Barack Obama has returned to the campaign trail for the first time in months, railing against the ‘politics of division’ after keeping a low profile and avoiding direct confrontation with his White House successor.
Speaking at a rally in New Jersey on Thursday to support a Democratic Party candidate for governor, the 56-year-old former president took aim at the fear and bitterness that marked the 2016 campaign which led to Donald Trump’s presidency.
“What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before, that dates back centuries,” Obama said at the event in Newark for Phil Murphy. “Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That’s folks looking 50 years back,” Obama added. “It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century.”
Obama was due to appear later yesterday at a Richmond event to support his party’s gubernatorial candidate in Virginia. Voters in both states will decide the contests on November 7, one year after Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton and stormed into the White House on a wave of anti-establishment fury.
The races are potential indicators of voter sentiment ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, which will be a major test for Trump and his Republican Party. University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said the New Jersey and Virginia governor races are the only ‘big elections’ for 2017.
“What’s at stake is bragging rights headed into the 2018 midterm elections,” Sabato told AFP.
Obama has remained largely detached from the political debate since leaving office on January 20, in keeping with presidential tradition. He waded in gingerly in New Jersey, and it was unclear if he would deliver a more emphatic anti-Trump message in Richmond.
Trump has meanwhile used his first nine months in the White House to methodically demolish key Obama administration policies. After three months of vacation Obama began writing his memoirs. He has said little in public and granted almost no interviews.
The few times Obama broke his silence was to comment on issues of national importance, such as immigration, health care and climate change.