Just about a month from now, Election Day will have come and gone. Americans, who appear not to have much taste for either major presidential nominee, will have made their choice.
But truth to tell, any politician who is being honest will admit that they are never more beloved than the day before they decide to run for office.
Once a candidate, they can no longer claim outsider status, and he or she begins to look more ambitious than chaste. Hillary Clinton was a popular secretary of state, but now she is just Hillary Clinton.
There’s something about actually wanting a thing that makes voters think less of you.
The converse, of course, is also true. Once they have actually left office, we seem to grow fonder of our ex-presidents — and they of each other. That’s why so many sighed in approval at Michelle Obama’s public display of affection with George W. Bush at last month’s dedication of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
Now, little more than four months before he leaves office, President Obama has begun to get a taste of this phenomenon.
A CNN/ORC poll this week pegged his approval rating at 55 percent, a second-term high, and an 11-point leap from this time last year. That’s about the time the 2016 campaign story was about to steal the march from the West Wing.
Surprisingly, according to Gallup, the president’s greatest gains have come among conservative Democrats, who conventional wisdom would have you believe we’re headed for “Trumpland.”
President Obama is doing better than George W. Bush did at this point in his second term and is on par with Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton’s approval rating, at 58 percent, was stronger, and that was in the face of scandal and impeachment. Clinton left office with one of the highest approval ratings in history.
Lame duck presidents handle this spotlight shift in different ways. Some keep a low profile so as not to influence the race for their successor. In the case of President Obama, the goal seems to be to use the cover of a presidential campaign to rack up a few wins.
So this week, we saw the U.S. celebrate the sealing of a 73-nation climate accord designed to reduce carbon emissions and boost solar energy.
“Today, the world meets the moment,” the president said in a Rose Garden statement, calling it a “turning point for the planet.”
The president, too, meets the moment in his final months as commander-in-chief as he prepares to relinquish the most influential platform he will have.