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Obama Says ‘Disgruntled’ Electorate Driving GOP Primary Race

Obama Talks 2016 Elections With Lester Holt 15:44

The 2016 Republican presidential field has been influenced by a "disgruntled or suspicious-of-Washington" wing of the party, and has been fed by social media and outside spending groups in a way that has kept candidates from discussing meaningful policy ideas, President Barack Obama told NBC News this week.

Image: Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks at Rutgers Newark University Center for Law and Justice in Newark, New Jersey Monday. Susan Walsh / AP

Obama, speaking in an interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, didn't name any culprits, but his remarks appeared aimed at the two insurgent Republican front-runners: conservative neurosurgeon Ben Carson and real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Asked by Holt how the election climate was different from 2008, when he first ran for president, Obama replied: "I do think that what's different this time is that particularly in the Republican Party, you have, I think, the most-disgruntled or suspicious-of-Washington portion of the electorate that is driving the process. And, you know, I think that what we're seeing on that side at least is a lot of folks who are good at social media are getting attention."

Related: NBC/WSJ Poll: Carson Surges Into Lead of National GOP Race

The president continued: "But there hasn't been, maybe because of super PACs, a winnowing down of the process where people are forced to really talk about the issues in a more serious way. I suspect that will be changed over time. But right now, at least, you don't get a sense that anybody's presenting a new set of ideas around the very real challenges that we face."

Lester Holt of NBC News talks with President Obama. NBC News

Obama spoke to Holt on Monday during a visit to Newark, New Jersey, where he touted efforts to help former prisoners rejoin society. During that same interview, the president said he was proud of his work to "help galvanize and mobilize America on behalf of issues of racial disparity and racial injustice."

Related: Obama Sees Work on Race Relations as Key Part of Legacy

The wide-ranging interview also included Obama's sharing some lessons of what he's learned in the White House.

Obama, who won office on a wave of progressive idealism, stressed the importance of staying true to one's values while remaining open to compromise.

Obama on Criminal Justice Reform, Black Lives Matter and the Ferguson Effect 7:08

"I really think it's important for folks to understand that in a democracy, you have to have a set of principles, but you also have to be practically be able to work with people who disagree with you and compromise. And that is viewed as, I think, a negative among partisans in either party," Obama said.

"But the fact of the matter is, that's how America's always worked," he continued. "And if you have clear sense of where you want to take the country, there's nothing wrong in making sure that, as we travel in that direction, that you're engaging people who disagree with you along the way."

Obama also said he fretted over "laws that make it harder for people to vote than they should," an apparent reference to a movement among many states to pass more restrictive voter-registration and voter-identification measures.

"If we're really proud of American democracy, we should never be discouraging people from voting," Obama said. "We should be encouraging and making it easier for for them to vote, not harder."

Obama on Racial Justice: ‘This Is What It Means to Perfect Our Union’ 0:32