Whether out of a need to find a distraction amid a health crisis in an election year or his constant desire to find a political foil, President Trump is back to attacking his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Obama, of course, has long been a target of his, going back Trump’s days of leading the birther movement, inaccurately calling into question whether Obama was an American and thus a legitimate president.
This time, Trump has latched onto some ambiguous concept of “Obamagate,” which even he couldn’t define to a reporter when asked recently.
“You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody,” said Trump when asked last week what crime exactly Obama committed.
In practice, Obamagate is some umbrella of accusations from Trump that he can’t articulate and haven’t been proven. But specifics or proving the accusations isn’t the point. The point might be to talk about something other than the horrible news on his watch and poll after poll showing Trump losing reelection in national polls and key swing states.
Needing a distraction or finding a foil may not be a horrible idea politically, especially given the fact Election Day is less than six months away and the economy is in the tank.
That said, there are two reasons why Trump might want to attack someone else.
Obama is a lot more popular than Trump
Trump can choose anyone to be his opponent in this faux fight. He could have stuck with attacking members of Congress or the media collectively, vastly less popular than him. After all, if Trump is trying to offer Americans a choice between himself and someone else, why would he choose someone who is arguably one of the most popular politicians in America right now?
Presidents almost always are viewed more favorably after they leave office, and the same is true with Obama. A 2018 Gallup poll found 63 percent of Americans approved of the job Obama did as president when they looked back on it. More recently, polling outfit YouGov showed Obama’s favorability rating was 55 percent, some 11 points higher than Trump.
Every attack on Obama might make Trump and his political base feel good, but instead of the rest of the American public conceding he has a point, with Obama, they might start off with skepticism because they generally like Obama more.
For fun, the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling outfit released a poll this week showing that in a hypothetical 2020 matchup for president, Obama, who is constitutionally prohibited from running again, would beat Trump 54 to 43 percent nationally.
What about Biden?
Consider for a moment that Trump actually pulls off something very hard this summer: convincing Americans that Obama was actually a bad president and a bad guy generally. So what? Obama isn’t on the ballot.
If Trump makes Obama hated that, at best, might only indirectly might hurt the person Trump is actually running against this year: Obama’s former vice president Joe Biden.
There is a long-established tactic in politics. Party operatives and outside groups constantly go on the attack hoping to make an undisciplined candidate attack them and leaving their preferred candidate out of the crossfire.
Republicans in the US Senate seem to get it. They just launched an investigation into a firm associated with Biden’s son, Hunter. They even issued a subpoena for him to appear in front of a Senate committee. While Trump has encouraged this move, he isn’t talking about it as much as he is talking about Obama lately.