Democrats have their sights set squarely on Donald Trump as they campaign to deny the former president a return ticket to the White House. But Trump? He’s still talking about Obama.
For former President Donald Trump, all political signs point to a rematch with President Joe Biden, who defeated Trump in 2020 and increasingly has targeted Trump in his campaign ads.
But voters wouldn’t know that from listening to Trump, who frequently brings up former President Barack Obama in speeches – even suggesting that he beat Obama in 2016 and claiming that Obama is really running the show at the White House now occupied by his former vice president.
Maybe it’s personal, going back to when Obama made fun of Trump at a White House Correspondents Association dinner in 2011. Maybe Trump, who often claims Biden is cognitively impaired because of his age – three years older than Trump – is feeling the effects of advancing age himself and forgets who was president when. Or maybe Trump calculates that his base loves to hate the nation’s only Black president.
But whatever the reason, Trump just can’t quit Obama.
“It’s inexplicable. It’s partly envy, partly racism,” says Harold Holzer, director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, noting that Obama did what Trump could not – win a second consecutive term.
“It obviously works for the extreme of his base to say Obama is secretly running the big show,” Holzer says.
Trump’s focus on Trump is not mirrored in the Republican Party as a whole. When the GOP raises money, it uses such liberal figures as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota as bogeymen.
But Trump is laser-focused on Obama.
At a rally recently in New Hampshire, the former president praised authoritarian Viktor Orban, the president of Hungary, and not for the first time suggested Obama was still president of the United States.
“They were interviewing [Orban] two weeks ago, and they said: ‘What would you advise President Obama? The whole world seems to be exploding and imploding.’ And he said: ‘It’s very simple. He should immediately resign and they should replace him with President Trump, who kept the world safe,'” Trump said, implying that his predecessor was still in office.
Numerous times this fall, Trump has derisively invoked the name of the 44th president when he clearly meant Biden.
“With Obama, we won an election that everyone said couldn’t be won,” Trump said at an October rally in Iowa before correcting himself and specified his opponent was actually Hillary Clinton.
That followed an event in September, when Trump claimed he bested Obama in 2016.
“We did it with Obama,” Trump claimed during a speech in Washington, D.C., referring to his winning 2016 campaign against Clinton. “We won an election that everyone said couldn’t be won.”
Trump has also suggested that Obama is orchestrating policy at the White House.
“It’s never been worse than it is now under crooked Joe Biden and, frankly, his boss, Barack Hussein Obama,” Trump told a New Hampshire crowd at a campaign event last weekend. “I think it’s his boss.”
During an October interview on the “Brian Kilmeade Show” on Fox radio, Trump several times mixed the roles of Biden and Obama.
In remarks about Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Trump said, “It’s all coming through Iran, and Obama wants to – he doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to mention – he doesn’t even mention them in his statements.”
Kilmeade corrected him. “Well, you mean President Biden,” Kilmeade said, prompting a fix-it by Trump.
“I also mean Obama. What do you mean? You know Obama and Biden,” Trump said, trying to recover. “But Obama is Biden’s boss. Guess you didn’t really know that,” Trump said, adding that he had no evidence but knew it in his “gut.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Later, on Fox News, Kilmeade indicated he did not think Trump made a mistake – at least in the former president’s own mind.
“He’s convinced Barack Obama’s running the country. That’s why he says it. He wants you to think that,” Kilmeade said.
Obama lunched with Biden at the White House in June, reportedly warning his successor of the power of Trump’s base. And Obama has weighed in on national and international events in ways that manage or motivate the Democratic base: in October, for example, Obama penned an essay in Medium urging restring in responding to Hamas and calling on people to reject both antisemitism and Islamophobia as the conflict divided Americans.
But as Kilmeade said in his Fox television spot, there is no evidence Obama is controlling anything at the White House.
Typically, former presidents, part of an exclusive club, help each other with advice, since so few people alive understand the pressures and complications of the office, says Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Texas.
“It strikes me that there is no particular reason to think that Donald Trump would offer his best advice to the current president. So in his mind, if he can’t fathom offering honest advice, he can’t fathom anyone seeking it out. it would be a sign of weakness,” Engel says, explaining why Trump would not turn to Obama as a source of guidance instead of an object of derision.
Trump long had a “hatred and contempt” for Obama, Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, Michal Cohen, contends in his book. Cohen describes how Trump, ahead of the 2012 Republican National Convention, hired a “Faux-bama” to play the president during a video Trump made showing him “firing” Obama as if he were a contestant on Trump’s TV show, “The Apprentice.”
The memory of Obama was always in the front of Trump’s brain when the Republican was president. Trump made a concerted effort to undo – or to try to undo – Obama’s policies and accomplishments, with mixed results. And the preoccupation continued.
In July, Trump posted what he claimed to be Obama’s home address on his social media platform, prompting a Trump follower to show up at Obama’s home with guns, prosecutors said.
“Obama is the genesis of [Trump’s] political career,” says Cornell University professor Dan Lamb, a veteran of Capitol Hill and politics. “I think he defaults to seminal moments in his political career,” such as the 2011 White House journalists’ dinner and his upset win in 2016, Lamb adds. “He had to show everyone he’d get the last laugh.”
Source: US News