Obama’s last lap: Up in the polls and out on the trail

    President Barack Obama speaks in the White House briefing room in Washington

    President Barack Obama speaks in the White House briefing room in Washington

    Have you checked out Barack Obama’s poll ratings lately? It’s a miracle that the haters’ heads haven’t exploded.

    Seriously, I just saw Gallup’s three-day rolling average, which takes us through Saturday, and whattaya know. The guy who has been vilified and demonized with more intensity, and certainly on more media platforms, than any white president in history is well poised, one last time, to foil the Republicans, Fox Newsers, and trolls. And how sweet it is:

    His approval share is 53 percent. His disapproval share is 43 percent.

    And here’s some handy historical perspective: Conservative icon Ronald Reagan, in May of his final year, was less popular (by three percentage points) than Barack Obama is now.

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    I have a theory why Obama’s standing has spiked — in fact, he has been in positive territory since the winter — and I’ll get to that shortly. But what interests me most is his potential as a huge autumn asset for Hillary Clinton. Because even though Donald Trump is well positioned to lead the Republicans to electoral disaster, let’s not forget that Obama is well positioned to help make it happen. In ways that no recent lame-duck president has been able to do.

    Bill Clinton was very popular toward the end of his presidency, but Al Gore, ticked off about the Lewsinky scandal, barely used Bill in the 2000 campaign. And eight years later, on the Republican side, John McCain knew it would be nuts to pal around with lame-duck George W. Bush. We saw very little of Bush in the ’08 campaign, because swing voters didn’t want to hear another word from one of the worst presidents in history. Care to guess what Bush’s approval share was, in May of his final year?

    28 percent.

    Obama, unlike Bush, is the antithesis of campaign baggage. He’s still popular with the party base — according to a CNN/ORC poll, conducted a week ago, 90 percent of Democrats give him thumbs-up on job performance — which makes him the perfect Clinton surrogate in the blue states. On an electoral map that strongly favors the Democrats already.

    Here’s the gist of that map: In the last six elections, 18 states plus D.C. have gone blue every time. That list includes Pennsylvania and New Jersey. That’s 242 electoral votes, just for starters. To top 270, Clinton would need to win only the state of Florida — where she’s currently beating Trump by 13 points in a poll conducted by a business group, the Associated Industries of Florida. The group’s memo says, “In this critical swing state, it is clear to us that Republicans continue to suffer substantial brand damage amongst all segments of the ascending electorate.”

    And in Florida, the most important ascending “segment” is Hispanic. The Hispanic community voted heavily for Obama, twice helping to deliver that state. He’s well positioned to help Clinton in Florida by drawing on that good will — and, just as importantly, reminding Hispanic voters why they so strongly detest Donald Trump. They’ll be a receptive audience, because, as the Florida business group said in its memo, the GOP’s “substantial brand damage” has been “clearly exacerbated” by the party’s presidential campaign.

    That’s why Obama, as a surrogate, has the wind at his back. He’s light years more popular than Trump with the voters who are crucial to winning a presidential election in the 21st century: Hispanics and other minorities, millennials, single women, professional women … basically, the same Obama coalition that delivered those aforementioned 18 blue states – plus Nevada, Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia in ’08 and ’12, plus North Carolina in ’08. (And within the Democratic base, he’s more popular than Hillary. He, better than she, can build a bridge to the young Bernie diehards, by spelling out the perils of handing the White House to an unqualified demagogue.)

    Which brings me back to those boffo Obama poll numbers. He has spiked lately not because Americans suddenly feel happy about the five percent jobless rate and cheap gas at the pump; on the contrary, the polls suggest that economic confidence remains shaky. No, I suspect that he’s at 53-43 because a lot of people have smelled enough Trump sewage to realize that Obama looks darn good by comparison, and that indeed he will be missed. (As conservative columnist David Brooks wrote recently, Obama “radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners, and elegance ” — unlike the huckster who’s slated to go on trial for fraud.)

    That sets him up nicely for autumn. In fact, he previewed some stump themes during Friday’s news conference:

    I think it’s important for us to take seriously the statements [Trump] has made in the past …. I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment, this is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States …. If (he takes) a position on international issues that could threaten war or has the potential of upending our critical relationships with other countries or would potentially break the financial system, that needs to be reported on ….

    Republican voters are going to have to make a decision as to whether this is the guy who speaks for them and represents their values. Republican women voters are going to have to decide, is that the guy I feel comfortable with in representing me and what I care about? …. The contrast, I think, will be pretty clear.

    But hey, if Republicans keep blowtorching each other — an ex-GOP staffer says that “the tide of grievance, resentment, and white identity politics Trump rode to the nomination is a drop in the general-election bucket” — then Obama, on his last lap, may not even need to break a sweat.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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