him of “taking credit for the U.S. economic recovery.” 

“He has the nerve to blame Republicans for his own failures and the shortcomings of the Democratic Congress,” Bush said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Mr. Bush returned to criticize Mr. Clinton for his behavior. He noted he was concerned by the “lack of respect” coming from the White House Oval Office. 

“But I must confess I have been deeply concerned by what appears to be a lack of respect for the office I was so very proud to hold,” Mr. Bush said in a keynote address to the Safari Club during an annual hunter’s convention, as reported by the Associated Press. 

Jimmy Carter

The 39th president spoke against his successor more than once after Ronald Reagan defeated him for the 1980 presidential campaign. Mr. Carter argued that while his administration made mistakes, he denounced the Reagan administration for “blaming [their] mistakes on their predecessors.” 

The New York Times reported in 1982  that Mr. Carter said Mr. Reagan failed at “accepting his responsibilities.” 

Months later, former President Carter publicly criticized the Reagan administration for its changes to U.S. policy — calling them “radical departures.”

“It’s true President Reagan inherited some serious problems from my administration,” Mr. Carter said, according to a news article from United Press International in 1982. “I inherited some from President Ford. But to try to forego blame and say all these problems are my predecessor’s fault is patently irresponsible and ill-advised.”

Gerald Ford

Just as Jimmy Carter publicly spoke against his successor, he was also the target of former president Gerald Ford. Namely, criticisms went toward his economic policies. 

“Mr. Carter’s anti-inflation program came in like a lion,” Pres. Ford said in a 1977 interview with the Washington Post. “It’s going out like a mouse.”

Through the years of former Pres. Jimmy Carter’s presidential career, Mr. Ford repeatedly spoke out against his handling of the then-economic crisis. Among those criticisms, he called Mr. Carter’s policies a “catastrophe.”

“They’ve been disasters. We handed them the economy on a silver platter,” Mr. Ford said, according to the Associated Press. “The president blew it.”

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Fact Check: Is Obama the only president to criticize a successor?