SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT/Monitoring Desk

NEW YORK - US President Barack Obama has said Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, won’t be elected president and the Republican primary campaign has alarmed foreign audiences who expect the US to lead the world.

‘I continue to believe Mr Trump will not be president,’ Obama said Tuesday at a news conference after meeting with Southeast Asian leaders in Rancho Mirage, California. ‘And the reason is, I continue to have faith in the American people. And I think they realize that being president of the United States is a serious job. It’s not hosting a talk show.’

The comments are some of the most direct Obama has made regarding the 2016 presidential race, though he has condemned what he sees as anti-Muslim rhetoric from the Republican field, which he did again on Tuesday, emphasizing that Trump is not the only one making divisive comments.

‘I think foreign observers are troubled by some of the rhetoric that’s taken place in these Republican primaries, and the Republican debates. I don’t think it’s restricted, by the way, to Mr. Trump,’ Obama said. ‘I mean, I find it interesting that everyone’s focused on Trump, primarily just because he says in more interesting ways what the other candidates are saying as well.’

‘So he may up the ante in anti-Muslim sentiment, but if you look at what the other candidates have said, that’s pretty troubling too.’ He also singled out Senator Marco Rubio, another Republican presidential candidate, though not by name, for his change of stance on immigration.

‘You’ve got a candidate who sponsored a bill that I supported to finally solve the immigration problem, and he’s running away from it as fast as he can,’ Obama said referring to the failed 2013 ‘Gang of Eight’ immigration reform bill. Obama also slammed the Republican candidates for their opposition to actions to fight climate change.

‘The other countries around the world, they kind of count on the United States being on the side of science and reason and common sense,’ he said. ‘There is not a single candidate in the Republican primary that thinks we should do anything about climate change, that thinks it’s serious. Well that’s a problem.’

Still, Obama said he was optimistic that voters would settle on a qualified candidate. ‘The American people are pretty sensible, and I think they’ll make a sensible choice in the end.’ While Obama again criticized the tone and substance of the Republican primary campaign, he described the Democratic contest as a ‘healthy debate.’ He didn’t say whether he would endorse his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, or her challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, but allowed that he and Clinton may more often agree on policy.

‘I know Hillary better than I know Bernie, because she’s served in my administration, and she was an outstanding secretary of state,’ Obama said. ‘And I suspect that, on certain issues, she agrees with me more than Bernie does.’ Sanders draws support from young and first-time voters to a decisive victory in New Hampshire and a close second place in Iowa, the primary’s first two nominating contests. Clinton remains the front-runner in national polls, and she is seeking to rebound in the next two nominating contests - the Nevada caucuses on Saturday and the South Carolina primary a week later.

‘Ultimately I will probably have an opinion’ on the contest, Obama said. ‘But for now I think it’s important for Democratic voters to express themselves and for candidates to be run through the paces.’ If Sanders, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, prevails in Nevada, Obama will face new pressure from party leaders to intervene in the nominating contest ahead of South Carolina. Black voters, who propelled Obama to a victory in South Carolina over Clinton in 2008, remain loyal to the president and represented more than half the Democratic electorate that year.

Clinton currently holds a 21-point lead in the state, according to a survey from Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling released Monday. Obama has previously made comments interpreted as hints that he would prefer Clinton as the Democratic nominee. In an interview with Politico, Obama called Clinton ‘wicked smart’ while characterizing Sanders as a ‘bright, shiny object’ that appealed to frustrated liberals.

Former White House press secretary Jay Carney said Feb. 11 on CNN that Obama wants Clinton to win. Obama has repeatedly shown frustration with the tone and tenor of the Republican nominating contest, which has seen conservative firebrand Senator Ted Cruz prevail in Iowa and Trump take New Hampshire. During a speech last week at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, where he announced he would run for president in 2007, Obama said political leaders should seek compromise rather than sow anxiety and anger. Obama decried the ‘smallness of our politics’ and warned that when leaders resort to offensive and outrageous attacks, they risked influencing the behavior of children who look up to them.

A week earlier, Obama visited a mosque on U.S. soil for the first time in his presidency to caution against intolerance toward Muslims. The president’s remarks were a rebuke of Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration in the aftermath of Islamic State-inspired terrorist attacks last year in Paris and California.

‘Other countries, they kind of count on the United States being on the side of science and reason and common sense,’ Obama said. ‘They know if the U.S. doesn’t act on big problems in smart ways, nobody will.’

The rhetoric among Republican candidates further coarsened during a debate Saturday night.

Trump and Florida Senator Marco Rubio called Cruz a ‘liar,’ and Trump criticized former President George W. Bush for being president during the September 11 terrorist attacks. Bush’s brother, Jeb, is running for the nomination this year.

Trump remains the front-runner in South Carolina, where Republican voters head to the polls on Saturday. According to a survey released Monday by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling, Trump holds a 17-point lead over Rubio and Cruz, who are tied for second place. Moreover, After President Obama made a prediction Tuesday that ‘Mr. Trump will not be president,’ the billionaire businessman bit back with his own challenge to Mr Obama’s qualifications for the executive office, The CBSNews has reported.

‘He has done such a lousy job as president,’ Trump said on stage at a Beaufort, South Carolina rally Tuesday. ‘You look at our budgets. You look at our spending. We can’t beat ISIS. Obamacare is terrible. We’re going to terminate it. We’re going to absolutely terminate and replace it. I mean you look at everything. Our borders are like Swiss cheese.’ Aiming squarely at the president’s 2012 election record, Trump had this message for Mr. Obama: ‘You’re lucky I didn’t run last time when Romney ran because you would have been a one-term president.’

Trump’s comments were responding to a claim the president made about the GOP front-runner earlier that day. ‘I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president,’ Mr. Obama said at a press conference during a summit with Southeast Asian leaders in California. ‘And the reason is that I have a lot of faith in the American people. Being president is a serious job. It’s not hosting a talk show, or a reality show.’

He added that ‘the American people are pretty sensible, and I think they’ll make a sensible choice in the end.’ At his South Carolina event, the reality television star said that he wasn’t taking the Mr. Obama’s statement as a personal insult. ‘This man has done such a bad job - he has set us back so far, and for him to say that actually is a great compliment, if you want to know the truth,’ Trump said.