A FAMILIAR face is haunting Donald Trump this week.
As Mr Trump campaigns tirelessly for Republican candidates in the final hours before America’s critical midterm elections, the man he replaced as president, Barack Obama, is doing the same for the Democrats.
It is unusual for a former president to speak out publicly against his successor. But that is exactly what Mr Obama is doing, even though he rarely mentions Mr Trump by name.
“What kind of politics do we want?” he asked voters today.
“What we have not seen, at least in my memory, is where right now you’ve got politicians blatantly, repeatedly, baldly, shamelessly lying. Just making stuff up.”
No prizes for guessing who he was talking about.
Mr Obama repeatedly mocked Mr Trump’s record. Here for instance, is his riff on corruption in politics.
“They promised to take on corruption. Instead, they have racked up enough indictments to field a football team,” he said.
“I didn’t have anyone in my administration get indicted. I just thought that was how you were supposed to do things.”
That was a reference to the Mueller investigation, which has brought criminal charges against 32 people so far, including senior members of Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
And here is what Mr Obama said about the migrant caravan heading towards the Mexican border, which Mr Trump insists is hiding “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners”.
“They are telling us that the single greatest threat to America is a bunch of poor, impoverished, broken, hungry refugees 1000 miles away,” Mr Obama said, his voice rising incredulously, drawing scattered laughter from the crowd.
Mr Trump has repeatedly hammered the issue of illegal immigration during his own campaign appearances.
“You put (Democrat Stacey Abrams) in there and you are going to get Georgia turning into Venezuela,” he said in Georgia today.
“Stacey Abrams wants to turn your wonderful state into a giant sanctuary city of criminal aliens, putting innocent Georgia families at the mercy of hardened criminals and predators.”
Mr Obama’s stubborn use of the word “they”, referring to Republicans in general instead of Mr Trump specifically, is a small but intriguing acknowledgment of the fact that presidents don’t usually attack each other like this. In fact, they often form close friendships, even across party lines.
“There tends to be a bit of camaraderie,” Professor Brendon O’Connor, from the US Studies Centre, told news.com.au.
“People find it interesting that there seems to be a degree of warmth between the Bush family and the Obama family, or that Bush Sr spends time with various other presidents, like Carter and Clinton.
“It’s a lonely office. It’s a small club. Not a lot of people are going to understand what you’ve been through.”
Mr Trump is in a weird position. He is part of that club, yet still remains an outcast.
The President used to be somewhat friendly with Bill and Hillary Clinton, though that relationship has obviously soured since he beat Ms Clinton in 2016.
His feud with the Bush family is a very poorly kept secret.
And just try to watch the footage of Mr Trump with the Obamas during his inauguration without cringing.
Prof O’Connor said Mr Obama had expressed “quite a lot of not-so-subtle criticism” of Mr Trump, but was nevertheless trying to work within the unspoken rules of the club — to avoid denigrating the office of the presidency.
“The office is one that you want to pay respect to, that you want to hold up as a role model. I think Obama doesn’t want to criticise the office, he just wants to take issue with the policies.”
Why intervene at all, then?
“I think Obama feels that Trump is taking America in a dramatically wrong direction as a country,” Prof O’Connor said.
“Its foreign policy, and this lack of civility that Trump represents — I think he sees speaking out as exceptional behaviour required by exceptional circumstances.
“It’s partly who Trump is. Obama sees him as a sort of repudiation of his own style and policies.”
He is hardly the first former president to publicly campaign for his party. Mr Clinton played a critical role in Mr Obama’s own re-election effort in 2012. But in recent years, it has been a rarer phenomenon than you might expect.
“It depends how popular the president is,” Prof O’Connor said.
“George W. Bush left with a pretty low popularity rating, so he didn’t really get out much on the campaign trail in 2010, which was a tough year for Obama anyway.”
The 2010 midterms — the equivalent moment in Mr Obama’s presidency — saw the Democrats lose 63 House seats and six Senate seats in a historic wipe-out which left Congress mired in gridlock. Mr Trump is now facing a similarly disastrous result.
Unlike Mr Bush, Mr Obama was broadly popular when he left office, which explains why the Democrats see him as an asset now.
The danger is that he will overshadow the party’s next generation of leaders.
Mr Obama has already served two terms as president. If Mr Trump runs for re-election in 2020, someone else will have to lead the campaign against him.
“Obama’s got a unique combination of things, and that is going to be quite hard to replicate,” Prof O’Connor said.
“He is kind of a towering figure in the party. No one, as we saw with Hillary Clinton, has got the same appeal to the coalition that he put together.”
Some of the contenders for Mr Obama’s mantle, such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Ms Clinton’s vanquished 2016 rival Bernie Sanders, are busy quietly fighting for their own seats at the moment.
Others, like former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. California Senator Kamala Harris and former vice president Joe Biden, have been speaking on behalf of Democratic candidates across the country.
One of them will have to emerge as the party’s new leader. Mr Obama can’t play that role forever.
Originally published as Obama brutally mocks Trump