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Obama Returns to the DNC With a Chance to Rescue His Legacy From Trump


“But he never did,” Mr. Obama said in the excerpts. “He’s shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends, no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.

“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” he continued. “And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”

While he had a 36-year record in the Senate before becoming vice president, Mr. Biden has focused far more on the eight he spent in the White House, ostentatiously cloaking himself in the former president’s mantle and citing his service to Mr. Obama as a way to appeal to liberals, younger voters and especially African-Americans who helped him win key primaries.

Little wonder. Mr. Obama remains one of the most popular figures in American life. A new poll by Politico and Morning Consult found that 58 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the former president, the highest rating of any of the 28 political figures tested other than his wife, Michelle, who topped him with 60 percent. Mr. Biden, by contrast, was seen favorably by 46 percent and Mr. Trump by 39 percent.

Even so, history has shown that presidents cannot always transfer their personal popularity to others, as Mr. Obama was reminded in 2016. And while he has deep affection for Mr. Biden, advisers say the former president harbors his own concerns about his former vice president’s chances this year. He had originally picked Mr. Biden as his running mate in 2008 as a governing partner, not as a putative successor, and he never groomed any younger figure to follow, leaving the party in 2016 with weathered leadership.

That has left many in his party anxious for him to play the bigger role that until lately he has resisted. Mr. Obama has been reluctant to fully engage with Mr. Trump or the campaign, only occasionally emerging from his Washington home where he is still writing his overdue memoir to take on the current president, as he did energetically during the 2018 midterm elections and as he had begun to do this year.

“We have no moral voice today — no Martin Luther King, no Nelson Mandela, no John Lewis, no Eleanor Roosevelt,” said Susan Dunn, a presidential historian at Williams College. “Obama could retake that moral role — and not just reclaim his own legacy and not just denounce Trump for reversing all of Obama’s policies and achievements. He’d have to play a more active role in American life as a voice of moderation and decency.”

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