Six reasons why Barack Obama would have beaten Donald Trump in 2016

The Democrats had the perfect candidate ready and waiting, and at a mere 55 years of age, and the tempting audacity of a third term

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For disappointed Democrats this particular piece of speculation may be cold comfort, but a 70-year-old act of political spite may have denied them the White House, and given the world Trump. In such a tight contest, it is perfectly plausible that, had the Constitution permitted it, one Barack Obama could have run for and won a third term in office. Here’s why.

Obama was more popular than Hillary Clinton

Despite eight years in power, President Obama enjoyed higher approval ratings than Hillary Clinton, who would have been the first president to enter office with a negative rating. The Real Clear Politics website gives Obama a positive score of +8.5 on an average of job approval polling. Not bad, given the Great Recession, economic insecurity, Obamacare, foreign wars, etc.

Obama was a better qualified candidate than Secretary Clinton

He and Michelle, and Bill Clinton for that matter, made much of the fact that Hillary Clinton was better qualified than any of them to enter the White House. Maybe so, but she was obviously not as well qualified as someone who had held the highest office for two terms.

Obama is a better campaigner than Hillary Clinton

Seems so obvious – and it is. He is far better “on the stump”, and his late interventions in the campaign showed that he still had the ability to energise a crowd and a flagging candidate. He gave every impression of enjoying himself. He could have done the hat trick.

People of colour would have turned out more for Barack Obama

Again, hard to argue the opposite, though it is always going to be a hypothetical proposition, and Trump got such a small share anyway it might not have made a vast difference. But ever small improvement would have helped the Democrats in a few key battlegrounds, such as Florida and North Carolina.

President Obama represented stability 

Of course the “Trumpquake” was caused by a widespread rejection of professional politics and the establishment, an inchoate rage against a system in which too many voters felt forgotten. Still, like the Brexit vote, it was hardly overwhelming, and in point of fact the ultimate establishment candidate, Clinton, won the popular vote. Obama wasn’t maybe quite as conventional n establishment figure as his former secretary of state.

President Obama had a record to be proud of 

This is a variation of the fifth point, but there was much in Barack Obama’s time to be proud of, and Hillary Clinton was left with the tricky task, as are all candidates in succession for a governing party, of trying to represent change and continuity at the same time. Obama would also have been free of all that Clinton baggage – Bill’s affairs, the emails, the Foundation and the rest of it. The contrast with Trump would have been starker. Barack Obama has a blameless private life, is obviously a man of outstanding personal integrity and is famous for his grace and dignity. I need add no more.

So a narrow victory for President Obama over candidate Donald Trump in 2016 was perfectly possible. Bernie Sanders... Hillary Clinton... Joe Biden? In fact the Democrats had the perfect candidate ready and waiting, and at a mere 55 years of age, and the tempting audacity of a third term.

The Constitutional prohibition on election to more two terms does not date back to the founding fathers, but rather only to 1947, when the 22nd Amendment was proposed (and ratified by the required number of states in 1951). It was, in effect, a posthumous act of political spite by Republicans against the domination of Franklin Roosevelt, who had won four terms before his death in 1945. Given that Harry Truman won for the Democrats in 1948, FDR might even have made his run a round 20 years. Bill Clinton would also most likely have won a third term in 2000, in that notoriously close contest, in which case there would have been no President George W Bush and, maybe, no Iraq war. And today we would be talking about the remarkable political longevity – and future – of Barack Obama. A poignant thought.