In a new podcast interview with the president, Obama’s longtime political adviser David Axelrod asked him about his plans for the post-presidency—specifically whether he would give Trump room to govern, or be “the point of the spear in the resistance to this new administration.”
Expect a quiet Obama in the short term.
“I believe in the wisdom that George Washington showed, that at a certain point, you make room for—for new voices and fresh legs,” he said, later adding that it’s “contrary to tradition for the ex-president” to enter the “day-to-day scrum,” and that doing so”would inhibit the development of those new voices.”
As for longer term, he left the door open—just barely—to speaking out against the next administration:
Now, that doesn’t mean that if a year from now or a year and a half from now or two years from now, there is an issue of such moment, such import, that—that isn’t just a debate about a particular tax bill or, you know, a particular policy but goes to some foundational issues about our democracy that I might not weigh in. You know, I’m still a citizen and—and that carries with it duties and obligations.
Obama has always preferred tempered rhetoric, almost always opting to lower the temperature rather raise it. He’s also fundamentally an institutionalist, so his instinct is to defer to presidential norms even as Trump continues to flout them. The paradox is that defending “foundational values” requires breaking one of the biggest norms in American politics: former President Obama may well need to take on President Trump directly, and sooner than he would like.