To Win, Trump Must Defeat His Most Formidable Adversary—Barack Obama
Barack Obama announced his support of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign Thursday, which was no surprise even though it suggests possible interference in the ongoing FBI investigation of Mrs. Clinton that could tarnish the president's legacy. History is a long time away. The election is in November.
This constitutes a challenge to Donald Trump because Obama's favorable ratings, though not spectacular, are considerably better than Trump's or Clinton's. Much of this is clearly because Obama has been, at least temporarily, above the fray, but it also may be because the president has a certain Teflon capability that even exceeds Trump's. After all, this is the man who lied so many times about his healthcare plan ("You can keep your plan, you can keep your doctor," etc.), he should have been awarded a platinum album. Regarding his Iran deal, he told so many untruths, he might just as well have told us the country was in South America. (Speaking of Iran, we learned today via the indispensable Eli Lake that U. S. taxpayers are funding Iran's military to the tune of $1.7 billion. Make a note of that, Mr. Trump.) Moreover, the American economy has been dead in the water or worse for his entire administration.
Maybe what this tells us is that much of the electorate is composed not just of "low information voters," but of nitwits. Nevertheless, it's clear Obama is a formidable political adversary. He came out of nowhere to beat the Clinton machine in 2008, then made short work of Mitt Romney in 2012. Barack may not know how to govern—he may not even be interested in it—but he sure knows how to campaign.
I imagine Trump and his people have been developing a strategy for the president's inevitable appearance on the campaign trail. At least I hope so. But I will make some suggestions anyway.
To begin with, only hours after Obama announced his support of Clinton, White House press secretary Josh Earnest handed Trump what seems like an unforced error, for the first time calling the FBI investigation of Clinton "criminal." While this is important, Trump had already been mining the "Crooked" Hillary meme to good effect and undoubtedly will do more. But the big area of concentration, as it always is, should be on the economy.
This is a subject on which Obama (and therefore Hillary with him) is uniquely vulnerable. The economy, in a word, stinks. The Democrats, as everyone knows, will deny this, blame Bush—ludicrous as that sounds after so many years—and urge everyone to "stay the course." But what course? Most people know the situation. The middle class, especially, live it.
Trump should turn the conventional wisdom on its head and accuse the Democrats of being a party of rich people, because only the rich have prospered under Obama and Clinton. This approach has the benefit of being true. The middle class and, above all, African Americans have suffered most under the Obama administration. Trump must go at Obama hard on this and use facts to back it up. For the last six years economic growth never even reached 2.5%. This is the lowest growth rate since the Depression. At the moment, it's anemic. The labor participation rate is at historic lows. The rates for African American youth are tragic and far worse than they have ever been. Challenge Obama to explain himself on that and challenge Hillary to explain how she will be different. Keep at it, because they don't have an answer. Liberal programs are self-defeating and, deep down, they know it. (Bill Clinton certainly knew it.) On every economic issue—taxes, regulations, Dodd-Frank, fracking, energy, etc.—a majority of the public will be with Trump and against Obama-Hillary. He should pillory them on it, never let up. Let Obama try to defend himself, now that he has come out for Hillary. And let Hillary try to separate herself from Obama's economy. It would be a neat trick.
Trump should not overdo his emphasis on trade, however. He is certainly correct that we have made bad deals, but everyone knows we are in a global economy, like it or not. Although we must improve America's position—and we should aim to do it—we cannot do it at the expense of crashing other economies. Obviously Trump knows this. He says as much when he tell us that in a good negotiation, everyone benefits. He should emphasize that.
But that's a minor point. As always, for 2016—it's the economy, stupid. Bring it on!
Roger L. Simon is a prize-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His next book—I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn't Already—will be published by Encounter Books on June 14, 2016. You can read an excerpt here. You can pre-order the book here.
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