President Obama loves campaigning about as much as he hates Donald Trump. On Tuesday, Obama held his first joint campaign event with his preferred successor, championing Hillary Clinton’s experience and commitment to progressive values, while lambasting the notion that Trump has anything to offer working-class voters.
"I am here to tell you that the truth is nobody fully understands the challenges of the job of president until you’ve actually sat at that desk," a jovial (and Southern-sounding) Obama told a crowd of starstruck Democrats in Charlotte. "Everybody can tweet, but nobody actually knows what it takes to do the job until you sit behind the desk … But I can tell you this, Hillary Clinton has been tested."
Obama went on to suggest that making Donald Trump the U.S. president would be akin to hiring a random person off the street to be an airline pilot.
As NPR noted Tuesday, Obama will be the first sitting president to be a fixture in his would-be successor’s campaign in more than 100 years.
The president framed the broader campaign as a choice between whether we will “cling to an imaginary past” or “reach for the future.” But the most emphatic section of his speech was its least lofty and most concrete.
Last week, Trump stood in front of a wall of garbage in Monessen, Pennsylvania, and promised to make American manufacturing great again. The presumptive GOP nominee’s heretical attack on free trade — and his vow to reverse the tide of globalization by cracking down on the Chinese — has some union leaders worrying that their rank-and-file members might abandon Team Blue this November.
Obama’s mind is fully boggled by the idea that a predatory real-estate heir who supports tax cuts for the rich — while opposing the minimum wage — has branded himself a champion of the working class. Obama argued that case in Canada last week, saying that Trump should not be described as a “populist.” The president made the point in far less professorial terms on Tuesday:
I just want to be clear, not everybody votes on the economy. I understand. There are other issues. But if your concern is who’s going to look out for working families, if you’re voting your pocketbook, if you’re asking, who’s actually going to stand up for the guy on the construction site or the guy in the factory or the woman who’s cleaning a hotel room or just somebody who’s really working hard, the working family, if that’s your concern, this isn’t even a choice! Because the other side has nothing to offer you. The other side’s got nothing to offer you.
Obama went on to detail all the nothing the other side has to offer.
“If your concern is working people then this is not a choice. I don’t care whether you’re white, black, Hispanic, Native American, polka dot,” Obama said. “I don’t know how you vote for the guy whose against minimum wage, against unions, against sick leave and family leave, against all the things that working families care about.”
Obama walked a fine line through much of the speech, balancing a desire to take a presidential victory lap with the need to speak to voters who still feel left out of the economic recovery. At one point, Obama argued that, in a sense, he had already made America great again — according to public opinion surveys from around the globe, foreign observers describe America in far warmer (and more envious) terms than it did in 2008. Still, he insisted that Hillary Clinton — with a Democratic Congress — could make it greater.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the things we’ve done together. But I’m ready to pass the baton,” Obama said, before going into full preacher mode. “And I know Hillary Clinton is gonna take it. And I know she can run that race. The race to create good jobs and better schools and safer streets and a safer world. And that’s why I’m fired up. And that’s why I’m ready to go. And that’s why I’m with her.”