President Barack Obama on Friday will deliver a speech to Democrats aimed squarely at highlighting the economic progress the country has made during his time in office and pushing back against attacks on his record from Republicans already gearing up for the 2016 presidential campaign.
White House officials said Obama’s address at the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee would be focused on the middle-class economic themes that the president emphasized in his State of the Union address last month.
“He will give an energetic and forceful argument for the progress this country has made over the past six years and why it cannot be rolled back,” a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a preview of the president’s remarks.
As he has done recently at Democratic fundraisers, Obama also will note what he sees as the irony of the increasing focus among some of the potential Republican candidates on improving the economic situation for middle-class Americans.
“They are attempting to cast themselves as the party of the middle class, even as they push policies that would undermine working families and exacerbate income inequality,” the official said.
For the next 20 months, Obama will be on the sidelines of the 2016 presidential campaign, watching as the Republican candidates attack his policies and criticize his presidency, while the Democratic candidates debate what they would have done differently.
Officials have said that the president’s focus on “middle-class economics” is in part intended to set the stage for the political conversation in the hopes that it will help the Democratic presidential candidate and the party’s congressional candidates.
But there is also a self-preservation imperative. Obama needs to defend his two terms in office if he wants to shape how history will view his presidency.
That necessity has come into sharp focus in recent weeks as the Republican Party’s many possible candidates have begun to outline the contours of their messages with sharp-edged attacks on Obama’s policies.
In a speech this week, Jeb Bush accused the president of “hashtag diplomacy” for making what he said were empty threats to act against Iran and Syria. He called Obama’s foreign policy “inconsistent and indecisive,” and said the president had weakened America’s place in the world.
“The great irony of the Obama presidency is this: Someone who came to office promising greater engagement with the world has left America less influential in the world,” Bush said.
Other potential Republican candidates have heaped criticism on the president’s economic and foreign policies.
In a speech in New Hampshire this week, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, reprised a criticism that he had used before, saying that Obama was “like a man wandering around in a dark room, feeling along the wall for the light switch of leadership.”
“He hasn’t found it for six years, and he’s not going to find it in the next two years at the White House,” Christie said. “This has been an abject failure of leadership by this president, and it’s time for him to go.”
And Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, burst into the headlines this week by accusing Obama of not loving America. He doubled down on those comments on Thursday, heaping more criticism on the president.
“What I don’t find with Obama - this will get me in more trouble again - is a really deep knowledge of history,” Giuliani told The New York Times. “I think it’s a dilettante’s knowledge of history.”
Obama is unlikely to respond to such criticism directly, especially from the many Republican hopefuls who are eager to draw the president into a direct back-and-forth.
But he also cannot afford to simply let his presidency be a political punching bag for the next two years without a full response. And he cannot just count on the 2016 Democratic candidates to defend the policies for him, since they may decide to distance themselves from some of his policies.