Hillary Clinton has plenty of staffers, surrogates, and supporters to sing her praises and vouch for her presidential qualifications, and they’re generally quite capable. But let’s be clear: none match up with President Obama, a fact that was driven home nicely yesterday afternoon in Charlotte.
Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton eight years ago with the help of his charm and vitality – and on Tuesday he demonstrated how he plans to harness those gifts this time to help his former opponent get elected.“I have run my last campaign,” Obama said at his first election stop of the year with Clinton. “And I couldn’t be prouder of the things we have done together. But I’m ready to pass the baton. And I know Hillary Clinton is going to take it.”
The speech was vintage Obama – abandoning his prepared text, he touted his legacy, made a powerful case for Clinton, and trashed Donald Trump without mentioning his name – and a reminder of just how potent an ally the presumptive Democratic nominee has in the president.
MSNBC’s Joy Reid noted on Twitter that Obama “could not have given Hillary Clinton a heartier endorsement.” Joy added that she “can’t think of a president in my memory this enthused about a successor.”
Agreed. Watching the president yesterday, he seemed every bit as passionate about Clinton’s campaign as he did his own four years ago.
All of this also had the effect of reinforcing the “surrogate gap” between the parties. Over the next five months, Clinton will have her running mate, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren, among others, barnstorming the country on behalf of her campaign.
Trump, meanwhile, has … who? Sure, the Republican Party has notable national figures – the Bush presidents, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John McCain, et al – but these GOP partisans either hate Trump, want nothing to do with Trump’s candidacy, or both.
There is literally no one who could make a case for a Trump presidency with half the credibility and vigor Obama brought to the stage in North Carolina yesterday.
And in case these partisan differences aren’t enough, there’s also the history to consider.
I’ve been emphasizing for months the fact that 2016 offers a historical oddity: a popular, two-term incumbent president aggressively hitting the campaign trail on behalf of his preferred successor. It didn’t happen in 2008 (George W. Bush was too unpopular), 2000 (Al Gore preferred to keep Bill Clinton on the sidelines), 1988 (Ronald Reagan had health concerns that limited his schedule), or 1960 (Dwight Eisenhower barely lifted a finger for Richard Nixon).
NPR had an interesting report yesterday noting, “No president has campaigned strongly for his chosen successor in at least 100 years.”
Time will tell if Obama’s efforts pay dividends for Clinton, but either way, they’re making history.