Polls show the Republican Party in danger of losing not only the presidency but also the Senate in November. A key element of the party’s strategy for remaining in power is using the made-up specter of “voter fraud” to depress Democratic turnout. You will recall that if Hillary Clinton had squeezed just a total of 80,000 more votes out of three Democratic strongholds — Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia — she would now be campaigning for reelection and Trump would be just another Twitter troll.
In those cities, and across the nation, African American turnout in 2016 was lower than Democrats had hoped for and expected. But there is one political figure who has demonstrated an unprecedented ability to bring black voters to the polls in tidal-wave numbers: Obama.
In 2008, Obama’s historic triumph, the rate of black voter turnout nationwide essentially equaled white turnout for the first time in history. In 2012, black turnout actually exceeded white turnout, 66.6 percent to 64.1 percent, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. But in 2016, while white turnout inched higher, black turnout fell to 59.6 percent — the first decline in a presidential election in two decades.
I’m not going out on a limb by positing that there is a unique and enduring bond between African American voters and the first African American president. When Trump yells “Obamagate!,” he’s strengthening that bond, not weakening it, and motivating black voters to turn out in the fall for Obama’s loyal wingman, Biden.
There are analysts who see Trump’s renewed focus on Obama as a move in some game of three-dimensional political chess that we mere mortals cannot comprehend. I find it hard to understand how anyone can construe Trump’s tirades and tweets as anything resembling a strategy. I see, at best, a familiar tactic: He seeks to drag opponents down to his level. He cannot compete with Biden on the basis of ideas, integrity or performance, so he seeks to pull him into the gutter — hence the elaborate attempt to concoct a scandal involving Biden’s son Hunter.
That didn’t work out so well for Trump — he got himself impeached for leaning on the Ukrainian president to announce an investigation into Biden, and failed to drive Biden, the potential opponent he most feared, out of the race. So now Trump is going to try the same move with Obama?
One of the questions Biden faces is whether his eight-year service as Obama’s vice president will be enough to activate and turn out the entire Obama coalition: not just black voters but also other minorities, young people, urbanites and women. Polls indicate that Biden is already doing just fine with these Democratic constituencies — and history suggests that bringing Obama into the race will only help Biden do better.
But Trump is a know-it-all who is almost impossible to disabuse of boneheaded ideas: Climate change is a hoax; China pays his tariffs; the coronavirus will magically go away. Trump is also racist, and on some level it may be impossible for him to accept that a black man had a successful, scandal-free eight years as president while he has presided over a shambolic mess and faces the likelihood of a humiliating defeat.
So maybe his Obama obsession is not even tactical, but instead purely personal. Maybe Trump just cannot abide the fact that Obama is a Nobel laureate, respected around the world, while he has had to endure being snickered at by world leaders and portrayed as hapless and ignorant by the “fake news” media he claims to hate yet compulsively devours. Increasingly, his imagined victimizer is Obama himself. Trump even tries to blame Obama for his own administration’s botched response to a disease that did not exist when Obama was in office.
I thought everyone knew you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. But apparently Trump still thinks you can get somewhere by spitting into the wind.