U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. 
Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Who would’ve won an Obama vs. Trump race?

Nearly every modern two-term president acknowledges the same feeling as they get ready to leave the White House: “I wish I could run again.” In November 1987, then-President Reagan said he intended to “start a movement” to repeal the constitutional amendment establishing presidential term limits.

President Obama is not immune to the sentiment. In fact, he’s not especially shy about it. In July, Obama spoke to the African Union, and while making a broader point about leaders honoring their respective countries’ legal constraints, he said, “I actually think I’m a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can’t. So there’s a lot that I’d like to do to keep America moving, but the law is the law, and no one person is above the law, not even the president.”

With this in mind, Obama’s confidence that he could’ve beaten Donald Trump probably shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise.
President Barack Obama suggested that had he been able to campaign for a third term he could have rallied many Americans – even those who disagreed with him – behind his vision of a more tolerant and diverse nation during a candid sit-down for his former adviser David Axelrod’s podcast “The Axe Files”.

Although he complimented Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, saying she “performed wonderfully under really tough circumstances,” he also expressed confidence that his progressive vision for the country still has broad appeal in the wake of her stunning defeat of in the general election this November.
The president specifically said he’s “confident” that if he’d run again, he “could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind” his vision.

There’s been some pushback on this from Clinton supporters, who’ve argued that Obama was being ungracious towards the recently defeated Democrat, but in context, it seems the president was trying to make a point about public support for progressive governance, not boasting about his superiority over Clinton as a candidate.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for the president-elect to declare on Twitter that there’s “no way” Obama could’ve defeated him in a head-to-head match-up.

We’ll obviously never know, and the question itself is little more than a trivial conversation piece, like a debate in a bar about whether the ‘96 Bulls could’ve beaten the ‘72 Lakers. But just for kicks, let’s indulge the underlying question – because the answer seems pretty obvious to me.

Let’s start by acknowledging that Trump won, but he was not an impressive candidate. He was the least popular major-party nominee since the dawn of modern polling; he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes; and if 40,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin had gone the other way, President-elect Hillary Clinton would be announcing her cabinet selections right about now. In a cycle in which 137 million Americans voted, 40,000 is practically a rounding error.

I realize Team Trump is invested in its “landslide” talking point, but it’s a rather silly lie: he received 46% of the vote, and his electoral-vote totals are among the worst of any winning candidate in American history.

Would Obama, one of only six presidents to earn 51% of the popular vote twice, have beaten this guy? Of course he would have.

There are countless variables in any national race, and it’s difficult to know how the electorate might have responded to hypothetical scenarios, but the day before Election Day, Bloomberg Politics released a poll that found Clinton leading Trump by three points nationally, which turned out to be pretty accurate. The same poll asked respondents for their preference in a hypothetical Obama/Trump match-up – and the president led the television personality by 12 points, quadruple Clinton’s advantage.

Public Policy Polling also showed Obama leading Trump by 12 in a hypothetical general election.

With this in mind, is it easy to imagine those 40,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin going the other way with Obama at the top of the ballot? Yep.

They may both be controversial figures for very different reasons, but the fact remains that the president is the most popular politician in the country, and he has been for quite a while. Trump, meanwhile, is one of the least popular. Obama is a unique political talent, with broad national support; Trump is a carnival barker who couldn’t even match Mitt Romney’s level of support.

There’s no great mystery as to how such a showdown would’ve ended.


Barack Obama and Donald Trump

Who would've won an Obama vs. Trump race?