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Establishment Republicans, cast afloat by the rise of Trump, are warming to the popular Obamas

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Some Republicans want the Obamas’ popularity to rub off on them.
  • Jake Flanagin
By Jake Flanagin


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

At a fundraiser in La Jolla, California, on Sunday (Oct. 23), US president Barack Obama addressed a perennial thorn in his side: Republican California congressman Darrell Issa, who has made a career of antagonizing the White House over the last eight years. A vocal advocate for investigations into the Obama administration’s dealings, from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives gunwalking scandal (aka “Fast and Furious”) to supposed corruption in the Food and Drug Administration, Issa recently surprised supporters by sending out a mailer in which he boasted of drafting a piece of legislation ultimately signed by the president.

“That is the definition of chutzpah,” Obama said, calling the mailers “shameless.” Five years ago, Issa publicly described the Obama White House as “one of the most corrupt administrations.”

Issa is “not somebody who’s serious about working on problems,” Obama added. “[His] primary contribution to the United States Congress has been to obstruct and to waste taxpayer dollar on trumped-up investigations that have led nowhere.”

Obama’s skepticism might be warranted, given Issa’s record of opposition to his policies—but the mailer makes a twisted kind of sense in this highly contentious election cycle. Issa is in a tight race for reelection against Democrat Colonel Doug Applegate, a retired US Marine. President Obama—and his wife—are solidly popular nationwide. In Aug. 2016, the president’s favorability rating was at 54%, its highest since 2013. (It has since shrunk to 52%.) Mrs. Obama is more popular than her husband, as well as both current presidential candidates, pulling a solid 59%. Republicans, as well as Democrats, loudly praised the First Lady for her speech at the Democratic National Convention in July. So perhaps hinting at warm(ish) relations with the First Couple might appeal to more moderate, anti-Trump voters who remain undecided in more heated races such as Issa’s in California.

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who previously endorsed and withdrew support from Donald Trump, has also recently touted his record of working with the Obama administration in a decidedly less tight race against Democrat Ted Strickland. One of his campaign ads boasts: “ Rob Portman authored a bipartisan law signed by President Obama to break the grip of heroin addiction.”

For his part, president Obama does not appear to return the affection. His speech in California was at a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He has also made a slew of down-ballot endorsements in the past week for Democrats across the country—from state representatives to senators, the former being a first for the president.

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