Major Garrett got a rather unique opportunity, especially these days, for a White House beat reporter. The CBS reporter actually got an interview with the President, an honor which has largely gone to local TV stations and entertainment-journalism reporters over the last couple of years, or to anchors of national news broadcasts. Garrett got a bonus when Vice President Joe Biden joined Barack Obama briefly, which prompted Garrett to ask about Obama’s endorsement for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination race. And the answer was … necessarily awkward:
“I don’t necessarily want to jam them up,” he said. “We all are part of this relay race whether we’re vice presidents, presidents, the truth is we build off of what folks have done previously and some cases that includes Republican presidents.
“That’s the beauty of our democracy, it keeps on evolving and I’m sure that there are going to be some things that, whoever the next president is, want to continue, there are going to be some things that they’re going to want to do differently, but the trajectory is hopefully going to be one in which we’re broadening opportunity for every American.”
Obama declined to say who he would prefer in 2016.
Obama did say that Biden was “the finest Vice President in history,” a statement that had some produced no small amount of mirth on Twitter. Really, though, what else was Obama supposed to say? The fortunate aspect of that statement is that declaring any VP the finest in history amounts to an unchallengeable claim — there simply are no metrics for success in the role, only failure. With Aaron Burr and Spiro Agnew tied for worst, every other VP has at least an argument for primacy simply for managing to finish the job.
As for endorsements, the same holds here, too. Outgoing Presidents rarely interfere in primaries, assuming the role of party leader and staying above the partisan fray. Only for VPs does that change — Biden has a shot at it — but usually only after the outcome is all but guaranteed. Ronald Reagan endorsed George H. W. Bush, but not until May 1988, long after Bush had made his nomination certain. Bill Clinton endorsed Al Gore in 2000, but only Bill Bradley challenged Gore in the primary, and that was hardly a serious bid. In neither case did the incumbent act to split the party, and don’t bet that Obama will do that either. If Obama endorses anyone, it will only happen because one candidate is running away with the nomination and Obama wants to force an end to the process to limit damage to the nominee.
In other words, Obama played it smart, even if Garrett forced an awkward moment on him and Biden.