Former U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he attends the “values-based leadership” during a plenary session of the Gathering of Rising Leaders in the Asia Pacific, organized by the Obama Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Barack Obama released a video endorsing Joe Biden on Tuesday, which is more or less the final piece needed to solidify the entire party’s decision to crown the former Vice President as Donald Trump’s 2016 opponent.
Biden didn’t really need Obama’s endorsement. Given what we’ve seen in terms of support and coalescing around him, it appears that this was pretty much baked into everyone’s calculations already. Further, when you see what Obama had to say, it didn’t really come across as an endorsement but rather seemed forced, like it was something he had to do.
I’ve made the argument before that Obama would never have endorsed Sanders because a Sanders candidacy and presidency is a direct threat to Obama’s own legacy. Sanders’ entire campaign was premised on the idea that Obama didn’t go far enough and that you essentially have to destroy what he did and start over. As someone who is obsessed with legacy and his impact on history, Obama would never have that. So, he couldn’t endorse Sanders, but a lot of Sanders’ coalition is the same coalition Obama had to build in order to become president in the first place, so he couldn’t outright alienate them either.
To be honest, Obama didn’t have to do anything here. He has spent the better part of four years completely uninvolved in Democratic politics – and for good reason. The entire reason the Democrats don’t have much of a bench when it comes to viable candidates (that Joe Biden is the best they can do, given how erratic he’s been in public appearances says a lot) is because Obama was actually very bad at politics. He completely alienated so much of the country that the Democrats were virtually wiped out in several states and essentially had to start over.
They’ve been able to rebuild, sure, but there wouldn’t have been so much to rebuild if he had been better at keeping his disdain for everyone who disagreed with him in check. He vowed to use a “pen and a phone” in order to unconstitutionally seize power where Republicans wouldn’t give him any, he referred to a very large chunk of American voters as people who cling bitterly to their guns and Bibles, and he would frequently belittle anyone, even media allies, who would dare to question him. His ego was such that he thought his will was supreme and that people would just go along with it.
Plus, this could turn out to be a net negative for the Democrats. Sanders fans will be disappointed in him, moderates who went with Trump because they saw Hillary as a repeat of Obama will likewise be hesitant to pull the lever for Biden, and Biden will be unable to define himself as anything other than Obama’s Vice President. He is now stuck defending those same policies that led to massive Republican wins during Obama’s presidency.
Obama could not stay out of it, however, because ego, pride, and legacy are on the line. He has to make sure what he did remains intact. He would like to think he led a scandal-free presidency, but even if you took that claim as true, it is impossible to look at electoral results and think that his presidency wasn’t an overall net loss for the Democrats. His presence here could be just as devastating if Biden’s team isn’t careful.