Obama Says He Could Have Beaten Trump In 2016

by Joseph D. Lyons

Hillary Clinton's legions of supporters would be quick to point out that she won the popular vote by a margin of some 2.8 million votes. But that is not the tactic President Obama took when speaking to David Axelrod in an interview that was released Monday on The Axe Files podcast. Instead, Obama argued that he could have beaten Donald Trump if he had run again and that the Clinton campaign's strategy was overly cautious because a win seemed imminent.

First, Obama and Axelrod, a longtime friend and adviser, discussed Obama's vision of the United States — "the notion of a one America that is tolerant and diverse and open and — and full of energy and dynamism" — and whether or not the majority of Americans still support it, given Trump's Electoral College win. Obama's answer? Most definitely:

You know, I am confident in this vision because I'm confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could've mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it. I know that in conversations that I've had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.

Obama's take on the election, then, is that Clinton's camp didn't do a good enough job articulating that vision. He recognized that Clinton herself did well under "tough circumstances" and said that "there was a double standard with her," including among the press who largely highlighted her flaws compared with those of Trump.

But that wasn't the whole explanation. " If you think you're winning, then you have a tendency, just like in sports, maybe to play it safer," Obama told Axelrod. He pointed out that Clinton, who had a progressive economic agenda, probably looked at the state of the race — and the economy — and decided instead to focus on Trump. "Understandably, I think she looked and said, well, given my opponent and the things he's saying and what he's doing, we should focus on that," Obama said.

But while critical of Clinton, that was surely not Obama's point. He even acknowledged that "we can all be Monday morning quarterbacks," implying that an after-the-fact criticism is not altogether fair.

From there he pivoted to the discussion about whether the Democratic platform has left out the white working class. Obama disagrees with the "this division that's been put out there between white working class versus black working class or Latino working class." Instead, he argued, "the Democratic agenda is better for all working people":

An agenda of raising minimum wage, rebuilding our infrastructure, you know... education, family leave, community colleges, making it easier for unions to organize, that's an agenda for working class Americans of all stripes. And we have to talk about it and we have to be present in every community talking about it.

That does in fact sounds like a winning argument, and as Obama transitions into semi-retirement, you can bet he'll be articulating it on a regular basis.