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What Bernie Sanders Thought About Doing To Obama in 2012 Was So Insane, Harry Reid Had To Intervene

AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Will Obama intervene if Bernie Sanders looks like he’s about to run away with the nomination? At first, there were reports that he would do such a thing, intervene to stop the primary being Berned from the inside out. And then, there are reports that he has guaranteed to Bernie’s inner circle that he’s not going to do anything to derail his nomination. So, what is the Obama factor in this cycle? He’s mostly been lying low, supposedly not really discussing politics, but highly aware of any remark he makes about this race could alter things—and not for the better. But even if it did help the party, he’s waiting for the moment where he could unveil himself as the great unifier. That’s the line thus far. We’ll see what happens, but Sanders and Obama have history. And now we’re learning about the Vermont senator’s plot to primary Obama in 2012. Apparently, the self-described democratic socialist was dead serious—and it took former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) a couple of conversations to talk Bernie out of it.


The Atlantic has a lengthy piece on Bernie’s aborted plot against Obama, along with their past history in the Senate and when Obama became president, but the 2012 primary challenge that was being mulled and the notion that these two are going to have to get their camps to play nice is yet another story highlighting divisions within the party and how fragile things are on the Left. As the publication noted, these two camps, polar opposites, finding a way to unite is going to be key to beating Trump—and I don’t think it can happen, not with Sanders' push for a pure leftist party (via The Atlantic):

Bernie Sanders got so close to running a primary challenge to President Barack Obama that Senator Harry Reid had to intervene to stop him.

It took Reid two conversations over the summer of 2011 to get Sanders to scrap the idea, according to multiple people who remember the incident, which has not been previously reported.

That summer, Sanders privately discussed a potential primary challenge to Obama with several people, including Patrick Leahy, his fellow Vermont senator. Leahy, alarmed, warned Jim Messina, Obama’s presidential reelection-campaign manager. Obama’s campaign team was “absolutely panicked” by Leahy’s report, Messina told me, since “every president who has gotten a real primary has lost a general [election].”

David Plouffe, another Obama strategist, confirmed Messina’s account, as did another person familiar with what happened. (A spokesman for Leahy did not comment when asked several times about his role in the incident.)

Messina called Reid, then the Senate majority leader, who had built a strong relationship with Sanders but was also fiercely defensive of Obama. What could you be thinking? Reid asked Sanders, according to multiple people who remember the conversations. You need to stop.

Sanders didn’t end up running against Obama. But their relationship didn’t improve in the years that followed. In another incident, in 2013, Sanders laid into Obama in a private meeting he held with Democratic senators, saying that the president was selling out to Republicans over Social Security benefits. (More on that incident, which has also not been previously reported, below.)

Now Obama, the beloved former leader of the Democratic Party, and Sanders, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, are facing a new and especially fraught period in their relationship. To Obama, Sanders is a lot of what’s wrong with Democrats: unrelenting, unrealistic, so deep in his own fight that he doesn’t see how many people disagree with him or that he’s turning off people who should be his allies. To Sanders, it’s Obama who represents a lot of what’s wrong with Democrats: overly compromising, and so obsessed with what isn’t possible that he’s lost all sense of what is.

Obama has made clear in private conversations that he doesn’t like the idea of Sanders as the nominee (and has been only slightly more subtle in public comments), but he’s pushed back on some who have urged him to get involved, anxious that any move he makes could destroy the hope of him using his unique position to unite the party and defeat Trump during the general election. In a party this divided, Obama- and Sanders-style Democrats finding a connection may be the only way to win in November.


Super Tuesday will give us a better glimpse into whether both sides will need to undergo political marriage counseling. If Sanders does well with Latinos, and it looks like that trend will continue, the left-wing candidate could nab enough delegates to make his lead insurmountable, as he’ll take most of the lot in Texas and California. Another scenario is that while Sanders will get the plurality of delegates at the end of this contest, making way for a very intense and very nasty convention fight. Will Obama intervene beforehand? Will he repair the Democratic Party ship at the convention? We’ll see.  


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