White house fears trump damaging US reputation

WASHINGTON: Barack Obama has warned that the 2016 White House race is damaging America’s image abroad, sounding the alarm on harsh campaigning that risks eroding gains made during his presidency.

Lashing out at “vulgar and divisive rhetoric” in the race to replace him, Obama told a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday: “This is also about the American brand.”

“We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities — at Americans who don’t look like ‘us,’ or pray like ‘us,’ or vote like we do,” Obama said, with Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny at his side.

“This is also about the American brand. Who are we? How are we perceived around the world?” he asked. “The world pays attention to what we say and what we do.”

His remarks reflect growing administration concern about the racially tinged message of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

Obama came to office when America’s image was battered by the war in Iraq and George W. Bush’s global unpopularity.

“We’ve seen a big change in the way the world sees the United States under Obama,” Richard Wike, director of global attitudes research at Pew Research Center, told AFP.

“Overall attitudes across the globe towards the US are a lot more positive today than they were during the George W. Bush era,” he said, while noting the trend is not universal.

Improving America’s image has been a major boon for Obama’s presidency, giving him leverage with leaders keen to be seen with him.

From Indonesia to Ghana, it has also afforded Obama room to bypass the government and appeal to citizens directly.

But Trump’s rhetoric and his rise — bolstered by wins in Illinois, North Carolina and Florida on Tuesday — has put the longevity of that trend in doubt.