WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20:
With their wives by their sides, President Donald J. Trump and Former president Barack Obama talk on the steps of the East Front of the Capitol after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on on January 20, 2017.
(Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Where was this Obama in 2016?

Look. I know former President Barack Obama doesn't like Donald Trump. We all know it. We knew it when he made fun of him at the infamous 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. We knew it when he made fun of him on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. We knew it when he made fun of him on the campaign trail, and so on and so forth, yada yada yada. None of this is a surprise exactly. And yet!

In excerpts from The Atlantic staff writer Edward-Isaac Dovere's forthcoming book Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaigns to Defeat Donald Trump obtained by The Guardian, Obama is described as letting down his meticulously guarded facade of unflappable cool while describing his White House successor in private during the 2020 presidential race.

Among the more, shall we say, animated responses to the Trump presidency offered by Obama are, per Dovere's reporting, frequent lamentations that "I didn’t think it would be this bad" or "I didn’t think we’d have a racist, sexist pig." Sometimes he'd be more succinct and describe Trump as "that fucking lunatic," Dovere reports — or, once, in an exchange with a number of significant potential donors to Obama's nonprofit foundation, simply as "a madman."

Dovere claims Obama's most emphatic denunciation of Trump came in the midst of the years-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, after learning that Trump had been phoning world leaders without aides or advisers present. Obama's alleged response: "that corrupt motherfucker."

While it's hard to picture the infamously under-control Obama lashing out publicly against Trump with quite so much vitriol while on the campaign trail, imagine if he had used this same language to describe candidate Trump when he first ran for office. There was nothing about Trump in the 2020 race that we didn't already know in 2016. What if Obama had rightfully sounded the alarm early enough against that "fucking lunatic" and "corrupt motherfucker"? Certainly it would have helped shape the narrative around Trump more pointedly than Hillary Clinton's bizarre — and ultimately appropriated — "basket of deplorables" line.

Which isn't to say it would have been enough to keep Trump from office in the first place. It very well might not have! But at least it would have set the necessary tone, treating Trump as the threat we knew he was, right from the start. Instead we allowed politicians and pundits to pretend like he was something he wasn't. Trump might still have won in 2016, but instead of the painfully #resistance epithets like "cheeto" and "drumpf," the public could have taken its cues from Obama and called him what he was: a corrupt motherfucker.