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AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

For the most part, former President Barack Obama tried to adhere to the George W. Bush protocol post-presidency, which was made impossible by his successor, Donald Trump, attacking him. Yet, he mostly remained in the bunker. He hasn’t really come out swinging against the Trump administration. Maybe a statement or op-ed piece, but nothing like he was when he was in the limelight. That’s how it should be, but as 2020 heats up, Politico talked about instanced when the most popular Democrat could get more aggressive with his fellow party members, along with some biting criticism of his former vice president.


No, it’s nothing horrible. He doesn’t think Joe Biden is trash or anything, but maybe lacks the retail political skills needed to win. The piece is lengthy, mostly detailing the post-presidency life of Obama while having the aura of ‘remember when’ within the text. The media always goes on about how unprecedented this, that, and the other is with Trump—and all of it in a negative connotation. For months, the 2020 field has ventured to meet with the former president at his office in D.C., known as the “pilgrimage” where Obama offers advice, which isn’t always accepted. He told former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick that getting into the race late was a bad idea. Patrick has jumped into it with almost no splash—and no one is showing up at his events. Yet, his advisers, who are never named, told the publication that Obama is taking the role of a guardrail this cycle, making sure the party doesn’t go off the cliff, remains united, and doesn’t get too nasty with one another. And then, there’s Bernie Sanders. 

He’s the one candidate Obama would probably get more vocal in opposing if it looked like he could run away with it. That might be the case because Joe Biden is floating on his name recognition and this presumption that he’s more electable. On paper, maybe—and then he starts to speak. It’s a much different story. On the debate stage, he’s slow, aloof, and detached. He delivers counterpunches like an old man; they’re low-impact, soft, and take forever to deliver. He tried to say he was just as black as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another 2020 candidate, which is cringeworthy. And his numbers in the polls, while at the top in some key states, aren’t anything remarkable. They’re surely not decisive. As for his connection with the electorate, Obama says Joe doesn’t have it, though the former president added that he’s also lost his touch in that area as well. Still, in his talks with the 2020 crop, Obama does press these candidates on whether they have the talent, political acumen, and endurance to win. Also, do they have a plan to win? For Joe, your old boss saying he doesn’t have it with voters is quite damning (via Politico) [emphasis mine]:


The first presidential pilgrims started in early 2018, and they continued to trickle through this summer. Not every declared candidate has met with Obama—Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard were notable no-shows—but he let it be known he was available to anyone seeking advice.


He has said he usually offers three big points: Don’t run if you don’t think you are the best person to be president; make sure you understand the toll a campaign will take on your family; and ask yourself, “Can you win?” As he put it recently at a donor event in Washington, “Not are you guaranteed a win, but do you have a theory, a pathway whereby you win not just a primary but you also win a general election, because there is not an empty exercise if you, in fact, get in. Your goal should be to actually ultimately become the president and then be able to lead the country and the world in a serious way.”

Ostensibly the meetings are for the aspiring candidates to gain some wisdom from the last Democrat to win an open presidential primary and the presidency, but they also allow Obama to collect his own intelligence about what he and his closest advisers have made clear is all that matters to him: who can beat Donald Trump.

Sometimes he offers candid advice about his visitors’ strengths and weaknesses. With several lesser-known candidates, according to people who have talked to him or been briefed on his meetings, he was blunt about the challenges of breaking out of a large field. His advice is not always heeded. He told Patrick earlier this year that it was likely “too late” for him to secure “money and talent” if he jumped in the race. Occasionally, he can be cutting. With one candidate, he pointed out that during his own 2008 campaign, he had an intimate bond with the electorate, especially in Iowa, that he no longer has. Then he added, “And you know who really doesn’t have it? Joe Biden.”


Publicly, he has been clear that he won’t intervene in the primary for or against a candidate unless he believed there was some egregious attack. “I can't even imagine with this field how bad it would have to be for him to say something,” said a close adviser. Instead, he sees his role as providing guardrails to keep the process from getting too ugly and to unite the party when the nominee is clear. There is one potential exception: Back when Sanders seemed like more of a threat than he does now, Obama said privately that if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him.

While Trump has attacked Obama aggressively, Joe has been doing his best to defend his boss’s legacy and agenda—pretty much positioning himself as a throwback. And even with those beds of roses being heaped on him, Obama isn’t budging for Joe. Yet, the piece concluded that whatever the case, when 2020 gets truly rolling Obama will be more out front, especially if the Democrats fail to come up with a 2020 candidate:

Over the next year, Obama, according to his closest advisers, will start to emerge with slightly bolder colors. The boldest might be riding into a battle unfolding on his own side, if he did lead a potential stop-Bernie campaign. But absent that unlikely development, one adviser suggested that Obama could also be pulled into the primary and forced to play a major role if Democrats failed to pick a nominee before the convention. “The only kind of wrench in this, and I have not discussed this with him, is like what happens if we have a brokered convention?” the adviser said.


That would be popcorn-worthy indeed. Democrats in chaos and shanking each other is always excellent television. 

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