Analysis |

Obama the Avenger and His Vendetta Against Trump and the GOP

The First Family is exacting revenge on the candidate who led the Birther movement and the party that tormented them for the past eight years.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Cheyenne High School on October 23, 2016 in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Cheyenne High School on October 23, 2016 in North Las Vegas, Nevada.Credit: Ethan Miller, AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Barack Obama is fired up and ready to go. He flies around from political rally to donors' events, stirring crowds, encouraging Democrats and enthusing voters with the intense rhetoric of a Baptist preacher. He pushes his audiences not only to vote but to take others with them, not only to support Hillary Clinton but to achieve victory for Democrats all down the line. And that’s before we even mention his wife, the breakout mega-superstar of the election season who will hold her first joint appearance with Clinton in North Carolina on Thursday.

There’s never been a presidential family that has committed itself so totally and unequivocally in favor of their party’s presidential contender and, in Donald Trump’s case, against the rival party’s candidate. Such unequivocal intervention used to be considered unseemly and unpresidential, but like many other things that have changed since Trump appeared on the scene, the rules of presidential etiquette have been thrown out the window as well. Two weeks before his successor is chosen, less than three months before he finally leaves the White House, Obama is pulling out all the stops and going for broke. He doesn’t look or sound like a president whose time has come but like an ambitious politician who’s fighting for his own future.

In Nevada on Monday, Obama was scorching. His address at Cheyenne High School in Las Vegas wasn’t one of the soaring, meticulously polished speeches he's known for, but a spirited and scrappy assault on Trump and the GOP, as if Obama was a veteran prizefighter still eager to get his hands dirty in the ring. After eviscerating Trump, Obama pummeled Nevada’s Republican candidate for the Senate, Joe Heck, pounced on him for his past support for Trump and battered him for his current efforts to distance himself from it, and finally finished him off with a one-two punch of “What the heck” and “Heck, no” that he seemed to relish. Obama doesn’t only want to see Trump and the Republicans beaten. He’s dying to see them humiliated as well.

The polls are already smiling on Clinton — the latest Washington Post/ABC poll gives her a 12% advantage — but the widening gap is only whetting Democratic appetites. If the White House is secure, then the campaign must ensure that Democrats seize the four Republican seats they need to control the Senate, and if the Senate is taken, then Obama will move on to the mission that’s now slightly less impossible: capturing the House of Representatives as well. Obama is not only petrified by the thought of Trump in the White House. He recognizes that the GOP candidate’s probable crash and burn provides Democrats with an unexpected opportunity for a clean sweep that was inconceivable before Trump appeared on the scene.

All American presidents, of course, hope to be replaced by candidates from their own party, though that is often not the case. This is doubly true for Obama, whose legacy is depicted by Republicans as hell on earth that will be obliterated as soon as Trump takes office. Obama also knows better than anyone else how debilitating it is to deal with a confrontational Congress dedicated to blocking him in every way possible — and GOP senators have already vowed to continue the same obstructionist attitude if Clinton is elected. A Democratic Senate, on the other hand, can be expected to swiftly approve Clinton’s cabinet appointments — will Michelle Obama be in line? — but more importantly, her nominations to the Supreme Court, which Obama views as essential to safeguarding his liberal ideals.

Obama, even if he is the dispassionate, no-drama politician he’s made out to be, isn’t motivated by presidential or political calculations alone but by purely emotional and personal urges as well. He’s not only terrified by a Trump presidency, but he wants to punish him for the spiteful and racist Birther campaign he spearheaded, which Obama mentioned in his Nevada speech. He doesn’t only want to see Democrats triumph so that his legacy can be preserved and advanced; he wants to demolish Republicans for making his life miserable over the past eight years. Obama may be a Christian who believes in forgiveness, but in this case, he’s probably adhering to Heinrich Heine’s maxim: “We should forgive our enemies, but not before they’ve been hanged.”

Obama doesn’t accept the view that Trump is an alien who landed on the GOP in a UFO and carried out a hostile takeover. The Republican candidate, Obama said in Nevada, is a direct outgrowth of all the “crazy stuff” that party leaders have tolerated — if not encouraged — against him, against Clinton and against other Democrats. They thought the “crazy stuff” would rile up the base and help their efforts to block Obama, but “then their base started to believe it”, Obama said, and supported Trump, who was peddling it. Now that their candidate is tanking, Republicans are trying to walk away from him and his “crazy stuff,” but it’s too late, Obama said. Voters should make sure they don’t get away with it.

First lady Michelle Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Manchester, N.H.Credit: Jim Cole, AP

The Republicans’ problem is that Obama has embarked on his vendetta when his popularity is soaring, approaching the peaks of his first term, surpassing Bill Clinton’s and equaling Ronald Reagan’s when they were about to end their terms in office. And Obama is nothing compared to his widely admired better half, as he describes her, whose speeches have galvanized millions. Michelle Obama is also fearful of a Trump triumph but she too is seeking payback for the years of torment inflicted on her and her family by the Republican nominee and his party.

It’s not inconceivable that in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu is watching the Obama’s crusade and wondering whether it will reach him as well. Netanyahu must be asking himself whether Obama the avenger will seek to settle scores with others who have done him wrong. He must be asking whether the fact that his great supporter Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas newspaper has now emerged as a lone voice in the wilderness in favor of Trump will be held against him. I don’t know the answer to that question, but people who don’t like Netanyahu can certainly take pleasure — for now — in the anxiety that Netanyahu must be feeling as November 8 approaches.

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