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Juggling High-Stakes Meetings Abroad, Trump Keeps an Eye on Rivals at Home


OSAKA, Japan — President Trump was nearly 7,000 miles from home and had just finished a packed schedule of meetings with world leaders. But he still kept an eye on the Democratic presidential contest back home.

At a news conference in Osaka, Japan on Saturday, at the end of the Group of 20 summit, Mr. Trump provided his analysis of a heated exchange between Senator Kamala Harris of California and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. during the Democratic presidential debates on Thursday, declaring that Ms. Harris had been given “too much credit” for challenging Mr. Biden.

He also lashed out at a former president, Jimmy Carter, who had questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory by saying Mr. Trump “didn’t actually win” the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Trump proclaimed Mr. Carter “a terrible president.”

And he warned that Democratic policies would bring economic disaster to the United States if he is defeated in next year’s election.

Although reporters broached the first two subjects, Mr. Trump made no effort to deflect them, and his response to the question about Ms. Harris and Mr. Biden revealed the keenness of his interest in the Democratic contest to find his 2020 challenger.

Ms. Harris received favorable reviews, particularly on the left, for her stinging attack on Mr. Biden’s history of opposing school integration through busing and his warm recollections of his work with segregationist senators.

Mr. Trump was less impressed.

“I thought that she was given too much credit,” Mr. Trump said. “It wasn’t that outstanding.”

Speaking about the debates in an unusual level of detail for a sitting president, Mr. Trump criticized Ms. Harris for delivering what he called a scripted blow by invoking her personal experience as a young girl who was bused to school in California as part of an integration program.

“That was so out of the can, what she said. That thing was right out of the box,” Mr. Trump said. But he criticized Mr. Biden, too, saying that he “didn’t respond great” and adding, “This was not Winston Churchill we’re dealing with.”

Given that he has spent weeks attacking the former vice president, it was notable that Mr. Trump defended Mr. Biden, whom his advisers see as a dangerous adversary.

If Mr. Trump is feeling any fresh unease about Ms. Harris’s suddenly energized candidacy, he would not say so. Asked whether he thought Ms. Harris would be a “tough” general election opponent, Mr. Trump demurred.

“You never know who’s going to be tough, you never know,” he said, recalling that the crowded 2016 Republican primary field had played out in ways he was not expecting. “One who you think is going to be tough turns out to be not so much,” he said. “I’ve seen it.”

Pressed for his own view of court-ordered busing, Mr. Trump was vague, at one point observing that the use of buses “certainly is a primary method of getting people to schools.” He did hint at a critical view of the practice, saying that it “has been done with a hammer instead of a velvet glove.”

Mr. Trump’s ire was not reserved for Democrats with presidential ambitions. He also fumed at one of his predecessors.

Not for the first time, Mr. Trump showed deep frustration over the idea that he had not earned his 2016 election victory — a notion that Mr. Carter endorsed on Friday, making him among the most senior Democrats to do so.

On Friday, Mr. Carter said that Russian election interference, “if fully investigated, would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”

Bucking a convention under which current and former presidents refrain from personal attacks against one another, Mr. Trump laced into the 94-year-old Mr. Carter.

“Russia, Russia, Russia,” Mr. Trump said with frustration when asked about Mr. Carter’s comments.

“Jimmy Carter, look. He’s a nice man. He was a terrible president,” Mr. Trump said, charging that Mr. Carter had been a weak negotiator with Tehran during the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis. “He’s a Democrat, and it’s a typical talking point.”

“I won not because of Russia, not because of anybody but myself,” he added. “I went out and campaigned smarter, harder, better than Hillary Clinton.”

The American intelligence community concluded in 2017 that Russia had tried to assist Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, but did not address whether the Kremlin’s efforts might have swayed public opinion enough to tilt the election’s outcome. No evidence has emerged that the Russian meddling affected voting machines or the final vote count.

Mr. Trump set off an uproar on Friday after meeting in Osaka with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, whom American intelligence officials say ordered the election interference. Asked whether he would ask Mr. Putin not to interfere with the 2020 election, Mr. Trump playfully wagged a finger and said to the Russian leader: “Don’t meddle in the election.”

Mr. Trump first mentioned his Democratic rivals in his remarks before taking questions, and warned that their policies would bring economic disaster to the United States should they be implemented.

But Mr. Trump suggested that he was glad to see the Democrats promote what he has previously called “socialist” views. “I want them to go and take these policies,” he said. “I don’t want them to change them anytime soon. Let them go and have a good time.”


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