Obama's Trump attacks electrify Democrats, anger GOP

Former President Obama is flexing his political muscle against President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE, signaling he’s all-in on helping presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Republican calls second bout of COVID-19 'far more challenging' Conflicting school mask guidance sparks confusion Biden: Pathway to citizenship in reconciliation package 'remains to be seen' MORE and ending the Trump presidency. 

In recent days, Obama, with his legacy on the line, has made a point of taking on Trump head-on after remaining quiet throughout much of the president’s time in office.

“It basically amounts to more than three years of staying quiet and remaining on the sidelines building to this moment of ‘Hey Trump, we’re over your bullshit,' ” an Obama administration aide said of the former president’s recent actions. “He’s had a lot on his mind and it’s finally all coming out.” 

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Obama’s one-word tweet “vote,” responding to Trump’s criticism of the “unmasking” of former national security adviser Michael Flynn from intelligence papers, went viral last week, exciting Democrats who have longed for his voice to rail against the current president. 

He followed it up over the weekend with two virtual commencement addresses notable in their criticism of the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Obama said the coronavirus had “fully, finally, torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing."

“A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” he added. 

A few days earlier, on a call to 3,000 members of the Obama Alumni Association, the former president said that the current administration’s response to the global crisis has been “an absolute chaotic disaster.”

Democratic strategists say Obama’s public remarks are helpful to Biden and the party because they believe they draw a favorable contrast between his administration and Trump’s White House. 

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“One key area where Obama creates a clear contrast with Trump is competency,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “If you look at polling, competency is a vulnerability for Trump so the more that Obama can remind voters of that contrast, it's a net positive for Democrats and for the Biden campaign.”

Added one Obama ally: “You couldn’t have more of a dichotomy between these two presidents. Obama is someone who believes the office is bigger than the person. Trump is all about himself.” 

At the same time, Trump seems happy to have Obama as his main foil in the general election. 

He knows this election isn’t just a referendum on his own White House but with Biden on the ballot, it is also about Obama’s administration. 

Trump has punched back at the Obama slights, mentioning his predecessor on Twitter nearly two dozen times this month, including three times this week where he simply tweeted “Obamagate,” a reference to Flynn’s unmasking and the theory promulgated on the right that information about it was leaked to the media to hurt the new president’s incoming administration in its first months in office.  

“The Obama Administration is turning out to be one of the most corrupt and incompetent in U.S. history,” Trump wrote in one tweet over the weekend. “Remember, he and Sleepy Joe are the reasons I am in the White House!!!” 

Obama’s barbs have got the attention of Republicans.

Karl RoveKarl Christian RoveChristie to co-chair fundraising program for Republican governors The Hill's Morning Report: Afghanistan's future now up to Afghans, Biden says The unholy alliance of religion and politics MORE, who served as a senior strategist to former President George W. Bush, on Monday called Obama’s speech “a political drive-by shooting.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines MORE (R-Ky.) has also blasted Obama, saying the former president should continue to follow the precedent of past presidents but not criticizing his successor. 

Obama “should have kept his mouth shut,” McConnell told Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara TrumpLara TrumpPast criticism of Trump becomes potent weapon in GOP primaries Trump endorsement shakes up GOP Senate primary in NC Lara Trump calls on Americans at border to 'arm up and get guns and be ready' MORE, during a campaign livestream last week, adding that “it’s a little bit classless.” 

McConnell is also up for reelection this year.

Obama allies point out that his attacks could be a lot worse. But they’re not, intentionally so. In the graduation addresses, for example, one ally noted, the former president never used Trump’s name.

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“He never takes the bait,” the Obama ally said. “He’s not doing media interviews, he’s not penning op-eds to go after Trump."

“And he never really engaged until after the primary was over, as he said,” the ally added. 

Democratic strategists say no one can engage better than Obama can. 

Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist who has been critical of Trump, said Obama’s recent comments show the intense role he’ll play in seeking to get Biden elected president. 

“This will make a huge difference,” Del Percio said. “We shouldn’t forget that there is a road map for Obama to follow when it comes to Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania."

“If he just flips the districts that Clinton lost in 2016, and he won in 2012 that alone would be devastating to the Trump campaign,” she added.

At the same time, Del Percio warned that the 2020 race shouldn’t be about Obama and Trump and that the former president shouldn’t be overexposed.

“Biden must look presidential in his own right and that he is his own man,” she said.