WASHINGTON • US President Barack Obama has said in an interview that he could have beaten Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump "if I had run again".
In his most pointed critique yet, Mr Obama said Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign acted too cautiously out of a mistaken belief that victory was all but certain.
"If you think you are winning, then you have a tendency, just like in sports, maybe to play it safer," Mr Obama said in the interview with former adviser and long-time friend David Axelrod, a CNN analyst, for The Axe Files podcast released on Monday.
The President said Mrs Clinton "understandably... looked and said, well, given my opponent and the things he is saying and what he is doing, we should focus on that".
Mr Trump took exception to this critique, tweeting later in the day that "President Obama said that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! - jobs leaving, ISIS, O(bama)Care, etc".
CONFIDENT OF SUPPORT
I am confident in this vision because I am confident that if I - if I had run again and articulated it - I think I could have mobilised a majority of the American people to rally behind it.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, referring to his message of inclusion and helping middle-class Americans.
VICTORY? NO WAY
President Obama said that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! - jobs leaving, ISIS, O(bama)Care, etc.
U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP, in a tweet.
Mr Obama stressed his admiration for Mrs Clinton, and said that she had been the victim of unfair attacks.
But, as he has in other exit interviews, Mr Obama insisted that her defeat was not a rejection of the eight years of his presidency. To the contrary, he argued that he had put together a winning coalition that stretched across the country, but that the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign had failed to follow through on it.
"I am confident in this vision because I am confident that if I - if I had run again and articulated it - I think I could have mobilised a majority of the American people to rally behind it," the President said, referring to his message of inclusion and helping middle-class Americans.
"See, I think the issue was less that Democrats have somehow abandoned the white working class - I think that is nonsense," Mr Obama said.
"Look, the Affordable Care Act benefits a huge number of Trump voters. There are a lot of folks in places like West Virginia or Kentucky who didn't vote for Hillary, didn't vote for me, but are being helped by this... The problem is, is that we are not there on the ground communicating not only the dry policy aspects of this, but that we care about these communities, that we are bleeding for these communities."
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said via e-mail that the campaign declined to comment.
Mr Obama's remarks in the interview, however, were pure political conjecture, because the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution limits a president to two terms.
Mr Axelrod, in an interview with The Washington Post, said he believed that Mr Obama went further than he had before in critiquing Mrs Clinton's campaign.
"This was all in service of making the point that he believes that his progressive vision and the vision he ran on is still a majority view in this country," Mr Axelrod said. "He chooses to be hopeful about the future."
Looking to the future, Mr Obama said he plans to help mobilise and train a younger generation of Democratic leaders and will speak out if his core beliefs are challenged. He also said he is working on a book.
THE WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES