"What happened to the Republican Party?"
It's a good question and a fair question, considering the party has, in the era of Trump, seemingly — maybe temporarily — abandoned some core principles in order to hew instead to the president's deepest insecurities and basest instincts.
But Friday, the question was asked by former President Obama, as he waded back into the choppy waters of politics, not by dipping a toe but with a massive cannonball.
Until now, he'd largely abided by the unspoken rule that former presidents don't criticize sitting presidents. Some Democrats saw that less as an act of respect than as a mark of privileged disinterest.
Allaying their concerns, he's back with a vengeance. In many ways, the coming out speech was typical Obama: professorial at times, smug at times and an effort to revive the original optimism that made "hope and change" sound somewhat believable.
But it was rife with mixed messages. On the one hand he cautioned Democrats not to condemn Trump voters or take up Trump's divisive rhetoric and name-calling.
But then he mocked the "crazy stuff that is coming out of this White House."
He condemned the politics of fear but then ominously warned, "This is not normal. These are extraordinary times, and they're dangerous times."
It was obvious one Obama wanted to take the high ground, while another Obama couldn't help himself from scoring some points.
But it was his feigned "concern" for the deterioration of the Republican Party that smacked of self-righteousness. And amnesia.
Exploding the deficit, embracing Vladimir Putin, reckless spending, corporate subsidies, taking advantage of veterans, undermining our alliances, allowing our elections to be vulnerable to attacks: "None of this is conservative," he scolded.
He's right, of course. But for those of us old enough to remember, it rings a little hollow when he and the Democratic Party famously took someone who was conservative — and decent, moral, honest and good — and ripped him to shreds just to traffic in the very politics of fear Obama is now eschewing.
Lest you've forgotten, Mitt Romney, the Democrats had you believe, was a sexist monster. Why? He kept "binders full of women" — whom he'd only hoped to hire.
Romney, Obama had you believe, was a paranoid ignoramus. Why? He thought Russia was our greatest geo-political threat.
Mitt Romney, Obama had you believe, was a "bulls—tter." Why? Because politics.3 comments on this story
Of course we now know Romney is everything Trump is not, and I imagine he looks pretty good now in light of where we currently are. Ditto for George W. Bush, John McCain, John Boehner and every other reasonable Republican who liberals once called monsters and now like to recall fondly for the way we were.
Spare me. Obama is right to criticize Trump and the Republican Party for supporting him. But color me more than a little skeptical of his nostalgia for the good old days, when conservatives were principled. He insisted we were just as "dangerous" then.