The Obama Factor in the 2020 Democratic Primaries Has Been Revealed

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Posted: Feb 19, 2020 4:40 PM
The Obama Factor in the 2020 Democratic Primaries Has Been Revealed

Source: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Former President Barack Obama wants to stay out of the 2020 fray, but he’s being drawn into it whether he likes it or not. First, he’s the most popular Democrat in recent memory. He cannot just hang in the bunker and disappear. Second, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg had done a swell job with his campaign folks in finding all the clips where Obama said good things about him and turned that into an ad. It almost seems like a quasi-endorsement, but it’s not. Obama hasn’t even lifted a finger concerning who he’s going to back, but you can bet the mortgage that it’s not going to be anytime soon. 

New York magazine reported that the former president has assured Bernie Sanders people that he is not going to intervene to derail the candidacy of the Vermont democratic socialist. It’s a bit of a course correction concerning the ‘close adviser’ circuit, given that in November of 2019, Politico reported that if Sanders were running away with the nomination—Obama reportedly would speak up to stop him. For now, it’s still a wait-and-see game. The publication added that Obama knows with the race going how it’s going, there will be a need for someone to bring the party back together in ways that didn’t happen in 2016. He also knows how what he says disseminated quickly within the media and how misinterpretation could create chaos. He reportedly speaks about politics, the 2020 race with fewer and fewer people if at all (via NY Mag):

The truth of Obama’s silence on the 2020 primary is that it’s not just about his obvious wish to stay out of the spotlight, but it also reflects a choreographed strategy. With the race looking more and more likely to grow bitter and messy, and maybe even wind up in a contested convention, the former president and those around him are increasingly sure he will need to play a prominent role in bringing the party back together and calming its tensions later this summer, including perhaps in Milwaukee, where the party’s meeting is scheduled to be held in July. So he is committed to not allowing his personal thoughts to dribble out in the meantime, directly or via leaks, conscious of how any sense that he’s taking sides in intraparty disputes could rock the primary in the short run and potentially undermine his ability to play this larger role in the months ahead. “He says one sentence about being woke at some conference, and the Twitterverse freaks out,” recalled one of his friends, referring to the former president’s comments at an Obama Foundation meeting in Chicago that set off a firestorm. He and his advisors “are very aware [of the effect of] one word that Barack Obama says.”

[…]

But Obama is hardly the only Democrat sweating that particular possibility, especially with Michael Bloomberg — who some in Obama’s orbit favor but many regard warily — poised to swoop in on the process in March. Sorting out that confusion might be the most complicated scenario for Obama, the person added. The reality might be more simple: “It’s not gonna happen before the convention, [but] he’s gonna be all-in for Bernie if he’s the nominee.”

Watching from afar, Obama is for now sticking to the plan he set out at the beginning of the election cycle. He’s been going out of his way to remind worried Democrats who come to him that his 2008 primary was long and brutal, and still ended in his election. And his purposeful distance from the race isn’t all about managing party factions in the short-term. He speaks with fewer people regularly about politics than ever — he rarely even talks with Tom Perez, the former Labor secretary he helped install as Democratic National Committee chairman, for example — in part because he is less interested in the back-and-forth than he was even as president, when his lack of patience for political horse-trading and debating was notorious.

But this isn’t just about distance from the action, either — it’s also because he doesn’t want to provide Trump with a political foil, and because he wants a new generation of Democratic leaders to step up, and to stop relying on him. (He’s only gotten directly involved in one domestic political fight since Trump was elected, working behind the scenes to help save the Affordable Care Act.) While he’s following the race by reading newspaper reports, he’s been disengaged with its day-to-day dynamics, sure that he’ll have to catch up on them later this year anyway — he doesn’t even make a point of watching the debates. Obama has insisted that he’ll support Democrats’ nominee, no matter who it is, publicly saying so as recently as November. Privately, he reminds friends that the views of the candidate — even if it’s Sanders, whose democratic socialism is a significant break from Obama’s technocratic progressivism — will more closely reflect not just his values, but Democrats’ and the nations’, than Trump’s.

[…]

…Obama’s team has made clear to Sanders’ inner circle that the former president has no intention of getting involved in the primary. And people from both camps who are familiar with the discussions say the pair has also spoken directly during this election cycle.

Again, things could change. And right now, Sanders isn’t running away with the nomination—no one is, though he is the frontrunner. It’s a title made even weirder by the fact that former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg actually has more delegates than him. But the key win in New Hampshire, the fact that Sanders is should do well in Nevada on Saturday, and Biden’s ever-crumbling firewall shows there is a clear path for the Vermont senator to secure the Democratic nomination. Amy Klobuchar and Buttigieg are dividing the vote Klobuchar surge probably cost Buttigieg a chance to beat Bernie in New Hampshire, so the party is divided. It’s still early. And circumstances can always change. 

Join us over on the Live Blog as we track the crazy Dems in their Nevada Debate