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How Obama just endorsed Trump

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, heard it all, we are hit with another surreal shocker certain to wend its way into the narrative, and onto paid media as the 2020 presidential derby charges forward. 

In two recent virtual commencement addresses, former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump is cruising for a bruising State lawmaker Elizabeth Fiedler discusses the top issues for Pennsylvania voters Joe Biden's transit plan: Party like it's 2009 MORE took aim at Trump by questioning his willingness, much less his ability, to lead. Predictably, the left roared in delight while the right howled in protest.

Yet lost in the partisan noise was a more telling passage of prose Obama uttered that day, words that may have eluded vetting by his political handlers — but not the rest of us. In nine words, Obama effectively endorsed the incumbent and eviscerated the challenger. 

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In keeping with past practice, and his drive for relevance, Obama observed, “the old ways of doing things just don’t work.”

Obama is right, very right. The ways we’ve done things in the past are no longer cutting it, especially when change happens at cyber-speed and decisions must be made with commensurate pace.

How then does Obama explain backing Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Trump campaign eyes election night party at his sold-out DC hotel Harris blasts GOP for confirming Amy Coney Barrett: 'We won't forget this' MORE — set in his ways, long in the tooth and increasingly slow afoot — over Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE who uniformly bucks conformity, challenges convention and runs staffers who are half his age ragged trying to keep up? In short, Obama can’t — not when his own words lead us in an entirely different direction, and when his own history confirms it.

Twelve years ago, crusading under the banner of change, Obama dethroned an authentic American hero, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainObama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Mark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego More than 300 military family members endorse Biden MORE, by playing the age card intentionally and frequently. Obama, playing off his youth to display his fitness to lead us into the future, declared McCain “was losing his bearings,” that we needed “a new politics for a new time.” Obama’s TV commercials piled on, proclaiming “we can’t afford a president who’s out of touch” and, more personally, “things have changed in the last 26 years, but McCain hasn’t.”

With all due respect, Obama has some ‘splaining to do, unless he’s okay conflating hype with hypocrisy, unless he now believes turning back the clock is the best way to beat a modern pandemic that’s cheating people out of life and threatening to choke the economy out of its.

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Words count, Mr. President, and your nine words of denigration about the past will soon be leveraged against your friend (and former VP) Joe Biden, whose long and stalwart career in public service is being contested by the perception he may have a current incapacity to govern.

Conversely, four years ago, Donald Trump emerged from a pack of contenders to claim an improbable win by taking on the system and all who defended it. He made Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHouse Judiciary Republicans mockingly tweet 'Happy Birthday' to Hillary Clinton after Barrett confirmation Hillary Clinton tweets 'vote them out' after Senate GOP confirm Barrett CNN: Kayleigh McEnany praised Biden as 'man of the people' in 2015 MORE the poster child of the status quo, the “business as usual” crowd who ensured power and privilege would never play second fiddle to something as pedestrian as the interests of the rest of us.

Trump may own a number a country clubs, but he’s not your vintage country club macher. His message then, as it is now, is the system needs a wholesale overhaul, that it’s not right to leave America’s working class working overtime to keep up, or our military mired in wars they couldn’t win or our borders unprotected from illegal entry — or to tolerate foreign powers hiding truths that imperil the planet.

The 2016 election was a referendum on all these things, and Americans chose a less-traveled path to set things straight and get things right. Despite nearly four years in office as Commander in Chief, Trump is still an incumbent who sounds every bit the challenger, and Joe Biden a quarantined challenger who acts like he’s still the incumbent.

In 1992, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage Trump expected to bring Hunter Biden's former business partner to debate Davis: On eve of tonight's debate — we've seen this moment in history before MORE re-popularized an iconic Fleetwood Mac classic on his way to the Presidency. The philosophical refrain, in part:

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“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.”

Beyond judgments still to be made about COVID-19, the race for president is again a referendum on the “old ways.” Donald Trump should thank Barack Obama for reminding us.

Adam Goodman is a national Republican media strategist and columnist. He is a partner at Ballard Partners in Washington D.C. He is also the first Edward R. Murrow Senior Fellow at Tufts University's Fletcher School. Follow him on Twitter @adamgoodman3