President Obama has said that he has run his last campaign, but that’s only partly true, as he showed yesterday. While he can’t run for the presidency again, he will be campaigning hard, at least one more time, to make sure he is succeeded by a Democrat -- and not by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
In a withering speech in Elkhart, Indiana, on Wednesday, Obama heaped bemused scorn on the policies and proposals being floated by the former reality television star, saying his call to undo the banking regulations put in place following the financial crisis was “crazy” and expressing amazement at Trump’s tax plan. “It would explode our deficits by nearly $10 trillion. I’m not making this up,” he said to laughter. “You can look at the math.”
It was Obama the public speaker at his most effective, letting just enough anger show through to let his audience understand that he was speaking about a topic about which he cares deeply, but not so much that he came across as bitter. It’s clear that the American people can expect to see a lot more of that from the president in the five months between now and the general election in November.
And, unlike the 2014 midterm elections, when Democrats tried to run as far as possible from Obama seen as toxic to many voters, the president heads into the final six months of his time in office with approval ratings that are above 50 percent and rising. He is likely to be embraced by a Democratic Party that believes the damage Trump’s candidacy does to the Republican brand not only gives them a good chance to retake the Senate but might even put the House of Representatives in play.
Obama’s assault on Trump, which he executed without ever actually mentioning the GOP standard-bearer’s name, was not his first. During his trip to Asia last month, Obama took questions during a G-7 summit in Japan and criticized the mogul’s penchant for tossing off foreign policy positions -- like completely changing NATO or withdrawing troops from South Korea -- that have thrown U.S. allies into a state of worry and confusion.
“They are rattled by it — and for good reason,” Obama said. “Because a lot of the proposals he has made display either ignorance of world affairs, or a cavalier attitude, or an interest in getting tweets and headlines.”
Wednesday’s remarks, however, were not in response to a question -- they were a premeditated attack on the person who could, almost at a stroke, undo many of what Obama considers his key achievements while in office.
The president over the next few months can be expected to crisscross the country stumping for the Democratic presidential nominee, all but certain to be former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. And he’ll do it armed with statistics showing that unemployment and the federal deficit are both down sharply, while the number of people with health insurance is at record highs.
As he did in Elkhart, he will argue that all three of those things, and more, are endangered by the prospect of a Trump presidency.
“If what you care about in this election is your pocketbook, if what you’re concerned about is who will look out for the interests of working people and grow the middle class, if that’s what you’re concerned about, then the debate -- then if that’s that you’re concerned about -- the economy -- the debate is not even close,” he said.
“One path would lead to lower wages. It would eliminate worker protections. It would cut investments in things like education. It would weaken the safety net. It would kick people off health insurance. It would let China write the rules for the global economy. It would let Big Oil weaken rules that protect our air and water. It would let big banks weaken rules that protect families from getting cheated. It would cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans to historic lows. Those are the facts.”
The one thing that will stand between Obama and Clinton might be his continued advocacy for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal that Clinton has come out against -- possible to blunt attacks from her challenger on the left, Bernie Sanders. Obama addressed the TPP on Wednesday, in what seemed to be the most coolly-received section of his remarks, defending it against claims that it will cost jobs.
It will be interesting to see just how much attention Clinton gives the issue when she is finally able to push Sanders out of the way later this summer. There is a current of thought in Washington that expects TPP to come up in a post-election lame-duck session of Congress. If that begins to look like a strong possibility, it may be simpler for Obama and Clinton to avoid discussing TPP to the greatest extent possible in order to downplay their differences on it.
Whether Trump, a strong TPP critic, will let them is another question.