Election 2020

Obama Returns to the Fray v. Trump

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

He’s only been out for office for less than two weeks, but the former community organizer and president of the United States has apparently decided to return to his first love, rabble-rousing:

Barack Obama and his aides expected to take on President Donald Trump at some point, but they didn’t think it would happen this quickly.

Now they’re trying to find the right balance on issues that demand a response, and how to use Obama to deliver the selective pushback. Obama and his team are monitoring what’s happening at the White House, and not ruling out the possibility that Obama will challenge Trump more forcefully in the coming months, according to people who’ve been in contact with the former president.

It depends on Trump. It also depends, the people close to the former president said Monday, on whether speaking out would just set him up to have no effect and be dismissed, and result in empowering Trump more, which is a very real worry for them.

Democrats — and Obama — still haven’t come to grips with the message that the voters sent them last November: a total repudiation not only of Hillary Clinton, but of the party and Obama himself. It was to be expected that a spotlight-hog like the Punahou Kid wouldn’t be able to sit still for very long, but inserting himself back into the national dialogue so soon after he flew off in Marine One is a new and dispiriting record. As the country song goes:

From his vacation spot in the Caribbean, Obama has been keeping up with news from Washington and the protests around the country. Friends and former aides have been emailing and talking to him. His staff at his post-presidential office, still unpacking its boxes, told him about the reporters who kept asking, even in Trump’s first week as president, whether enough had happened already to meet his threshold to speak up.

He decided he finally had to say something about the immigration executive order that’s sparked outrage across the country. But he decided he couldn’t say it himself—not yet, at least. The result was an extraordinary statement Monday from an Obama spokesperson that “President Obama is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country.”

I suppose if you call attacking people in the street, smashing windows, littering the Mall, delaying Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments in Congress and blocking airports across the country a “level of engagement,” then you’re probably a Democrat. But Obama should approach this very, very gingerly — not to protect his reputation, which I don’t care about, but to protect our country from escalating partisan strife, which I do.