Barack Obama and Joe Biden head to Michigan this weekend to hustle votes in one of the three states that helped elect Donald Trump in 2016. Recent polls show Biden with a comfortable lead in Michigan, but Democrats are taking nothing for granted in the final stretch; Representative Debbie Dingel (D-Mich.) on Wednesday warned Team Biden that the race is tightening. “So many auto workers who I thought were going to go back to Joe Biden were very clear with me…that they were voting for President Trump.”
Enter the Anointed One. Obama already has been on the stump twice in Florida, attempting to bolster Biden’s flagging support among Hispanic voters, and once in Philadelphia. The former president was planning to stay out of the race, according to his longtime political consigliere David Axelrod, but Trump’s antics have forced Obama onto the campaign trail. “He doesn’t view it as a personal grudge match with Trump,” Axelrod told CNN last week, defending yet another breach of precedent and protocol by the 44th president of the United States.
But of course Obama’s last-minute campaign activity is completely about his grudge against Donald Trump. As much as the news media loves to portray Trump as the one who is easily rattled, it is actually Trump who very easily gets under Obama’s skin. The former president is fixated on the man who succeeded him, the political foe Obama repeatedly said would never win the presidency. Few politicians are as thin-skinned, petulant, and vengeful as Barack Obama—just ask Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn—and it’s obvious that Donald Trump still gets the best of him.
The cool Chicagoan famously given the moniker “No Drama Obama” has appeared angry even slightly unhinged during his recent Biden campaign events—much like an aging rock star who goes from selling out 100,000-seat amphitheaters around the world to headlining suburban rib fests, Obama doesn’t exactly command the crowd he used to back in his heyday. He used a bullhorn to address a sparse crowd of Biden volunteers in Philadelphia on October 21; turnout wasn’t much better at speeches in Orlando and Miami. Meanwhile, his successor attracts tens of thousands of supporters across the country.
That’s gotta sting.
Which could explain why Obama is lashing out; rather than offer voters a compelling reason why they should elect Joe Biden, Obama is spewing his personal contempt for Donald Trump. The president, Obama claims, isn’t “interested in doing the work” and “doesn’t take the job seriously.” Donald Trump is just a showboating reality television star with low ratings. “You know that upsets him,” Obama lamely jokes.
His temper tantrums feature one lie after another; his demeanor vacillates between fury, desperation, and exasperation. Old enemies including Fox News and congressional Republicans are freshly reviled.
Riffing off the unsourced New York Times article about Trump’s income taxes, Obama accuses the president of paying more to foreign governments than to the federal treasury. He repeats the now-debunked story that the Russians placed bounties on U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan. “The commander in chief can’t be missing in action,” Obama rages.
And he regurgitates a despicable anonymously-sourced hit piece by The Atlantic that claimed Trump degraded the military, including those killed in action. “I can tell you this. Joe Biden would never call the men and women of our military ‘suckers’ or ‘losers’ Who does that?” Obama asks.
Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, Obama alleges, is allowing “polluters free rein to dump unlimited poison into our air and water.” The man who authorized the use of the most powerful government surveillance tools in the world against Trump campaign aides said “it’s not normal presidential behavior” to threaten to jail your political opponents. “We have a president who lies multiple times a day,” preens the president who lied to Americans repeatedly about everything from health care coverage to terrorist attacks.
But nothing seems to irk Obama more than Trump’s economic record. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, the president could boast of an unrivaled period of economic growth, including rising wages for minorities and low rates of unemployment. “Donald Trump likes to claim he built this economy but I just want to remind you that America created 1.5 million more jobs in the last three years of the Obama Biden administration than in the first three years of the Trump Pence administration,” Obama bragged in Orlando this week. “That’s a fact. Look it up.”
Trump, Obama said, inherited a solid economy but “just like everything else he inherited, he screwed it up.” Biden and Obama at once accuse the president of doing “nothing” to combat COVID-19 while at the same time blasting Trump for wrecking the economy with the lockdown last spring, policies still imposed by Democratic governors to inflict more economic pain on their helpless constituents.
Not exactly the hopeful message on behalf of a candidate poised to win in a landslide.
Barack Obama knows that if Joe Biden is defeated, the loss will represent another repudiation of the Obama-Biden reign. Obama’s presence on the campaign trail isn’t really about helping his bestie win the White House, it’s about saving face. And if Donald Trump wins, no other political figure will have done more political damage to the man most presidential historians consider the most gifted politician of modern times.
That’s not exactly the legacy Barack Obama has in mind.