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Obama is not the only president to criticize his successor

May 11, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Former President Barack Obama is the first president to speak out against his successor. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Several former presidents have made comments criticizing the policies of their successors, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter _ even Theodore Roosevelt. 

THE FACTS: On Sunday, Trump retweeted a false claim circulating on Twitter. “Barack Hussain Obama is the first Ex-President to ever speak against his successor, which was long tradition of decorum and decency. Should anyone really be surprised? #TrumpsJealousOfObama? I SERIOUSLY doubt it...#ObamaGate #MAGA#KAG #FoxNews,” the tweet stated, misspelling Obama’s middle name, which is Hussein. 


Trump retweeted the false claim with the statement: “He got caught, OBAMAGATE!” 

During a private call last Friday with former members of his administration, Obama criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, calling it an “absolute chaotic disaster.” A recording of the call was obtained by Yahoo News. 

Obama also discussed the Justice Department dropping its criminal case against Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying he worried that the “basic understanding of rule of law is at risk.”

Although there is a traditional reluctance  among presidents to criticize a successor, Obama is not the first president to do so. Online claims dating back to at least 2017 have falsely suggested that he is.  

“Historically, recent presidents do not attack sitting presidents that often and when they do, they are measured,” Peter Loge, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor who focuses on political communication, agreed. 

“When presidents have criticized other presidents, they tend to do so while not naming them,” she said, noting that such criticism would generally be made in private.

In April 2015, former president George W. Bush was seen as criticizing Obama, who took office after Bush served two terms, during a closed-door Republican Jewish Coalition meeting. Bush argued against Obama lifting sanctions in Iran and quoted the words of Sen. Lindsey Graham to denounce Obama’s policies in the region: “Pulling out of Iraq was a strategic blunder.” 


Former President Clinton criticized the administration of his successor, George W. Bush, for failing to develop any political or democratic progress in Iraq. During a July 2007 interview, Clinton told Good Morning America, “The point is, that there is no military victory here.”

Former President Jimmy Carter ripped former president Ronald Reagan, who he lost the presidency to in 1980. Carter criticized Reagan for sending arms to Iran in hopes that Americans held captive in Lebanon would be released. Carter said Reagan mishandled the Iran-Contra affair and is ″making believe he’s telling the truth″ to the American people about it.

President Theodore Roosevelt criticized William H. Taft in a series of speeches, even though Roosevelt promoted Taft as his successor. Roosevelt referred to Taft as a traitor of reform, and criticized him for not advancing his progressive policies. 

Experts noted that Trump’s rhetoric around former presidents has gone far beyond the norm, particularly his criticism of Obama on social media and at political rallies. 

“It is hardly surprising that norm-breaking bad behavior on the part of a current president puts pressure on other norms, such as the one that suggests that it’s bad form for former presidents to publicly criticize their successors,” Richard Ellis, professor of politics at Willamette University told the AP in an email. 


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: