What’s really behind Obama’s stealth midterm campaign?

Former President Barack Obama attends a campaign event in Anaheim, Calif., on Sept. 8.
Former President Barack Obama attends a campaign event in Anaheim, Calif., on Sept. 8. The Los Angeles Times

In one of those ironies that make politics so interesting, Democrats have turned for campaign help this fall to the same man who set them on a long road to electoral disaster in 2010.

Barack Obama has taken his practiced pauses back on the campaign trail in recent days to gin up Democrats’ energy to help ensure they recapture control of the House on Nov. 6 and — who knows? — maybe even the Senate.

“The biggest threat to our democracy,” Obama proclaims, “is indifference.”

To be candid, Democrats really have no one else of political stature to help. Obama paid no attention to developing a farm team. He chose a non-threatening partner in Joe Biden, who’s nearly 20 years older. Bill Clinton picked a contemporary vice president and partner in Al Gore, who’s just two years younger, setting him up for possible succession.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is out as a current campaigner. The threat of her grabbing back the speaker’s gavel come January, blocking a GOP agenda and launching impeachment proceedings is a major target of numerous GOP campaigns. Democrats can’t send the 78-year-old anywhere but fundraisers with rich loyalists.

The Clintons may seek paid speaking invites, though who’d want their advice after so thoroughly botching the 2016 campaign that hung there for the taking?

Rep. Maxine Waters of California is a guaranteed media magnet, but giving her a podium is like waving a loaded gun in a crowded room. And she only talks Trump impeachment, which the Democratic Party desperately wants to hush until post-election for fear of motivating Republicans to vote.

Absence does make the heart grow fonder, even in a party that has seen its ardent base move so far to the left of Obama policies in just two years. Polls indicate the Chicago pol enjoys the support of about 90 percent of Democrats, the same level President Donald Trump has among Republicans.

This despite Obama’s insistence in 2010 on ramming through Congress an ineffective trillion-dollar stimulus and Obamacare with its bungled launch. Yes, Obama won re-election in 2012, but in a weird historical twist, with about four million fewer votes than in his first electoral victory.

A president’s party almost always loses House seats in midterm elections. But not as many as the Democrats did in an historic shellacking — 63 lost seats in 2010, costing them congressional control.

And then losing the Senate later and governors’ chairs and nearly 1,000 state legislative seats. Recovery might finally begin this year.

President Trump does not mind poking, aggravating and motivating opponents. In fact, he seems to enjoy it. As does his steadfast 40+ percent plurality of supporters.

Obama’s course this fall is trickier. Have you noticed him on all the network, cable and Sunday shows mocking Trump, pushing a minimum wage hike and all the other predictable progressive applause lines?

No, you haven’t. That’s because Obama wants to sneak into carefully-selected districts like some in California’s Orange County and rally Democrats without rousing Republicans.

Some ex-presidents go off quietly and paint (George W. Bush), build houses for the needy (Jimmy Carter) or amass a fortune speechifying (Bill Clinton).

Obama claims the country’s situation compels him to campaign. And we all know how much he dislikes the adulation of crowds.

Obama mentions Trump by name now, as a corrupt demagogue. But his poll-tested goal is to play on widespread unease and distaste for the president’s behavior. “We’ve got to restore some sanity to our politics,” he told Clevelanders last week to cheers.

Not accidentally, such rhetoric also resonates with crucial swing voters, an independent crowd repelled by the antics of Trump, who’ll need them in 2020.

“This fall we cannot afford complacency,” Obama urges. “We can’t afford to sit this one out.”

Truth be told, at times Obama sounds a little touchy these days after his calls to vote for Hillary Clinton were so roundly rejected. And he comes across as whiny when complaining that today’s booming Trump economy really, you know, started under him, as if newly-employed workers care.

Then, Obama hits the need for Democrats to replace “spineless” congressional Republicans.

“In a healthy democracy,” Obama told several thousand Ohioans, “there’s some checks and balances on this kind of behavior, this kind of inconsistency. But right now, there’s none.”

Much like there were none in the first two years of Obama’s own presidency, when he found the lack of congressional checks and balances quite convenient in a healthy democracy kind of way.

Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.