Obama Says He Expected Trump Would Only Be One-Term President: 'I Was Right about That'

The former president Barack Obama has said he did not expect the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and is "not surprised" by his refusal to commit to a peaceful transition.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais to promote his book A Promised Land, Obama compared the reluctance of the White House administration to accept defeat to Joe Biden with the aftermath of the 2016 election that put Trump in office.

Obama said he had called to congratulate Trump on the night of his victory and made immediate plans to help the new administration, having learnt from the assistance offered by his predecessor George W. Bush.

Obama told the newspaper that a "peaceful transfer of power between parties is part of what makes a democracy work," adding: "We didn't delay for weeks on end pretending that it hadn't happened."

"I arranged for all of my agencies and teams to prepare manuals for the transition," he said. "One of those manuals was a playbook on how to deal with the possibility of a pandemic. It seems that they didn't follow those guidelines that we provided."

Ex-U.S. President Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama at a drive-in rally for Joe Biden in Miami, Florida, on November 2, 2020. He has told a Spanish newspaper that President Donald Trump has "fanned the flames of division." CHANDAN KHANNA/Getty Images

More than two weeks on from the election, Trump has refused to concede and continues with legal challenges, asserting without evidence that the ballot was marred by fraud.

"I am sad to say that by the end of Donald Trump's presidency, I was not surprised that he is acting the way he is acting," Obama said.

Describing how he felt the U.S. had changed over the four years since he left office, Obama said: "There is no doubt that some significant damage has been done both here in the United States and around the world.

"If you encourage, or at least are forgiving of, racist behavior, then those who have those impulses feel emboldened. If you embrace dictators on the world stage, then the commitment to democracy diminishes."

Obama's memoir has broken records on its first day of release, selling 887,000 copies in the U.S. and Canada. This bettered the first-day sales achieved by former first lady Michelle Obama, who sold 725,000 copies of her 2018 memoir Becoming.

The new book outlines how Obama dealt with tricky tests such as the global financial crisis and the war in Iraq. He told El Pais: "We worked very hard to restore America's standing in the world, to rebuild the economy.

"By the time I left office, America was in a strong place, and to see some of that progress dissipated unnecessarily, is... Yeah, there's no doubt there's a sense of frustration there sometimes."

He added that this year's election had highlighted the divisions in American society, but Trump "accelerated those divisions. He fanned the flames of division."

"There are alternative facts and an alternative reality that we're seeing even now, when Donald Trump declares that 'I haven't lost the election yet,' or 'There's been fraud and illegal votes cast,' even though there's no proof of it."

As the first black president, Obama said he "always expected backlash" and believed the "joy of my election was not going to last forever."

"I did not expect Donald Trump to be elected. What I did expect, though, was that if he was elected, it'd be one term. I was right about that," he said.

The graphic below by Statista shows the tightest presidential elections over the past 124 years.

U.S. presidential races since 1896
STATISTA