Obama takes the stage as Biden's wingman in 2020 election

Former President Barack Obama remains a popular and polarizing figure, invigorating both the Democratic base and Republican allies of President Donald Trump. Now he is bringing that energy to the 2020 presidential race.

Martinez Monsivais/AP/File
Vice President Joe Biden (left) looks upward while listening to President Barack Obama speak in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Nov. 9, 2016. The former president is emerging as a central figure in the 2020 presidential election.

Nearly eight years after he was last on the ballot, Barack Obama is emerging as a central figure in the 2020 presidential election.

Democrats are eagerly embracing Mr. Obama as a political wingman for Joe Biden, who spent two terms by his side as vice president. Mr. Obama remains the party's most popular figure, particularly with black voters and younger Democrats, and Mr. Biden's presidential campaign is planning for him to have a highly visible role in the months to come.

For President Donald Trump, that means an opportunity to focus the spotlight on one of his favorite political foils. In recent days, Mr. Trump and his allies have aggressively pushed conspiracy theories about Mr. Obama designed to fire up the president's conservative base, taint Mr. Biden by association, and distract from the glut of grim health and economic news from the coronavirus pandemic.

"Partisans on both sides want to make this about Obama," said Ned Price, who served as spokesperson for glut of Mr. Obama's White House National Security Council.

The renewed political focus on Mr. Obama sets the stage for an election about the nation's future that will also be about its past. As Mr. Biden looks to Mr. Obama for personal validation, he's also running to restore some of the former president's legacy, which has been systematically dismantled by Mr. Trump. The current president is running in part to finish that job.

Yet Mr. Trump's anti-Obama push also frequently takes on a darker, more conspiratorial tone that goes far beyond differences in health care policy and America's role in the world. His current focus is on the actions Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden, and their national security advisers took in the closing days of their administration, as they viewed intelligence reports about Michael Flynn. Mr. Flynn had a short-lived stint as Mr. Trump's national security adviser before being fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his interactions with Russia's ambassador to the U.S.

Mr. Trump's own administration acknowledged on Wednesday that Obama advisers followed proper procedures in privately "unmasking" Mr. Flynn's name, which was redacted in the intelligence reports for privacy reasons. Mr. Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, though Mr. Trump's Justice Department moved last week to drop the case against him.

Despite there being no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr.Obama, Mr. Biden, or other administration officials, Mr. Trump is eagerly pushing the notion of an unspecified crime against the former president, branding it "Obamagate." He's being backed up by Republican allies, including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley who took to the Senate floor this week to ask of the Flynn matter: "What did Obama and Biden know, and when did they know it?"

Mr. Trump's zeal has sparked fears among some former Obama and Biden advisers about how far he may be willing to go in using the levers of government to push his case against them in an election year. The Justice Department is conducting an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe that ensnared Mr. Flynn and other Trump associates.

Mr. Trump's renewed focus on Mr. Obama comes as Republicans grow increasingly anxious that the rising coronavirus death toll and cratering economy will damage the president's reelection prospects in November. More than 84,000 Americans have died from the virus, and more than 30 million have claimed unemployment.

Mr. Biden's campaign drew a direct connection between the president's attacks on Mr. Obama and the twin crises battering his administration.

"It's no surprise that the president is erratically lashing out at President Obama, desperate to distract from his own failures as commander in chief that have cost thousands of Americans their lives during this crisis," said TJ Ducklo, a Biden campaign spokesman.

Mr. Trump's emphasis on Mr. Obama also comes as the former president begins to emerge from a three-year period of political restraint as he prepares to embrace his role as leading surrogate for Mr. Biden. Last week, Mr. Obama told a large gathering of alumni from his administration that DOJ's decision to drop the Flynn case put the "rule of law at risk." He also criticized the Trump White House's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Biden's campaign has been eager to get Mr. Obama involved in the election, though his exact role is still forming, particularly given that the pandemic has upended the campaign's plans for rallies and other in-person events in battleground states. The former president is also expected to campaign for Democratic House and Senate candidates across the country.

Though Mr. Obama campaigned for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms, he has mostly tried to avoid overt politics since leaving the White House. He's spoken out publicly against Mr. Trump on rare occasions, frustrating many Democrats who have wanted him to be more aggressive in calling out his successor.

But the 2020 election has always loomed as the moment when Mr. Obama would step off the sidelines, and he's told advisers he's eager to do so. Despite his strident public neutrality during the Democratic primary, he spoke to Mr. Biden regularly and has continued to do so as the campaign moves into the general election, according to aides.

Mr. Biden's campaign sees Mr. Obama as a clear asset as they seek to not only energize Democrats, but to also appeal to independents and more moderate Republicans who may be wary of four more years of Mr. Trump in the White House.

A recent Monmouth University poll found 57% of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama. That includes 92% of Democrats and 19% of Republicans.

Mr. Obama's favorable ratings are higher than either of the men who will be on the ballot in November. The same poll showed 41% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Mr. Biden, and 40% viewed Mr. Trump in a favorable light.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: As a public service, the Monitor has removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Obama takes the stage as Biden's wingman in 2020 election
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today