Rick Santorum says Barack Obama 'exacerbated racism' in the U.S.


Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said former President Barack Obama had the power to bring the nation together but wound up increasing racism in part by the way he handled police shootings.

Santorum, a conservative political commentator for CNN, made the accusation during a heated “State of the Union” panel discussion Sunday about racism in the United States.

Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior adviser and national spokeswoman for MoveOn.org, a political action committee that raises money for progressive politicians, said it was “pretty horrific” to see voters sway toward Donald Trump’s campaign after electing the first African-American president.

“There was an uproar. You saw the Tea Party. You saw obstruction by Republicans time and time again,” Jean-Pierre said. “It is kind of problematic. It says a lot about this country, and Donald Trump tapped into it.”

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Jean-Pierre, who worked on both of Obama’s presidential election campaigns and served in his administration, said it’s important to remember that Trump’s political career started in earnest by promoting birtherism, the false conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the United States and was therefore ineligible for the presidency. She also criticized Trump for saying “you also had some very fine people on both sides” after white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed in Charlottesville, Va.

Santorum, who was seated beside Jean-Pierre, appeared eager to speak after she said Trump “tapped into that racism” that’s been seen in the United States since 2008 — when Obama was elected.

“What’s being ignored here is the role that Barack Obama played in all this,” Santorum said. “You can’t just go from ‘well, we elected out first black president’ and ‘all of a sudden we get Donald Trump.’ There was something in between those two things.”

According to Santorum, “many, many, many people” saw Obama being racist himself and “doing more to exacerbate racism” in the United States.

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Obama hits campaign trail for first time since leaving White House
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Obama hits campaign trail for first time since leaving White House
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 19: Former U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands after speaking at a rally in support of Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for the governor of New Jersey, on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. In Obama's first return to the campaign trail, the former president is stumping for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia as they prepare for next month's elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns in support of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (R), Democratic candidate for governor, at a rally with supporters in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Former president Barack Obama rallies with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Northam (unseen) in Richmond, Virginia October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Former president Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd after rallying with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former president Barack Obama speaks during a rally for New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns in support of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (R), Democratic candidate for governor, at a rally with supporters in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A young boy awaits the arrival of former President Barack Obama to speak at a rally with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy reacts as former President Barack Obama speaks during a rally in Newark, New Jersey U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former President Barack Obama greets supporters after joining New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy at a rally in Newark, New Jersey U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former President Barack Obama greets New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former US President Barack Obama takes photos with members of the crowd as he campaigns for New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Northam (unseen) in Richmond, Virginia October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Attendees react as former president Barack Obama greets supporters after joining New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy at a rally in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former president Barack Obama rallies with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former US President Barack Obama (R) campaigns for New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Former US President Barack Obama campaigns for New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy and his running mate Sheila Oliver in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 19: Former U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage in support of Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for the governor of New Jersey, on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. In Obama's first return to the campaign trail, the former president is stumping for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia as they prepare for next month's elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Audience members take pictures of former US President Barack Obama as he campaigns for New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 19: Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for the governor of New Jersey , speaks at a rally on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. Murphy was later joined by former President Barack Obama This is Obama's first return to the campaign trail to stump for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia as they prepare for next month's elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 19: Former U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands after speaking at a rally in support of Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for the governor of New Jersey, on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. In Obama's first return to the campaign trail, the former president is stumping for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia as they prepare for next month's elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns in support of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, Democratic candidate for governor, at a rally with supporters in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Northam (R) in Richmond, Virginia October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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“Every time there was a controversy with someone of color involved, he took the side, many times, against the police,” Santorum said. “He did it over and over and over again. President Obama was to many people out there someone who could’ve brought this country together.”

Jean-Pierre expressed disbelief at what she was hearing and said that in those instances Obama was standing up for people who had been unjustifiably treated. She asked if Santorum was referring to the times Obama addressed the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, but the panel’s time was running out so the conversation came to an abrupt end.

“This president could’ve [brought us] together. He didn’t,” Santorum said. “He divided us.”

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