A cluster of investigations targeting the last presidential administration was supposed to help extend the current one for another term. But here we are in mid-October, and none of these Trump-era look-backs at the Obama administration's actions has yet to offer the incumbent much electoral aid.
With his offense looking shaky, President Donald Trump could in theory try instead to play a little defense as opponent Joe Biden, polling well at the moment, apparently seeks to run out the election clock without fumbling.
This week, The Washington Post reported that a federal prosecutor came up empty in his probe into whether President Barack Obama's aides improperly "unmasked" the identities of Americans kept anonymous in intelligence documents.
For some time, Trump allies in the Senate and right-wing media, propelled by Trump on Twitter, have talked about this "unmasking" as the key to revising and reversing the record on Russiagate.
This outcome fits with others. Official GOP dives don't seem to have delivered the desired results, including probes into the Clinton Foundation, Ukraine "servers," Biden’s son Hunter and the roots of the FBI look at the Trump camp's many Russia contacts.
None of former special counsel Robert Mueller's convictions have been dented either, except by the unusual interventions of Trump and Attorney General William Barr, all after the fact.
Although one special DOJ investigation exposed systemically shoddy practices under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it found no abuse of power by top officials resulting from anti-Trump bias.
So Trump and his private-sector lawyer Rudy Giuliani are left at this late hour to try to manufacture their best negative stories and memes about Democrats.
Trump's spray of falsehoods about his foes ranges wide this week. These included: Obama sacrificing the lives of U.S. Navy SEALs to fake the Osama bin Laden killing; Trump's "saving" of the suburbs from destruction by ending an Obama-era housing rule; and his blaming Joe Biden and Obamacare, rather than his own administration's court efforts to eviscerate the health care law, for the danger that those with preexisting conditions won't be insured.
Lawyer Giuliani, meanwhile, is peddling Biden "scandal" stories of opaque provenance.
Special circumstances have in some ways lowered the bar for Biden. A shrewder opponent than Trump might have better capitalized on Biden's policy wiggles, and Biden's differences with those he beat in the Democratic primaries. On fracking and court-packing, Biden has seen fit to change postures or play it coy. But at the moment, his party seems no less united.
As the incumbent, Trump might be better off playing a bit of defense. He could come clean on why he stalled his coronavirus response. He could reveal why he is so intent on concealing his tax information from lawful authorities such as Congress and the Manhattan district attorney. He could justify to the public how he thinks his policies on China, Ukraine, Russia, Iran and "law and order" have worked.
He could seek to explain himself on many fronts in a debate or a town hall. On the highly unlikely chance that Trump deigns to do such things, the chances of reelection might improve.
Early voting has begun, but there are still strategies available to both candidates that go beyond mudslinging, bromides and taking advantage of the other guy's gaffes.
There's still time to clarify.