Obama’s Political Chessboard

Today, as Donald Trump continues his futile war of words with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, President Obama called on Republicans to withdraw their support of Trump:

“The question they have to ask themselves is: If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?” Mr. Obama said. “What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer?”

Greg Sargent at The Plum Line believes that this was earnest effort to reach out to Republicans who know that political stability is in everyone’s best interest:

This joke, as it were, actually gets at a serious argument that has unfolded among Democrats. Should Dems want Republicans to cling to Trump, so the whole party and its down-ticket incumbents and candidates are tainted by Trumpism, and (for longer term purposes) so the GOP bears some responsibility for its role in creating the conditions for Trumpism’s rise, thus making a full GOP reckoning (and a saner opposition party) after a Trump loss more likely?

Or should Dems continue to press the case that Trumpism is an outlier relative to the GOP and conservatism, in order to make it easier for GOP-leaning swing voters to vote for the Democrats?

Obama’s remarks today, taken along with his speech at the Democratic convention, indicate that he has chosen the latter course. Both of those sets of comments — and particularly his convention speech — make the case that Trump represents a unique emergency, one that, in essence, is a threat not just to the country, but to the political order that the GOP, too, has a continued stake in preserving.

I disagree. This appears to me to be a savvy political move intended to play Trump against establishment Republicans, like Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain. Judd Legum explains:

This election is a hot mess but today has been a fascinating game of political tactics. Trump’s attacks on the Khans risk major long term damage to the GOP brand. Forced establishment to ramp up criticism. Both Ryan and McCain signaled, to various degrees, that they may withdraw their endorsement at some point if this keeps up. So Trump goes out preemptively, and announces that HE doesn’t support Ryan or McCain. This is the equivalent of Trump saying: “You aren’t breaking up with me, I’m breaking up with you.”

Now, if Ryan withdraws his endorsement it looks petty. He tolerated the attacks on a gold star family but not himself. Enter Obama, who is playing this perfect. He’s advising all Republicans to withdraw their endorsement from Trump, effectively making it impossible to do so. So you have Trump and Obama working in concert to lock people like Ryan and McCain into their endorsement of Trump. Fascinating. Ryan’s plan is completely falling apart. Trump’s conduct is too outrageous to politely disagree with. Also, Trump won’t play along.

(The above is a condensed version of a thread of tweets Legum sent out consecutively.)

The parody account, @WillMcAvoyACN, made similar observations, albeit in a different key:

At some point Obama was going to be asked if Republicans should withdraw their endorsements of Trump. That question has one answer. Maybe if Trump had just said something mildly offensive, Obama could escape without comment. In this specific case? Impossible. Anything short of Obama calling for everyone to repudiate Trump’s statements on the Khan family would also be playing politics.

That’s not to say Democrats did not gain a tactical advantage from Obama’s statement–they did–but Obama probably believe what he said. OF COURSE Republicans should withdraw their support of a man who attacks the family of a Gold Star soldier. There’s no other answer.

What’s more, Obama waited a full five days before taking the question–probably as long as he possibly could without it seeming odd. In short, Republicans has all the time in the world to declare this the last straw for Trump and withdraw their support. None did.

What’s more, the only reason Obama is painting Republicans into a box is because of the irrational hatred of Obama they’ve created. Had the GOP not fostered an environment where disagreeing with Obama was the ultimate sin, then Obama’s statement does nothing. Yes, it was politics, but it was politics at its best. You say the absolute truth; what you really believe and your opponent pays for it. Did Obama paint Republicans in a corner? No, Republicans did that. He just painted over the last narrow strip they could walk on.

Are there lessons in this? Of course.

A. You may find yourself agreeing with your political opponents on occasion. That’s not a sin.
B. Sometimes honesty is the best policy.
C. If you don’t want to be tied to an asshole candidate, don’t endorse or support him.

And if you try and blame Obama for this situation, well, tell me what other possible answer could he give to the question. Because I honestly do not know one.

(Again, the above is a condensed version of @WillMcAvoyACN’s tweets for the purpose of including in this blog.)

The political disadvantage at which he finds himself seems to have eluded Trump. While the prospects for his party and therefore his campaign depend on a unified party behind him, Trump has not backed down from his statements and continues to attack Obama.

Just the way Obama planned it.

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