If you wondered what the “Obamagate” nonsense is about, don’t expect actual wrongdoing or even a logical narrative about what it all means. As impeached president Donald Trump said when asked by The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker what it was all about, all he could do was bluster, “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everyone.”
Nah, it’s got nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with Trump suddenly deciding that the only way he can beat presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is by ha ha ha ha destroying President Barack Obama. As one prominent Republican told Vanity Fair, “With Obama he’s going for the jugular. I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts out the really dirty stuff.”
The really dirty stuff.
It’s not fully appreciated just how clean an administration Obama ran. How much corruption did we suffer, how many indictments did we see? I’m pretty sure the answer is “none and zero.” But now we’re supposed to think that they’ve got the really dirty stuff, the stuff that we hadn’t seen before, but: you know what it is. It’s really obvious to everyone. And Trump’s crowds will dutifully chant “lock him up” even as absolutely none of them could tell you why.
Just like none of them could say why Hillary Clinton’s emails were so bad. They just were.
But hey, at least they were making up conspiracy theories about someone actually running. And for a while, with the whole Ukraine mess, so was Trump this year. But now? He wants to take on Obama, who isn’t just not running, and isn’t just wildly popular with Black voters whose turnout will decide Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia, but is also among the most popular politicians in the country.
For comparison, Trump is at 43-54, while even Biden is at 38-54. (And yes, double-haters are a thing, and unlike 2016, when Trump won them 50-39, they’re breaking heavily for Biden this year.)
So who does Trump think he's targeting, electorally, by going after Obama? It sure isn’t Republicans. They already loathe the first Black president, giving him a 7-90 favorability rating. Democrats adore him, at 93-5 favorable. And in fact, the last thing Trump needs is a fired-up Black base turning out in droves because the orange man attacked their guy.
Now independents are split, 48-48. Does he think he can chip away there? Maybe. But again, Trump’s problem isn't that Biden—his actual opponent—is too beloved, it’s that he himself is loathed. That’s why double-haters are flocking to Biden. How does driving down Obama’s negatives help with that? It just makes Trump look like an even bigger asshole, which is his problem to begin with!
But that Vanity Fair piece shows that Trump fundamentally misunderstands the electoral landscape. “Trump knows Biden is only popular because he was Obama’s V.P.,” an unnamed Republican is quoted as saying. Except that … Biden isn’t particularly popular. He’s tolerated, at best. “Obama is going to be on the campaign trail in a big way,” a “campaign advisor” says. “He’s the most popular Democrat of the past four decades. Trump knows you have to neutralize him, and he’s frustrated [Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale] didn’t think of that. Trump feels he’s doing it all alone.”
Ah, so the real issue here is that Trump thinks he can do his campaign manager’s job better than the actual campaign manager, and as usual, surrounds himself with sycophantic yes-men and gets angry when they either 1.) turn out to be incompetent at their jobs, or 2.) tell him things he doesn’t want to hear.
But really, Trump doesn’t know how to be a campaign manager any more than he knows how to run the country. He fell into the job thanks to a litany of unhappy coincidences and lucky breaks. Now he’s frustrated that he can’t recreate the dynamics around “but her emails,” and that folks happen to be upset that 100,000 people will soon be dead of COVID-19, with no end in sight to the carnage.
But there’s one last point, and it’s noted in the article: “Trump’s targeting of Obama has been causing consternation among Republicans, who fear he is pursuing a base-incitement strategy when he needs to appeal to crucial suburban voters in must-win battleground states.”
It’s all about the suburbs, and, in particular, educated white suburban women. They are the reason Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House. They are the reason we won governor races in blood-red Kentucky and Louisiana last year, as well as took complete control of the Virginia legislature. They are the reason that Biden is leading Trump in our latest Civiqs poll of Georgia.
And there isn’t a single educated white suburban woman who is going to buy that empty Obamagate nonsense.
So, in sum, Trump’s nonsensical attacks on Obama:
- Motivate Democrats to rally around Biden, something that hasn’t quite happened yet;
- Motivate crucial Black voters to rush to Obama and Biden’s defense;
- Fail to stem Republican bleeding with crucial suburban voters, and in particular, educated suburban white women, who have been abandoning the GOP in favor of Democrats the past three years;
- Give Obama extra motivation to hit the campaign trail, and nothing is more potent for Democrats than Obama on the campaign trail;
- Continue to focus all of Trump’s efforts on rallying his base, even though it’s pretty much already as rallied as it can be; and
- Sow division between him and his campaign staff, because what Republicans really need is more organizational strife and dysfunction.
Let’s keep an eye on those Obama favorability numbers. My guess? They won’t budge much and Trump will waste precious time and resources going after someone who isn’t even on the ballot, yet happens to be among the most popular national political figures.
If he wants to give Biden a free pass, then by all means. In the immortal words of Barack Obama: “Please proceed.”