It may seem too early to call, but we already have a winner in the 2016 election.
He’s someone the pundits wrote off long ago. An improbable outsider who rode an insurgent wave to snatch the nomination from the establishment. An unconventional politician whose raucous rallies underscored his appeal to voters far outside his party base.
His name is Barack Obama. And he can thank the freak show that is Donald Trump’s Republican party for restoring his stature as a unifying, national leader with a moderated and mature approach to a complex and unstable world.
Eight years ago, Obama represented an existential threat to the Republican party, and not just because he was going to lead the Democratic party to win the White House and Congress by large margins.
No, Obama’s biggest threat was that he could realign American politics, shifting it fundamentally towards progressives for a generation. He and his campaign aides talked privately of being the Reagan of the left: a transformative figure who would leave an indelible legislative mark at home and restore America’s position on the world stage.
With his appeal to independents and moderate Republicans, Obama could break the Republican party as a national force. With his appeal to minority voters – a rapidly emerging majority across the country – he could lock in the fastest growing demographics that could turn red states blue.
So the GOP leadership chose to make Obama unacceptable, unpalatable and un-American. On the night of his first inauguration, House Republican leaders met at a Washington steakhouse to plot their path back to power. They would not reform their policies or consider the root cause of their defeat. Instead, they would oppose Obama on everything, well before he tried to pass a giant stimulus bill or healthcare reform.
They needed to deny him a reputation for bipartisanship and mainstream politics, and they succeeded. He wasn’t reasonable; he was an ideologue. His vision of healthcare reform wasn’t a free-market system based on Republican plans; it was a socialist takeover that would destroy the American way of life. He was inviting terrorist attacks on the homeland, not hunting down Osama bin Laden. He was acting in unconstitutional ways because he wasn’t really American at all.