Genuine hostility

Barack Obama, Trump battle in new wrinkle for 2020 campaign

Trump has mentioned Obama repeatedly on Twitter, talked about him during the debates and criticized him at rallies, usually referring to “Barack Hussein Obama” to mock the former president’s middle name


Former President Obama appears to be getting under President Trump’s skin as he returns to the campaign trail to try to end the Trump presidency and win Democrat Joe Biden’s election. Obama has traveled to the swing states of Pennsylvania and Florida to stump for his former vice president, to the apparent annoyance of Trump — who is zeroing in on his predecessor more than ever.

Trump criticized Fox News for airing an Obama speech from Florida on Tuesday, just the latest incident of him lashing out at Obama.

Trump has mentioned Obama repeatedly on Twitter, talked about him during the debates and criticized him at rallies, usually referring to “Barack Hussein Obama” to mock the former president’s middle name. And he'll have another chance to weigh in when Obama appears alongside Biden at a campaign event in Michigan on Saturday.

Ex-Obama aides and other Democrats relish the antagonism, believing Obama is unnerving Trump.

“He has allowed Obama to get under his skin and is obsessed with the fact that his presidency pales in comparison to the prior one,” said Ben LaBolt, who served as a spokesman to Obama at the White House and on his presidential campaigns.

“He is living in a fantasy land where he is just a celebrated cable commentator on Fox commenting on the conspiracy theory of the day and he doesn’t have to run against Joe Biden to win another term,” LaBolt said. “But reality is creeping up on him fast.”

Trump, for years, has set his sights on Obama.

Beginning in 2011, he helped fuel a conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and thus ineligible for the presidency.

Obama’s mocking of Trump at a White House Correspondents' Association dinner in 2011 has frequently been pointed to as an event that might have led Trump to run for president.

Since getting elected, Trump has spent much of the past four years trying to undo fundamental pieces of Obama’s legislation, including the Affordable Care Act. Time and again, he has also accused Obama of spying on his 2016 campaign.

“Remember I wouldn’t be President now had Obama and Biden properly done their job,” Trump wrote on Twitter earlier this month. “The fact is, they were TERRIBLE!!!”

Political observers have long seen the attacks as petty, attributing Trump’s actions to jealousy of his predecessor.

Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, says race is also involved.

“He has a racist, paternalistic view of Black people which makes him unable to accept Obama’s success and accolades, which is evident in everything from Trump’s promotion of birtherism to the dismantling of key Obama-era policies,” Smikle said.

It’s natural that Obama’s presidency would be a big issue in the presidential campaign given Biden’s eight years serving as Obama’s vice president. Biden frequently brings up Obama himself, something that annoyed some of his Democratic rivals during the primary.

At a rally in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump poked fun of the small crowds at Obama’s appearances, which have been kept small intentionally because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I never saw anything like it. Obama has no crowd,” Trump said. “I thought he had like a crowd, right? He doesn’t have anything. The only one who has smaller crowds is Sleepy Joe Biden. He’s got nobody ... we have the opposite. We have so many people.”

He took to Twitter Tuesday to also talk about Obama’s “tiny” crowds. Last week, he also tweeted that Obama “is campaigning for us.”

“Every time he speaks, people come over to our side,” Trump wrote on the social media site.

Republican strategist Shermichael Singleton said Trump’s riffs on Obama represent an effective strategy “because Trump is able to say 'If you don’t vote for me again you will get Obama 2.0.’

“And while that may sound silly to Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters and perhaps some Republican voters who are switching over to vote for Biden, there are many Republicans that don’t like the idea of an Obama 2.0,” Singleton said, adding that Obama is “such an unpopular political individual among Republican voters and Republican-leaning voters."

Trump, he said, is “utilizing that dislike as another mechanism to energize his base and to energize Republican voters writ large.”

Since Trump became president, Obama has remained largely silent as Trump has torn into his legacy. Those close to him said he didn’t want to be a foil for the Republican Party and wanted to create space for a new generation of Democrats to surface.

But Obama — who allies say has enjoyed being back on the campaign trail — has reveled lately in taking punches at his successor.

“It’s been fun to watch,” one former Obama aide said. “No one can punch harder than Obama. This is what we’ve all been waiting for these past few years.”

During an appearance in Orlando on Tuesday, he railed against Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his campaign strategy.

“What’s his closing argument? That people are too focused on COVID. He said that at one of his rallies. 'COVID, COVID, COVID.' he’s complaining. He’s jealous of COVID's media coverage.

“If he had been focused on COVID from the beginning, cases wouldn’t be reaching new record highs across the country this week.”

Democratic strategist Eddie Vale said there’s “probably 100 different reasons” for why Trump has chosen to focus on Obama in recent days.

But, he said, “to get into a back and forth with a former president who is way more popular than him is both absolutely insane and perfectly captures Donald Trump.”

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