Daniel DePetris

Obama’s bid to make Trump a one-term president

(Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)
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With less than a week to go before Americans cast their ballots at polling places across the country, Donald Trump and Joe Biden are leaving it all on the field. Biden spent Tuesday in Georgia, a traditionally Republican state the former vice president nevertheless has a chance of swiping on election day. Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, was making a stop in the swing-state of North Carolina. Trump held another big rally in Wisconsin where he did his usual rant about how fake the news is, how mentally 'shot' Biden has become, and how strong the military now is thanks to his leadership.

Barack Obama was meanwhile on the other side of the country in sunny Orlando, Florida, scorching Trump for being a feckless carnival barker who is as divisive to American democracy as he is clueless about the job. The former president, who tapped Biden to be his vice president more than a decade ago, is now back the campaign trail stumping for his old friend. And he appears to be loving every minute of it.

As controversial and head-spinning as Trump’s four years in office have been, Obama has largely chosen to stay silent. The cerebral Obama understands, as somebody who sat in the big chair for eight years, that there are certain things a former commander in chief doesn’t do. One of the first no-nos on the list is to undermine your successor. George W. Bush, a Republican, could have butted his nose into Obama’s business in 2009 when the newly inaugurated president forced through a massive taxpayer bailout of hundreds of billions of dollars. Bush, however, kept his mouth shut. Obama always appreciated Bush’s decorum — and with the exception of Trump’s refusal to clearly denounce white supremacists in 2017, and Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal a year later, the 44th president has sought to stay out of the public spotlight.

Until campaign season, that is.

Unlike Bush, who left office with a dismal approval rating even among his fellow Republicans, Obama was loved by his party and continues to be looked upon by Democrats throughout America as a god in human form. He remains the Democratic party’s most popular figure. Obama’s gift for the gab is as effective today as it was when he was living in the White House. During the 2018 midterm elections, Obama delivered rousing speeches on behalf of Democratic congressional candidates seeking to retake the House of Representatives. That election cycle, however, was a warm-up act; 2020 is the main event. Obama, who believes the current presidential election is one of America’s most important in generations, has no intention of sitting out.

While Joe Biden is trying to stay above the name-calling, the 44th President has shown himself more than happy to play attack dog in support of his former veep. This isn’t necessary a role Obama is used to. When he left Washington after two terms on the job, Obama loudly complained about how fragmented the country had become and how superficially partisan the political discourse was.

But election years tend to change people — even former presidents. Over the last five days, Donald Trump has been Obama’s personal piñata.

'I get this president wants full credit for the economy he inherited and zero blame for the pandemic he ignored,' Obama sarcastically remarked last weekend during a stop in Pennsylvania. 'But you know what? The job doesn’t work that way. Tweeting at the television doesn’t fix things. Making stuff up doesn’t make people’s lives better. You’ve got to have a plan.'

It was a theme he picked up on again in Florida, where he basically called Trump a loser who couldn’t run on any accomplishments. 'What’s Trump’s closing argument?' Obama asked. 'That people are too focused on Covid? He’s complaining, he’s jealous of Covid's media coverage.'

According to the New York Times, Obama confided to a friend how good it felt to be campaigning against a man who is both the antithesis of himself and who is fixated on overturning every major policy initiative of the Obama presidency. Barack Obama may not be on the ticket anymore, but that isn’t stopping him doing everything he can in the final week to help make his political nemesis the first one-term US president in close to three decades.