President Obama is rethinking his plans to withdraw from the political arena after he leaves office next year, hinting to friends and supporters that he wants to add his voice to the shellshocked Democratic activists and elected officials who are now angrily vowing to oppose Donald J. Trump’s presidency.A few days ago, when Jonathan Chait suggested that this might happen, I wrote:
White House aides say they expect the president to try to refrain from criticism during the transition because of his belief in the importance of a courteous and dignified transfer of power. But while the president holds out hope that he might influence Mr. Trump, he has made it clear that once out of office he will not remain silent if Mr. Trump goes too far in undoing his legacy.
“I’m going to be constrained in what I do with all of you until I am again a private citizen,” Mr. Obama, who will be living a few miles from the White House next year, told a meeting this past week of Organizing for Action, the group that maintains his political movement. “But that’s not so far off.”
Chait correctly notes that "the political-cultural norm of former presidents’ steering clear of politics is not rooted in any particular public interest" -- but a violation of this norm will horrify mainstream political insiders, as well as the right-wing noise machine. If Obama tosses this custom aside, the big news in any statement he makes will be decision to make the statement.... Whatever he's upset about will be a secondary consideration.That's already happening. Here's part of the response to the Times story from Chris White at the Mediaite offshoot Law Newz:
There is a sort of unofficial tradition in this country that ex-Presidents of the United States generally remain silent on major legal and policy matters pushed by their successors. For example, George W. Bush has been widely praised for essentially saying next to nothing about his successor after leaving office in 2009. However, a new report published Sunday morning suggests the soon to be former-President Obama may not give his successor the same courtesy.And here's an angrier response from Jay Caruso at RedState:
An unwritten rule in the world of Presidential politics is former Presidents do not criticize the current President. It’s almost like the mindset of a fraternity. Granted, not all Presidents uphold this tradition. Jimmy Carter is a notable exception. He never shied away from offering his stupid opinions about Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and George W. Bush. Bill Clinton upheld the tradition when GWB was President. George W. Bush despite always being blamed by President Obama for his troubles, even five to six years into his presidency, has remained gracious throughout Obama’s term, saying little about Obama’s lousy performance during his tenure.That's right: Barack Obama is going to be attacked for daring to violate political norms, months after the election of Donald Trump. Trump will continue to get away with violating every political norm that stands between him and what he wants, while Obama will be excoriated, by conservatives and (inevitably) by mandarins of the Beltway mainstream, for violating one norm, even though he'll be doing so at a moment of genuine crisis in America.
Now comes word Barack Obama won’t try all that hard to keep his nose out of presidential politics once he leaves office....
What kind of mindset does a person have that they telegraph they’re going to break protocol and criticize a sitting President?
I hope he tries anyway, and I hope his efforts matter. But I still think the political world will argue that it's Just Not Done.