Although President Obama has very little time left in office, he still has plenty of opinions about the 2016 election and what would have happened if it had been his name on the ballot.
In an interview with former senior advisor David Axelrod, President Obama claimed that, if he had run again, he could have won since most of the country still ascribes to his progressive vision for the nation. President-elect Donald Trump fired back on Twitter, claiming that there’s “NO WAY” President Obama could have beat him in an election.
In Obama’s interview on “The Axe Files” podcast, he said to Axelrod that he was “confident in this vision because if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it.”
“See I think the issue was less that Democrats have somehow abandoned the white working class, I think that’s nonsense. Look, the Affordable Care Act benefits a huge number of Trump voters. The problem is that we’re not there on the ground communicating not only the dry policy aspects of this, but that we care about these communities, that we’re bleeding for these communities.”
Obama noted that the Clinton campaign, perhaps, played it too safe and focused primarily on what Trump was saying rather than their progressive message for the country.
On the other hand, Trump blasted President Obama on Twitter. He claims that he is trying very hard to ignore the statements by Obama, and focus on the transition.
President Obama said that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! – jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2016
Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks.Thought it was going to be a smooth transition – NOT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2016
President-elect Trump lost by more than 2 million popular votes, eking out an Electoral College victory over Democratic Presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. While it is now a moot point, it does not seem likely that Trump could have trounced President Obama in a general election: Obama handily won both the popular vote and electoral college in 2008 and 2012.
Whether President Obama could have won over Trump is immaterial—as is Trump’s childish response. What is more interesting, however, is Obama’s claim that the nation is committed to his progressive vision, laid out in 2008. Perhaps it is true that Clinton did not lay out this vision as well or as convincingly that Obama had, with her focus on the vitriolic candidacy of Trump.
Yet, Obama and Clinton both positioned her election as an opportunity to build on the past eight years of his progressive policies. This vision could have been less believable coming from Clinton, whose political career in the 1990s and early 2000s was decidedly less progressive than 2016 Clinton. In addition, Trump’s racialized populism undoubtedly struck a chord where it was important: swing states. States that Obama had won in 2008 and 2012 delivered the presidency for Trump in 2016.
Even so, it is unclear whether a third Obama campaign would have resonated with these voters. To vote for Trump, one had to look past or ascribe to his racialized message. Trump capitalized on fear and racial anxiety in the US, placed in the White House by an overwhelmingly white base. Clearly, it is possible for a person to hold racial animus and still vote for Obama; so perhaps he could have won 2016 by appealing to Americans’ better nature, emphasizing the growing economy and declining unemployment.
Somehow, though, I doubt it.
In an Atlantic profile of the president, Ta-Nehisi Coates emphasizes the optimism that President Obama has in white Americans’ willingness to vote for him, his belief in their inherent goodness.
After this election, it seems that Obama still holds on to that faith in white Americans’ willingness to hear a black man with a funny name’s vision for this nation. He maintains that 2008 was not a fluke, but, as President-elect Trump tweets statements ranging from inane to hateful, it seems to me that racial vitriol is actually the American way and 2008 and 2012 were lightning in a bottle.