Presidential PSA: Not voting is a vote for Trump, you know

I’m confused. Isn’t a non-vote an endorsement of Hillary Clinton? It depends on the voter, clearly, and President Obama had a very specific audience in mind: his voters from 2012. Appearing on the Steve Harvey show this morning, Obama insisted that sitting out the election was not an option for those who want to protect Obama’s legacy.

He did agree with the RNC on one point — don’t vote for Gary Johnson:

President Obama has made it clear to voters: If you don’t want Donald Trump as president, choose Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton instead.

“If you don’t vote, that’s a vote for Trump,” Obama stressed in a new line of attack during a radio interview with Steve Harvey that aired Wednesday morning. “If you vote for a third-party candidate who’s got no chance to win, that’s a vote for Trump.”

The president conducted the interview via telephone on Tuesday, reacting to the first presidential debate and urging listeners to register to vote.

Obama made an explicit argument that Clinton’s name is just a stand-in for his:

On Wednesday, the president said for the second time in two weeks that his legacy is “on the ballot” this year, telling radio host Steve Harvey that voters are voting for or against him, whether they know it or not.

“The notion somehow that, ‘Well, you know, I’m not as inspired because Barack and Michelle, they’re not on the ballot this time and, you know, maybe we kinda take it easy’ — my legacy’s on the ballot,” Obama said, repeating the phrase twice. He also said back on Sept. 17: “My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot.”

If that sounds familiar, it should. Republicans jumped all over the same comment in 2014, and wound up winning a second midterm landslide. Aaron Blake wonders whether it’s as big a mistake as last time:

The funny thing is that Obama used very much the same formulation back in 2014, and it was seen as a big gaffe — one that played directly into Republicans’ hands.

“Make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot,” he said in early October 2014. “Every single one of them.”

It certainly didn’t help two years ago. Despite making that argument, usually in long-distance appearances like this, Obama’s base largely ignored him — and Republicans picked up nine seats in the Senate. Blake points out that Obama’s popularity has rebounded since then, but that doesn’t mean that formulations like this will automatically produce voter enthusiasm. It might have helped someone less well-known than Hillary Clinton, but Obama doesn’t have enough room to help define her in 2016.

Still, don’t expect Hillary to run away from the endorsement, even if Republicans make use of it as well as they did two years ago. It’s one thing, though, to simply call in and make comments from the White House podium. It’s another to put the organization back in the field and perform the GOTV work that produced two winning elections for Obama. Short of doing the latter, don’t expect the former to make much of a dent. Everyone already knows that Hillary Clinton is running for Obama’s third term, and it’s not helping.

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