In a lengthy profile of former President Barack Obama about what role the “most popular Democrat in America” would play in the 2020 presidential race, Politico’s Ryan Lizza shares what Obama and his advisers think of the candidates.
Two of the candidates seem to be the ones whose campaign promises imply Obama didn’t do enough to advance progressivism while in office — Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT):
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. (Asked about that, a spokesperson for Obama pointed out that Obama recently said he would support and campaign for whoever the Democratic nominee is.)
If Bernie were running away with it, I think maybe we would all have to say something. But I don’t think that’s likely. It’s not happening.” (Another close Obama friend said, “Bernie’s not a Democrat.”)
As for Warren, the candidate who has tried to bridge the worlds of Sanders and Obama, Obama’s relationship with Warren is famously complicated. Back in early 2015, when Warren was considering running for president and started to excite progressives, Obama said privately that if Democrats rallied around her as their nominee it would be a repudiation of him—a clear sign that his economic decisions after the Great Recession had been seen as inadequate. There are very few former senior Obama officials in Warren’s campaign.
As for the other candidates, little support can be found from the former president.
“Obama was deeply skeptical about the prospects of Mayor Pete Buttigieg,” one of Obama’s “closest advisers” said in the article.
“They discussed doubts about Kamala Harris’ appeal to African Americans,” the article said.
As for Steve Bullock, Obama spoke for himself: “Nobody knows who you are,” he said.
Obama adviser David Axelrod said, “I mean is Michael Bloomberg really the default candidate for non-college educated white voters?”
“Maybe Amy [Klobuchar], but I honestly don’t think she’s getting out of Iowa,” Axelrod said.
The article tries to paint Obama as a moderate compared to this field of candidates, including Warren and Sanders and their Medicare for All schemes. He is more favorable of former Vice President Joe Biden’s and Buttigieg’s healthcare plans.
But that’s not to say Obama is ready to buy any bumper stickers.
“Another adviser added, ‘I don’t think he was trying to benefit Biden here. Buttigieg benefits from this too. Knowing Obama as well as I do, he doesn’t want to help anyone or hurt anyone, he just wants to win the 2020 election,’” the article said.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is only mentioned once in the article as one of the candidates who has sought advice from Obama.
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