- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Barack Obama has overseen six of the 10 most polarized political years on record, defined as the delta between Republicans and Democrats on the question of presidential job approval.

Yet, he can’t wait to hit the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Obama wants to “explode onto the scene,” a White House source told CNN Wednesday, adding he’s “chomping at the bit to get out and ‘get people fired up’” and “knows his power” is to energize the Democratic base.

And Mrs. Clinton, who’s favorability numbers have dropped to historic lows within her own party, is anxiously awaiting his help.

Compare that to the dynamics of the 2008 election.

Eight years ago, Mr. Bush served as a political pariah to Arizona Sen. John McCain, who tried to run as a political maverick, distancing himself from the image of a third-Bush term. Mr. McCain sought Mr. Bush’s endorsement only for his political fundraising network — and it was reported as such.

And there’s no wonder why.

Heading into election day, 62 percent of Americans thought the economy was the most important issue, and 93 percent said it was bad. There was the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the bailout of AIG, and Mr. Bush using $700 billion in tax dollars to shore up Wall Street bankers.

Two-thirds of the nation thought the Iraq War was a mistake and 80 to 90 percent said the country was on the wrong course.

The mainstream media treated Mr. Bush viscerally, and the pundits were even worse.

And Mr. Bush did nothing to defend himself. He never was as political a president as Mr. Obama, preferring instead to stay above the partisan fray, to his and his party’s detriment.

“I still cringe at some of the things that were said about him during that campaign,” Dana Perino wrote of the 2008 presidential campaign, when she served as Mr. Bush’s press secretary. “We had been instructed to ignore the attacks and not get in the middle of any political fights.”

For by the fall of 2008, Mr. Bush had not only lost the left — they were never going to be on his side — but he also lost the right, in both his conservative and moderate base.

According to a Pew Research Study conducted midway through Mr. Bush’s second term, Mr. Bush’s approval rating among Republicans who described themselves as moderate or liberal dropped 25 points, with his conservative support declining 15 points.

Mr. McCain was unable to make up for Mr. Bush’s losses, and failed to hold onto the share of white working class voters that were once in Mr. Bush’s coalition. Mr. Bush’s legacy also served as a drag on Mitt Romney’s presidential contest in 2012.

This is not the case with Mr. Obama.

Although labor-force participation is dismal, real-median income has dropped, and food-stamp recipients have surged under his watch, Mr. Obama traveled to Elkhart, Indiana on Wednesday — a city he visited during his first year in office in 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis — to tout his economic record, in full-campaign mode.

Nearly half of the American population oppose Obamacare, and multiple press reports have determined the health policies offered under the program this year had higher premiums, fewer doctors, and thinner coverage than before, threatening the programs overall viability.

Yet, on the sixth anniversary of his signing of the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama took a victory lap, citing on Medium that “for the first time ever, more than 90 percent of Americans have health insurance.”

The United States remains in active combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria — and has been at war throughout Mr. Obama’s entire presidential term — yet he’s announced the withdrawal of forces several times during his presidency, declaring the conflicts over.

There’s little doubt Mr. Obama has inflamed partisan divides — much like Mr. Bush — but there’s one thing he’s done that Mr. Bush never did: Maintain his base.

Mr. Obama has utilized his bully pulpit for political reasons, telling half-truths, and the left is better off (if not a little more delusional) for it.

Mr. Obama’s current job approval rating among Democrats is 83 percent. Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, has favorables around 43 percent.

Based on historical averages, if a candidate doesn’t have a favorable rating of at least 80 percent within their own party, they don’t win the White House.

Given the sky-high unfavorables of both Donald Trump and Mrs. Clinton that probably won’t hold true this election cycle.

But one thing is for sure: Mr. Obama has a better chance at helping Mrs. Clinton shore her base among Democrats than Mr. Trump does, on his own, among Republicans.

Kelly Riddell is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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