The Corner

Politics & Policy

Why Hasn’t Obama Endorsed Biden?

Former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 30, 2016 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In November, Politico reported that Barack Obama wasn’t interested in meddling in the Democratic primary, but might feel obliged to throw his weight around if it looked like Bernie Sanders was going to be the nominee. Ryan Lizza wrote, “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.)” Lizza’s report seems a little unsure of itself, though:

When it comes to Sanders, I asked one close adviser whether Obama would really lay himself on the line to prevent a Sanders nomination. “I can’t really confirm that,” the adviser said. “He hasn’t said that directly to me. The only reason I’m hesitating at all is because, yeah, 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.”)

Today, it looks like either Lizza was wrong about Obama’s jumping in, or Obama has changed his mind. Obama still hasn’t endorsed anyone and hasn’t intervened to stop Mike Bloomberg from associating himself with Obama in TV advertising, even though Bloomberg failed to endorse Obama in 2008 and issued only a lukewarm endorsement in 2012. Biden’s campaign has been begging Obama to tell Bloomberg to back off; polling shows that a quarter of Democrats incorrectly believe Obama has endorsed Bloomberg, about the same number that incorrectly believe Obama has endorsed Biden, whose answer to every debate question is a subject, a verb, and Barack Obama.

What are the possibilities here? Were Obama to fully embrace Joe Biden, complete with campaigning and advertising, Biden would presumably become the front-runner. Does Obama lack confidence in Biden’s abilities? Has Obama made his peace with the Democratic Party’s (and maybe the country’s) taking a sharp leftward turn? (Joe Biden’s claim that he asked Obama not to endorse him is an obvious lie that no reporter, as far as I know, has pressed him about.)

Reading between the lines of Team Obama’s explanation, I wonder if Obama’s motive is simple fear. If he endorses anyone but Sanders — the one candidate whose fans are as enthused as Obama fans were in 2008 — Sanders could win anyway, and Obama is picturing himself as the heel of a new Democratic Party led by Bernie voters. CNN:

“We are skeptical that an endorsement coming from us could truly change the political winds right now,” the person close to Obama told CNN. If Obama were to endorse Biden, the person said, there is “a very real chance it backfires.”

I guess there won’t be an Obama edition of Profiles in Courage.

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