Former President Obama is flexing his political muscle against President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE, signaling he’s all-in on helping presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE and ending the Trump presidency.
In recent days, Obama, with his legacy on the line, has made a point of taking on Trump head-on after remaining quiet throughout much of the president’s time in office.
“It basically amounts to more than three years of staying quiet and remaining on the sidelines building to this moment of ‘Hey Trump, we’re over your bullshit,’ ” an Obama administration aide said of the former president’s recent actions. “He’s had a lot on his mind and it’s finally all coming out.”
Obama’s one-word tweet “vote,” responding to Trump’s criticism of the “unmasking” of former national security adviser Michael Flynn from intelligence papers, went viral last week, exciting Democrats who have longed for his voice to rail against the current president.
He followed it up over the weekend with two virtual commencement addresses notable in their criticism of the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Obama said the coronavirus had “fully, finally, torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing.”
“A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” he added.
A few days earlier, on a call to 3,000 members of the Obama Alumni Association, the former president said that the current administration’s response to the global crisis has been “an absolute chaotic disaster.”
Democratic strategists say Obama’s public remarks are helpful to Biden and the party because they believe they draw a favorable contrast between his administration and Trump’s White House.
“One key area where Obama creates a clear contrast with Trump is competency,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “If you look at polling, competency is a vulnerability for Trump so the more that Obama can remind voters of that contrast, it’s a net positive for Democrats and for the Biden campaign.”
Added one Obama ally: “You couldn’t have more of a dichotomy between these two presidents. Obama is someone who believes the office is bigger than the person. Trump is all about himself.”
At the same time, Trump seems happy to have Obama as his main foil in the general election.
He knows this election isn’t just a referendum on his own White House but with Biden on the ballot, it is also about Obama’s administration.
Trump has punched back at the Obama slights, mentioning his predecessor on Twitter nearly two dozen times this month, including three times this week where he simply tweeted “Obamagate,” a reference to Flynn’s unmasking and the theory promulgated on the right that information about it was leaked to the media to hurt the new president’s incoming administration in its first months in office.
“The Obama Administration is turning out to be one of the most corrupt and incompetent in U.S. history,” Trump wrote in one tweet over the weekend. “Remember, he and Sleepy Joe are the reasons I am in the White House!!!”
Obama’s barbs have got the attention of Republicans.
Karl RoveKarl Christian RoveKarl Rove: The days of ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’ are long gone Longtime GOP Rep. Steve King defeated in Iowa primary Five things to watch in Tuesday’s primaries MORE, who served as a senior strategist to former President George W. Bush, on Monday called Obama’s speech “a political drive-by shooting.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.) has also blasted Obama, saying the former president should continue to follow the precedent of past presidents but not criticizing his successor.
Obama “should have kept his mouth shut,” McConnell told Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara TrumpLara Lea TrumpTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Lara Trump: Twitter no longer ‘a platform for free speech’ Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote MORE, during a campaign livestream last week, adding that “it’s a little bit classless.”
McConnell is also up for reelection this year.
Obama allies point out that his attacks could be a lot worse. But they’re not, intentionally so. In the graduation addresses, for example, one ally noted, the former president never used Trump’s name.
“He never takes the bait,” the Obama ally said. “He’s not doing media interviews, he’s not penning op-eds to go after Trump.”
“And he never really engaged until after the primary was over, as he said,” the ally added.
Democratic strategists say no one can engage better than Obama can.
Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist who has been critical of Trump, said Obama’s recent comments show the intense role he’ll play in seeking to get Biden elected president.
“This will make a huge difference,” Del Percio said. “We shouldn’t forget that there is a road map for Obama to follow when it comes to Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.”
“If he just flips the districts that Clinton lost in 2016, and he won in 2012 that alone would be devastating to the Trump campaign,” she added.
At the same time, Del Percio warned that the 2020 race shouldn’t be about Obama and Trump and that the former president shouldn’t be overexposed.
“Biden must look presidential in his own right and that he is his own man,” she said.
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