Obama hits trail to help Biden, protect legacy
When former President Obama hits the trail on Wednesday, he’ll be campaigning not just for his onetime partner Joe Biden but for his own policies that have been severed under President Trump.
In two campaign stops in Philadelphia, Obama is expected to rail against Trump like no other Democrat has during this campaign cycle, making the case for why the country can’t afford to have a second Trump term.
“President Obama understands more intensely than anyone what’s at stake this election as Donald Trump has systematically attacked his legacy every day since taking office nearly four years ago,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne.
Behind the scenes, Obama has been beyond miffed with Trump’s focus on dismantling his policies and has told anyone who will listen how repulsed he is by Trump and the way he has governed.
“He finds this presidency completely and utterly reprehensible,” said one source close to the former president.
Obama has largely avoided getting into confrontations with Trump over the past four years, in part because past presidents have sought to shy from criticizing their successors, but also to avoid becoming a foil for the GOP.
Yet he has also been picking his spots to weigh in and offered harsh criticism of Trump and an assessment of the stakes in the election during a speech at the Democratic convention in August.
Obama’s appearances in the coming two weeks provide the former president with ample opportunity to protect his own legacy, other strategists say.
“Although Biden is the one running, a lot of the work they did together in the Obama administration is what’s on the line,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale, who pointed to health care and the environment as two major policies areas which have been rolled back under Trump. “It’s already been under severe attack by Republicans and likely couldn’t survive another four years of Trump.”
On Tuesday, as Obama prepared to hit the trail, the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee held a virtual hearing to examine efforts to expand access to coverage, even as the Trump administration has rolled back outreach and advertising.
Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) hammered Republicans for continuing to attack the law, even as they pledge to protect people with pre-existing conditions.
“I just want to remind everyone: The administration is in court right now demanding to destroy the ACA [Affordable Care Act]. The administration is fighting to remove health care protections from millions during a pandemic,” Pascrell said.
Republicans in the hearing pointed to the fact that the law has not collapsed and that premiums are falling. They touted actions taken by the Trump administration like promoting cheap, short-term health plans and the elimination of the law’s individual mandate penalty.
When Obama takes the stage on Wednesday, his appearance will be different than his campaign events in the past because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At one event, Obama will speak at a drive-in rally similar to events Biden has done where attendees — who received invitations from the campaign — will listen from their cars at a sports complex lot.
“I think it’ll lose some of the potency of a traditional Obama rally,” said one Democratic strategist. “He feeds off of large crowds. That’s when he gets most fired up and that might get a little lost in a parking lot rally.”
Still, the strategist added that Democrats have been long anticipating a chance when they would hear from Obama.
“He’s been waiting for this moment for four years,” the strategist added. “He’s been waiting for a chance to rip Trump to shreds. And bringing Obama out will only cause Trump to spiral which is also what Democrats want.
In 2016, Obama, together with Michelle Obama, campaigned for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia on the final night before the presidential election. Even though the Obamas and Clintons drew a crowd of thousands that night, it didn’t help Clinton the following day, when she lost the state of Pennsylvania to Trump.
Democrats say they have been working in overdrive to make sure they can bring the state back to their side of the ledger.
Obama, who delivered his convention speech from Philadelphia, is a part of that plan.
Political observers say Obama, in particular, feels the weight of this moment almost more than anyone else.
“I think that Obama feels that very much hangs in the balance, for the country but also for his legacy,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “President Trump in many ways has been antithetical to what he stood for, in terms of how the presidency should be conducted, and his policy agenda.”
“He feels a sense of urgency to help Biden win,” Zelizer said. “And in his case it goes far beyond partisanship.”
Nathaniel Weixel contributed.
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