WASHINGTON, DC – Barack Obama was just beginning to enjoy himself. He’d been itching to throw himself into the 2016 presidential race and do what he could to ensure that Donald Trump wouldn’t succeed him as President of the United States. It was evident throughout the campaign that he backed his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, but he had to wait to declare his support openly until it was certain that Senator Bernie Sanders couldn’t beat her at the convention.
His entry into the campaign came at a time when 56% of Americans approve of his performance – the highest level in a long time. In 2014, his approval rating dipped to a low of 40%, owing to public discontent with the economy and the Islamic State’s gains in Iraq and Syria. Democrats running for re-election that year deliberately avoided joint appearances with him; now, they clamor for his attendance at their campaign events.
The first scheduled campaign appearance of Obama and Clinton together was postponed because of the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando. It was rescheduled for July 5, the day, it turned out, that James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, unexpectedly held a morning press conference on the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s handling of State Department emails on her personal server. While Clinton had been “extremely careless” in handling classified material, Comey said, there wasn’t enough evidence of criminal intent to indict her.
Though it takes days to set up a presidential appearance, conspiracy theorists – and Donald Trump, perhaps the “conspiracy theorist in chief” – had a field day. Obama, they concluded, was part of an elaborate plot – of which there is no convincing evidence – to let Clinton off the hook legally, and that the campaign appearance was orchestrated to distract people’s attention from Comey’s harsh comments.