The president stayed out of Hillary Clinton’s corner until he was certain she wouldn’t drag his legacy down with an indictment or some other scandal. He waited until the fix was in and it was an absolute certainty that she would be the nominee without any legal issues hanging around her neck.
Now it’s up to Barack Obama to save Hillary. If this was a baseball lineup, President Obama would be hitting just before cleanup, but honestly, he can’t count on Hillary Clinton to even get on base. Obama has to bat for her. He has considerable strength right now, for a final-term president on his way out.
For much of the summer, the president has done very little but promote his gun control agenda, travel, and appear presidential–at least compared to Donald Trump. I know, that’s the lowest bar in presidential history. But comparisons matter, and it has driven Obama’s approval rating up.
micah: I find the comparison to Trump and Clinton theory pretty compelling, especially because other events on the world stage haven’t exactly been morale-boosting.
clare.malone: Occam’s razor — isn’t that what it is, Nate? Clinton/Trump making him look better? (I’ve been here long enough that now I’m using all these stupid buzzzzzz terms.)
natesilver: Well, the contrast with the right track/wrong track numbers, which are bad, is pretty striking. “We think the country is going to hell BUT we sorta like that Obama guy!”
harry: Yeah, but those right track numbers have been bad for a while.
Only the president can command the news cycle like Trump, and Obama is not without his own powers of persuasion. But there’s only so many ways to put lipstick on a pig, and Hillary’s husband has already given the motherhood speech.
President Obama has to give the same speech he gave in 2012 and make this a referendum on Republicans, and Trump. Read the tone of that speech four years ago:
Now, our friends down in Tampa at the Republican convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America. But they didn’t have much to say about how they’d make it right. (Cheers, applause.) They want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan. And that’s because all they have to offer is the same prescriptions they’ve had for the last 30 years. Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high — try another.
Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning. (Cheers, applause.)
Of course, Trump doesn’t fit the mold of the tax cutter–although he has said he’ll cut taxes. The part Obama will pound is “everything they think is wrong with America.” More from 2012–it just echoes some of Trump’s own points.
I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country, goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security and the deficit, real, achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation. That’s what we can do in the next four years, and that is why I am running for a second term as president of the United States. (Cheers, applause.)
We can choose a future where we export more products and outsource fewer jobs. After a decade that was defined by what we bought and borrowed, we’re getting back to basics and doing what America’s always done best. We are making things again. (Applause.) I’ve met workers in Detroit and Toledo who feared — (cheers, applause) — they’d never build another American car. And today they can’t build them fast enough because we reinvented a dying auto industry that’s back on the top of the world. (Cheers, applause.) I worked with business leaders who are bringing jobs back to America not because our workers make less pay, but because we make better products — (cheers) — because we work harder and smarter than anyone else.
Obama will need to out-Trump Trump, and do it in a way that highlights a less-scary path than America First. Doing that is risky, however, because he’ll be tying his own legacy to Hillary Clinton. It will be a Kylo Ren moment: She will finish what he started. He will frame a Clinton presidency as four more years of Obama.
The president will promise to remain as shadow president, you know, so Hillary will have some supervision. That leaves Clinton open to the “four more years of Obama” argument. In comparison to Trump and Clinton, that might not be so bad. In fact, it might draw some reliable working-class white Democrats back into Clinton’s corner who were considering voting for Trump. Only hard-core Republicans take such a hard-line against Obama, after all.
I predict Obama will savage Trump, walking us through the birther conspiracy, the sleeper Muslim conspiracy, the Bush knew about 9/11 conspiracy, and every racist, anti-Semitic and tinfoil hat nutjob idea Trump has ever uttered. He will make Trump into something so toxic that even speaking his name should be a curse.
But the only thing he can offer as an alternative is four more years of himself, not Hillary per se. Obama needs to target Trump’s voters, not the party faithful. If he gives a typical Democrat policy speech, he won’t be doing Clinton any favors.
Look for Obama to repeat his 2012 speech, and look for him to treat her campaign as his third term. If he doesn’t then maybe he’s already decided that her anchor is simply too heavy for even he to lift.