When Chance the Rapper appeared last November on Saturday Night Live and sang a tune titled “Come Back, Barack,” he spoke for all the bereft Democrats who believed that only Barack Obama had the requisite credentials and charisma to lead the fight against Trumpism. Now nearly a year later, their wish has come true. He has interrupted his excellent retirement to stump in the midterms for a Democratic Congress, to stoke anti–Donald Trump turnout with withering critiques of the manifestly unpopular president.
The irony is that Obama will be devoting much of this autumn to one of his least favorite pursuits: campaigning for down-ballot candidates. The irony of Obama wading into the 2018 congressional midterms is that, as president, he disdained the kind of grassroots party building and partisan engagement that might’ve blunted the massacres Democrats suffered in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. At the dawn of the Obama era, the majority Democrats held 257 House seats; during his final two years, the minority Democrats held 188 seats. When he was first sworn into office, Democrats enjoyed a near-filibuster-proof Senate majority; when his time ran out, their Senate seats had dwindled to 44.
And arguably worst of all is what happened at the local level. On Obama’s watch, Democrats lost nearly 1,000 state legislative seats—from a dominant 4,082 state House and Senate seats to their current 3,122. When Obama became president, the GOP had full control (House, Senate, governor) of only nine states; today, it fully controls 25. Democratic strategists are pleased that Obama is currently teaming up with his ex–attorney general Eric Holder to target state legislative races, trying to recoup what has been lost, but there’s also a widespread feeling that the ex-president’s efforts are a tad late.