Barack Obama is the best president Republicans have ever had.
In his eight years in office, the 44th president helped deliver to the GOP (in no particular order) the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, nine governorships, and roughly 900 seats in state legislatures. The Republican National Committee should give the man a medal.
And now the ex-president is back for an encore, reminding Americans not only why Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton sits in the Oval Office today but also why Democrats' hopes for a "blue wave" in November might be overblown.
Obama is great for voter turnout all right – Republican turnout. Democrats may not see it that way, which is just fine. When the former president popped up at the University of Illinois on Sept. 7 to accept an ethics in government prize, fans cheered his snide denunciation of the Trump administration and its policies – many of which involve dismantling most of Obama's signature accomplishments.
And he was greeted by an adoring crowd when he stumped in Orange County on Saturday for seven Democrats trying to flip Republican-held congressional seats in California that may be pivotal to who controls the House after Nov. 6.
Now it's true, Obama remains a popular man even as his policies –often implemented with a stroke of a pen and without congressional approval – are being repudiated one by one. As Conrad Black pointed out at American Greatness, Obama would likely prevail in a head-to-head fight with Trump on the ballot.
But Trump's name isn't on the ballot on Nov. 6. Neither is Obama's. And if the election is about Trump's record so far, Democrats might want to think twice before comparing it to that of the immediate past president.
Remember when Obama asked "what magic wand" Trump would use to bring trading partners to the negotiating table? Remember when 2 percent to 3 percent economic growth was "the new normal?" Remember "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor?"
Well, two out of three ain't bad. Trump fumbled the Obamacare repeal, but he's made strides on trade, renegotiating NAFTA with Mexico and using tariffs to bring other trading partners in line, even as the economy has been growing at a robust 4 percent. Obama would like to claim credit for the boom. "When you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let's just remember when this recovery started," he said.
Kevin Hassett, chairman of Trump's Council of Economic Advisers, showed reporters on Monday a series of charts and graphs illustrating how several economic trends, including small business optimism and durable goods purchases, all took off after the 2016 election.
"You have to look at the moment that President Trump was elected in both equity markets and incentive surveys," Hassett told the White House press corps. "People started to ratchet up their expectations for the economy." Tax cuts helped, too.
Obama may be a better politician than Clinton, but he cannot help but take passive-aggressive potshots at the millions of "deplorables" who rallied for Trump in 2016.
"Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren't for those who don't look like us or don't sound like us or don't pray like we do, that's an old playbook," he told the Illinois audience. "It's as old as time."
Obama would know.
He set the tone for his administration during the 2008 campaign, when he told Philadelphia Democrats, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." He cemented it on the second day of his presidency, when he dismissed Republican objections to his proposed economic stimulus plan with two words: "I won."
He redoubled his rhetoric in 2010, when he urged Latino voters to "punish our enemies" and "reward our friends." Voters responded by delivering the GOP decisive majorities in the House and Senate.
In his Illinois speech, the former president also attacked Trump's rhetoric on the press – and once again inadvertently drew attention to his own lousy record. "I complained plenty about Fox News," Obama said, "but you never heard me threaten to shut them down, or call them 'enemies of the people.' "
No, he was far subtler than that. Obama merely instructed his attorney general to spy on reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News and prosecute every leaker he could find.
The 44th president earned a reputation, perhaps undeservedly, for "no drama." Nobody would lend such an appellation to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
And yet through the chaos – as even the anonymous "senior administration official" who wrote the notorious New York Times op-ed had to concede – the policy victories have been undeniable. The country is doing well. People are actually feeling upbeat.
Now if you're ready to blame this president for the worst (including all of the things editorial writers and pundits for nearly two years have warned would come to pass any day now), then you'd better prepare to give credit where it's due.
If Obama and the Democrats want to fight about who or what is dividing the country the most, don't be surprised when voters turn that blue wave into a blue trickle.