Obama: I could have won a third term on "hope and change"

He might be right — but not for the reasons Barack Obama gives David Axelrod. In a podcast published yesterday, Obama tells his former campaign manager that his vision of “hope and change” still resonates with the American electorate, so much so that he could have beaten Donald Trump with it had Obama not faced term limits.

Could Obama have won a third term? Probably, but “hope and change” wouldn’t have had anything to do with it:

President Barack Obama still believes in the message of hope and change he campaigned on in 2008, so much so that he suggested Monday it could have delivered him a third term — if such a thing were possible.

“I am confident in this vision because I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” Obama told his former senior adviser, David Axelrod, on the “Axe Files” podcast published Monday. “I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.”

How do we know that this is false? Because Obama did campaign on these themes in 2016 — for Hillary Clinton. She ran on a continuity platform of Obama’s focus on diversity as the core value in the White House. Hillary’s entire raison d’être was “breaking the glass ceiling,” so much so that the confetti Team Hillary ordered for her victory celebration was custom manufactured to look like broken glass as it fell to the stage.

Obama was hardly a bystander to this campaign. Both he and Michelle Obama campaigned hard for Hillary in support of her diversity platform. Obama even went so far as to give Hillary lifts to her campaign events on Air Force One, which raised a few eyebrows at the time. The grand result of all this was a humiliating defeat, not just for Hillary but for Obama’s attempts to push his “hope and change” slogan for one more win. Voters clearly rejected Hillary’s Diversity Or Else campaign, especially in key Blue Wall states, and in doing so voters rejected Obama’s agenda.

However, that’s not to say that Obama couldn’t have won a third term in this election. He almost certainly would have, for two reasons. One, Obama is much more well liked than either Hillary or Donald Trump, a fact that has remained constant even when Obama’s job-approval ratings sank under water. More importantly, though, Obama’s superior campaigning would never have allowed Pennsylvania and Michigan to fall to the GOP. Hillary blew those two states and likely Wisconsin too, although they have been trending into the red for the last six years. Obama probably would have also held Florida, although it seems doubtful that he’d have carried Ohio. That would have given Obama 297 Electoral College votes, more than enough to stay in the White House. But that win would have had everything to do with campaign mechanics and existing emotional connections to voters, not another vapid round of “hope and change” rhetoric.

Perhaps this is yet another demonstration of the wisdom of the 22nd Amendment. Even cults of personality have an expiration date.

Update: Added a concluding sentence to the penultimate paragraph.