We’ve known for a long time that former President Barack Obama lives rent-free inside Donald Trump’s brain.
From trying to tear down the Affordable Care Act to the bizarre and baseless accusation that the prior administration didn’t leave him the testing apparatus or recommendations to prepare for the current COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no problem too small that President “I Don’t Take Responsibility” hasn’t left at the feet of his predecessor.
Further evidence that Obama is not only living in Trump’s head, but is also adding a deck and, perhaps, a pool, comes via Trump’s attempt to pin a conspiracy theory on the 44th president that is so convoluted it makes an “X-Files” fan wince.
“Thank you to @foxandfriends for covering, supremely, the greatest political scandal in the history of the United States, OBAMAGATE,” Trump tweeted with typical restraint last Friday. “Fake news @CNN and Concast’s own MSNBC are only trying to make their 3 year Con Job just go away. They are embarrassed and don’t know what to do …”
If you’ve been too busy trying to survive the greatest public health crisis in a century, or don’t hang out in the fever swamps of conservative media, you can be forgiven for scratching your head and marveling at the latest babble and bile to come pouring out of the mouth of a septuagenarian with an epic persecution complex.
To (very briefly) summarize, Obamagate is the latest repackaging of Trump’s three-year-old grievance over the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of then-incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Yes, the same Michael Flynn who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. And the same Michael Flynn at the center of a criminal probe the U.S. Justice Department controversially decided to drop recently.
As New York Mag’s Jonathan Chait writes, Trump’s surrogates have accused Obama of orchestrating the entire Flynn matter as a way to discredit the incoming administration. As Chait further notes, “They can’t prove that Obama played any role in ordering the FBI counterintelligence investigation, nor even that it was unfounded. In place of proving either, they have substituted insinuations.”
Trump, meanwhile, has been deliberately squishy about the crime that Obama has allegedly committed.
In an interview with The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, Trump declared that Obamagate had “been going on for a long time. It’s been going on from before I even got elected and it’s a disgrace that it happened, and if you look at what’s gone on, and if you look at it now, all this information that’s being released — and from what I understand, that’s only the beginning — some terrible things happened, and it should never be allowed to happen in our country again. And you’ll be seeing what’s going on over the next, over the coming weeks but I, and I wish you’d write honestly about it but unfortunately you choose not to do so.”
And when Rucker, bless him, asked Trump what crime he was specifically accusing Obama of committing he got back more word salad — with a side of garlic bread.
“You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours,” the president said.
In fact, as Chait notes, Obama “was … so skittish about sharing intelligence that Russia was working to help elect Trump that he tried to get congressional Republicans onboard before making any public warning to state election officials. When they refused and denounced his intelligence as partisan, Obama meekly held off rather than risk appearing to manipulate intelligence to help his preferred candidate.”
It is probably belaboring the point to say that the sound and fury signifying nothing surrounding Trump’s latest attack on Obama is an attempt to both divert attention from the White House’s tragically incompetent management of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to tie former Vice President Joe Biden, who has an in-law’s apartment in Trump’s head, to the alleged scandal as well.
The problem is, the tendrils of this latest flare up are so tangled and so diffuse that there’s no guarantee that it will convince seniors, independents and those other swing voters that Trump needs so badly to win in November.
Indeed, the only people embracing it the most fervently are those who already agree with, and support Trump in the first place. And in an election year that may well turn on which side best motivates its base, Trump is throwing even more artery-clogging red meat to his loyalists.
So there’s that, anyway.
But having lost the one accomplishment he could brag about as evidence of his competence — a roiling economy — and unable to gaslight a foe — the virus — that is uniformly bipartisan in its terrible, destructive power, it’s only reasonable to conclude that Trump is now so genuinely fearful of defeat that he’ll clutch at anything, no matter how fantastical, if he thinks it will help him win.
And from the front porch inside Trump’s head, Obama and Biden will kick back, enjoy a glass of lemonade,and have a chuckle.
John L. Micek is an award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years experience in the news business and the Editor-in-Chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this commentary first appeared.