Obama Owes the Democrats, So He’s on the Trail: Suddenly, former President Barack Obama is everywhere. Democrats have turned to President Joe Biden’s predecessor and erstwhile boss on the campaign trail in order to deliver a boost to sagging candidates the unpopular incumbent can’t.
There are many good reasons for this. Even at 61 and with much grayer hair than when he was first elected president, Obama looks positively youthful compared to the gerontocracy that leads the Democratic Party today. As an orator and messenger, he is a generational talent. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, not so much.
But Obama also owes the Democrats, because he is a major reason the party finds itself in such dire straits.
It was under Obama that Democrats suffered massive losses in down-ballot races even as he managed to get himself reelected. Not only did they lose control of both houses of Congress over his two midterm elections. Democrats lost well over 900 state legislative seats.
Not only did this result in a massive reduction in the Democrats’ state-level power and a corresponding increase in the Republicans’. It also wiped out whatever bench might have existed to replace older Democrats and succeed Obama.
That’s what left Democrats with Biden in 2020, with the only viable young challenger being the mayor of South Bend, Ind. Bernie Sanders, the next fresh thing inside the party after a surprisingly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016, is even older than Biden.
Obama is also responsible for why Biden is the specific old person now leading the Democratic Party. Biden’s 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination was a disaster. He dropped out after winning 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. “I’m not a superstar,” he said himself in a 2007 Reuters interview. “People say they like me, people tell me they think I’d be a good president but that they just don’t think I can win.”
At a minimum, Biden did not set himself up to ever mount a competitive race for his party’s presidential nomination again. But then Obama chose him as his running mate. While he was an important senator, former President Donald Trump had a point when he said: “He ran two or three times, he never got above 1%. And then, Obama came along and took him off the trash heap, and he became the vice president.”
The vice presidency kept Biden’s White House ambitions alive. Obama discouraged him from running in 2016, favoring Clinton. That ended badly for Democrats. Biden tried again and won, but now Democrats have buyer’s remorse, which will only deepen if Democrats lose big next week.
Then there is the matter of Obama’s role in elevating Trump. His White House Correspondents Dinner jibes and subsequent ridicule may have baited Trump into running for president. Certainly, Obama’s failure to deliver on the audacity of hope paved the way for Trump to succeed him.
Obama-Trump voters helped dismantle the blue wall, flipping Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — and the Electoral College majority.
The 44th president accelerated the Democrats’ shift toward being a party of college-educated professionals rather than the working class. That first happened among blue-collar whites, but there has been a similar but smaller migration of working-class Hispanic and black men toward the GOP. Top Democratic operatives think this is bad for the party.
It’s possible Democrats would not be in this mess today if it weren’t for Obama. He continues to overshadow other Democratic leaders. But his successes were personal ones, while very short-lived for the rest of the party.
Even Obamacare, his biggest domestic policy achievement, is a mixed bag. Yes, it was finally polling above water by the time Trump and Republicans tried to repeal it. But that was after years of unpopularity, and Democrats in 2020 talked about the state of the American health care system in distinctly pre-Obamacare terms. Most of their presidential candidates — with the significant exception of Biden — wanted to effectively replace it with some form of Medicare expansion.
Biden will deservedly get the blame for the Democrats’ “shellacking” should it come to pass. There are fewer areas where he can help Democrats on the campaign trail, compared to Obama. Biden’s low approval ratings and economic failures are driving this election.
But a lot of the groundwork was laid under Obama and things might look different now if his presidency had been more successful too. So he it is only fair that he go out and try to salvage Democratic majorities over the next week.
Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, James Antle III is the Washington Examiner’s politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and Editor of the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?