Most voters and certainly most mainstream reporters were caught off guard by President-elect Donald Trump’s victory on Nov. 8, but President Barack Obama was not horribly surprised, saying in a recently published interview that the billionaire businessman’s success is “not a miracle.”
Obama made the comments during an sit-down with Rolling Stone the day after Election Day, when many in his own White House staff, who listened to the commander in chief’s post-election statement in the Rose Garden, were very distraught.
“I think the odds of Donald Trump winning were always around 20 percent,” the outgoing president told magazine publisher Jann Wenner. “That [doesn’t] seem like a lot, but one out of five is not that unusual. It’s not a miracle.”
Obama compared Trump’s electoral upset against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to his own success against Arizona Sen. John McCain, then the Republican presidential nominee, in 2008:
I will tell you, New Hampshire, 2008, I had just won Iowa and had this whirlwind tour of New Hampshire, huge rallies, huge crowds, and our internal pollster had us up by 10. And around 7:30, as I’m putting on my clothes to deliver my victory speech, I get a knock on the door by David Plouffe, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs. And they’ve got sheepish looks on their faces [chuckles]. And they say, “Barack, we have some interesting news for you. We don’t think we’re gonna win this thing.”
That’s the thing about democracy. That’s the thing about voting. It doesn’t mean polls are irrelevant, but there is always a human variable involved in this.
However, the top Democrat’s remarks to Rolling Stone are a far cry from what he said on the campaign trail. In February, Obama said Trump “will not be president.” But, as Election Day drew closer, Obama started changing his tune.
“Now, this should not be a close race, but it’s going to be a close race,” he said during a campaign event for Clinton in Charlotte, North Carolina, just four days before voters went to the polls.
Obama said he is “disappointed” but not “dismayed” by Trump’s win:
Probably the main reason that I don’t feel dismayed, but do feel disappointed, is the incredible young people who have worked in my administration, worked on our campaigns. If you look at the data from the election, if it were just young people who were voting, Hillary would have gotten 500 electoral votes. So we have helped, I think, shape a generation to think about being inclusive, being fair, caring about the environment. And they will have growing influence year by year, which means that America over time will continue to get better.
Leaving the White House, the president said he “can say without any equivocation that the country is a lot better off: The economy is stronger, the federal government works better, and our standing in the world is higher.”