Wednesday 19 February 2020

Report: Here’s What Obama’s Saying In Private About The Democratic Primary

With the Democratic primary race increasingly looking like it’s heading for a bruising brokered convention, many in the party have been increasingly desperate to determine which candidate to consolidate behind, particularly if that candidate isn’t the currently front-running Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the most far-left of the already strongly left-leaning field. One of the more helpful voices for the fractured party would be former President Barack Obama, but, apart from a report back in November about him speaking up to “stop” Bernie, his opinion on the various Democratic contenders has remained carefully concealed. In a piece for New York Magazine’s Intelligencer published Monday, Gabriel Debenedetti offers a behind the scenes look at “what Obama is saying in private about the Democratic primary.”
Back in November, Politico’s Ryan Lizza, citing unnamed Obama advisers, reported that the former president would be forced to intervene should Sanders look poised to take the nomination. “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,” Lizza wrote in a piece about Democratic candidates’ “pilgrimage” to get Obama’s blessing titled “Waiting for Obama.”
“He hasn’t said that directly to me,” one unnamed adviser told Lizza. “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 source told Politico, flatly, “Bernie’s not a Democrat.”
Obama has also appeared to publicly criticize the more radical candidates, of which Sanders is on the left-most edge, saying at a meeting of top Democratic fundraisers in early November that moving too far left will turn off “the average American.” “Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality,” Obama warned. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”
Buzz about Obama’s reported hesitancy about the party embracing Sanders as the nominee was revived in January, when Fox Business’s Charles Gasparino tweeted: “Dem Party sources who have spoken [with Barack Obama] say former prez is growing increasingly anxious about [Bernie Sanders’] rise in the national polls & where the avowed socialist would take the country; he is considering a public statement addressing it more now.” The claim was quickly refuted by Obama’s camp.
“But the tweet and ensuing hysteria did renew an unsettling round of questions among candidates, elected officials, campaign strategists, voters, and donors: Well, what does Obama think of all of this?” writes Debenedetti.
According to insiders, he writes, Obama’s “choreographed strategy” involves patiently withholding his support until it’s fully clear, or at least reasonably clear, who the nominee will or should be:
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.” And he’s being careful to ensure he can be seen as an honest broker in June and July — a potentially necessary designation given both his status as the party’s most popular figure and the real possibility that Sanders, or another candidate, could enter the summer with a plurality of the delegates needed for the nomination but not an outright victory. “Obama is going to look at the [delegate math to determine] the outcome. If the math brings someone [to the nomination], he’ll back it in full,” one person who still speaks with the former president told me recently. “His biggest dilemma is if Bernie is at 35-40 [percent of the delegates], and no one else is [at] 20. Does he say, ‘You have to go with who won [a plurality of] the delegates, and who looks to be the true front-runner?’”
Debenedetti cites one of the people in Obama’s orbit who put his stance on Sanders as simply as possible: “It’s not gonna happen before the convention, [but] he’s gonna be all-in for Bernie if he’s the nominee.” (Read Debenedetti’s full piece here.)

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