Democrats must be feeling good about the state of the race if they’re willing to turn Obama loose this way, knowing that annoyance at him is the superglue that binds what remains of the Republican coalition together. Want to piss off Trumpers and conservative anti-Trumpers? Easy. Have O float some Strange New Respect garbage about his presidential opponents, who were demagogued by the left relentlessly in the name of winning the election.
Mitt Romney was fit to be president, huh? I’m glad Obama finally brought this to our attention.
Old and busted: Romney will ban tampons, bring back slavery, and give you cancer.
New hotness: Obama totally thought Romney was a great guy.
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) August 2, 2016
Don’t forget Big Bird. What kind of soulless monster would take money out of Big Bird’s pocket? Obama can say this with a straight face because traditionally he’s left the nastiest elements of politics to his surrogates so as to protect his image as The Adult In The Room. (Traditionally, but not always.) Remember when John McCain was attacked for having a temper that supposedly called his sanity, and thus his fitness to wield nuclear weapons, into question? That wasn’t O who said that, it was Harry Reid. Remember when Mitt Romney was accused, based on nothing at all, of having been a tax cheat for decades who’d paid nothing to the IRS despite his great wealth? That wasn’t O either. That was … uh, Harry Reid.
Now that I think of it, maybe it isn’t Obama’s many surrogates who are cutthroat dirtbags. Maybe it’s just Reid supplying one vicious soundbite after another. Huh.
But I digress. The irony of him bringing up McCain here as an exemplar of fitness for office is that I remember vividly in the fall of 2008, after Palin had joined the ticket, how the liberal commentariat pushed the idea that McCain — John McCain, scourge of the “wacko birds” — was leading a febrile, potentially dangerous populist mob whipped up by Palin’s attacks on Obama and Bill Ayers. The video of a woman at a townhall meeting telling McCain that she thought Obama was an “Arab” was big business online, even though McCain instantly cut her off and corrected her. In hindsight you could see the appetite for Trump-style reactionary populism among the GOP base even then, but it was always ridiculous to think that Maverick the RINO king, who’d spent decades as a “reasonable” Republican in the Senate, was somehow going to end up in thrall to it. And yet the left was worried. So now we come full circle today, with Obama praising McCain as a responsible leader the better to distinguish Trump as something new and uniquely bad. Maybe if the left hadn’t cried wolf so often and so hysterically in the past, O’s point here would have more traction on the right.
Spare five minutes to read Seth Stevenson today at Slate, wondering how the left might react if, just if, Democrats were the ones who nominated a temperamental crank this year like, say, Sean Penn. The bulk of Obama’s comments below are a scolding to Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell for criticizing Trump repeatedly while continuing to endorse him. Would Democrats behave differently if the shoe were on the other foot and the White House were at stake? Er, no, says Stevenson, who asked some liberal friends how they’d react in a situation like that:
And here’s where my friends really do themselves in. They start saying things like, “OK, but I am confident that Sean Penn would surround himself with people I trust more than the people Ted Cruz would surround himself with.” Or: “I’m not sure how much power the president really has. He’d just be a figurehead.” Or: “But I would have to vote for him because of the Supreme Court—I just can’t let Ted Cruz appoint any justices.” They can’t even hear themselves making the exact same excuses that Republicans have been making for supporting Trump.
I’m sure plenty of smart Democratic pundits would recognize the danger of electing someone like Penn, and publicly say so, just as some smart Republicans are doing. But people at the DNC might hope they could control Penn and might stick by him for “the good of the party.” Harry Reid would no doubt come out as a Penn-backer. Al Gore might see a chance to become relevant again. Cory Booker might do anything in hopes of securing a VP nomination.
Blind partisanship: It’s not just for Republicans.
As for O, I think this is the best explanation for his strategy here. He knows he’s too disliked on the right to convince any Republicans to dump Trump. But that’s the thing — he doesn’t want them to dump him. If anything, he wants to bind congressional Republicans closer to Trump in case Trump’s numbers go sideways this fall, opening the GOP up to trouble down-ballot. There’s a chance (albeit a slim one) that Paul Ryan or John McCain might un-endorse Trump eventually, but now that Obama’s basically dared them to do so, they can’t do it without infuriating Republicans who’ll accuse them of doing Obama’s bidding. Then again, to believe that Ryan might drop Trump under any circumstances is to give him credit for political courage he’s showed no evidence of having. O doesn’t need to bait Republicans into sticking with Trump. They’re perfectly prepared to do that on their own.