Analysis: Obama and Trump bring dueling visions for America to campaign trail


Midterm elections are almost always about incumbents, especially when they are unpopular. But in a special twist this year, the two former presidents who lost control of the House while in office have become their parties’ final messengers.

Barack Obama and Donald Trump personify two rival visions of the very meaning of America and are prolonging a years-long bitter duel as they find themselves on opposite sides of a deep confrontation over the future of US democracy.

Obama remains the avatar of progressive change and an increasingly diverse nation, far more popular than current Democratic President Joe Biden. He is the most sought-after political firefighter for Democrats struggling to survive in state races and is using it to energize young, minority and suburban middle-class voters.

Trump has mobilized his Make America Great Again movement, which was born as a reaction against the first Black presidency and was largely built around the belief that the cultural values ​​of a white, working-class nation are under siege from political correctness, undocumented migration. experts and the establishment.

Politicians, celebrities and sports stars peddling Obama conspiracy theories, fearmongering and social media “trash”, of which Trump is the most prominent exponent. And it’s taking a massive toll on protégés of the 45th president running on a platform of 2020 election fraud — like Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.

“Why would you vote for someone who is not telling the truth about something? I mean, on something this important, I don’t care how well they say it. I don’t care how prepared they are or how well lit they are,” Obama said Wednesday of the former local TV news anchor, who emerged as a MAGA rising star in Arizona.

“What happens when the truth doesn’t matter anymore?” added Obama. “If you repeat something over and over again, and it’s a lie, and yet because your side says it, that’s fine.”

Trump adopted that tactic Thursday night on his campaign trail in Iowa, in an appearance by veteran GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, but it felt like the nation’s first caucus warm-up for 2024.

He falsely claimed to have won Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2020, two of the states that helped Biden win the White House.

“Your favorite president got screwed,” Trump told her on a cold night in Sioux City, repeating the false conspiracies Obama spied on his campaign in 2016.

An interesting comparison of Trump’s and Obama’s styles is in their use of humor at their rivals’ rallies. Trump has long used comedy – often dark and cruel – to connect with his audience, a quality not always seen on television. Often his crowd seems to be having a moment, mesmerized by a bull breaking the rules in a china shop, flouting decorum with every word and tearing down his opponents with outrageous accusations and derogatory epithets.

On Thursday, Trump had his crowd on an otherwise dystopian digression, with a gust of wind around teleprompters showing his prepared remarks.

“I wave these teleprompters like a flag,” he said. “I’m going to get seasick!”

Obama’s humor is usually hotter, but less cutting, but he uses it effectively to mock Republicans before delivering a devastating political hit. For example, last weekend in Wisconsin, Republicans were called the party of the rich when they accused Senator Ron Johnson of voting for a tax break for private jet owners.

“He fought for it. And then his grown children bought not one, not two, but three private jets, apparently because a car wasn’t an option. Now, I mean, do you need three? Obama joking.

People in Obama’s wider circle have pointed out that his former boss has been under fire this campaign season. Unburdened by the presidency, unlike his former vice president, Obama has shown the freedom and enjoyment of the large political rallies that propelled him to the Democratic nomination in 2008.

It’s easy to tell when the 44th president has no heart in his role. In the early 2012 campaign rallies, for example, he was lethargic and tired, and he didn’t come close to his performance in last year’s Virginia off-year election.

But his rallies this year have shaken the energy and enthusiasm often missing from the rallies of the incumbent president, an older, more conventional politician. Obama has delivered much more comparable and focused economic messages than Biden did – ironically, for the current president Bill Clinton playing the same role that another former president did in the 2012 campaign – which led to Obama’s service. 42. appointing the President “Chief Explainer”.

Obama’s vocal talent hasn’t diminished and he seems to be having a lot of fun showing it off. It’s like a basketball star who makes a comeback after years of retirement and suddenly starts draining threes. And his popularity means he could fall to the most crucial states, where candidates fleeing Biden’s unpopularity would not welcome a visit from the president.

Still, Obama’s rise to prominence is a reminder of the A-list political talent the modern Democratic Party lacks. One complaint is that his best messenger ran for president 14 years ago.

But despite his rhetorical influence, the question now is how effective Obama will be at getting the vote out. The former president often struggled while in office to return his stardust to other Democratic candidates and lesser talents. And the question in this election is whether he’s just preaching to the twisted to address the Democrats who were already planning to vote, or whether Biden is really selling to the independents and anti-Trump Republicans he needs to turn out to vote for his party. .

Former Obama political strategist David Axelrod, now a CNN commentator, said the one-time leader is being used by his party on a specific electoral mission.

“Usually, this is when you try to get your base out, and for Democrats, that’s very important, because the reason parties today generally lose in midterm elections is that their base is not as motivated as the incumbent. party,” said Axelrod. “There’s an enthusiasm gap, at least in the polls, between Republicans and Democrats.”

While Obama is rekindling memories of a past presidency, Trump is on his way to building the foundations for a future one.

The last former president has shown the extraordinary power he still has in the Republican Party by promoting and endorsing a list of candidates in the image of denying his election. There is some doubt, however, that Trump’s efforts to orchestrate inexperienced or extreme candidates, such as senatorial candidates Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Herschel Walker in Georgia and Blake Masters in Arizona, will cost his party critical seats in swing states that will decide control. of the Senate

Republican officials have worried every election cycle about the former president putting his political ambitions ahead of his party. Many still blame false claims of voter fraud for helping two Democrats, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, win Senate seats in the Georgia runoff that gave their party 50-50 control of the chamber with the help of Vice’s tie-breaking vote. President Kamala Harris.

As he makes his way around the country again, Trump has been absent from his usual slew of rallies in the tight-lipped states. The GOP has managed to shift the focus of the election back to Biden in recent weeks, with high inflation and economic concerns scaring voters.

But there are growing signs that Trump may not have to wait much longer to announce a 2024 bid, not least because he has indicated he would use a presidential campaign to frame legal investigations related to the collection of classified documents at his home in the Martian Islands. a-Lago and his behavior in the face of the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot as evidence of political persecution.

“They are weaponizing the Justice Department,” Trump said in a speech on Thursday, accusing Democrats of impeaching him when he was in the White House and treating the attorney general as his personal attorney.

Former Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway praised the former president for not defocusing the GOP’s midterm message, a decision that could pay off with a radical Republican House majority that he can use to undermine Biden in 2024. the elections

“He wishes he had done it already. … I think you can expect him to announce soon,” Conway said of Trump’s planned campaign launch. “Some people are still asking him to have a November surprise.”

“Donald Trump is just getting started. I think you should have your cell phone on,” Conway told reporters at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Thursday.

The former president used an Iowa rally to tease a new campaign.

“I’m very, very, very likely to do it again,” he said, to cheers from the crowd.

If it continues, this midterm is unlikely to be the last election in which the Trump and Obama campaigns cross swords.