Report: Obama worried that Biden "really doesn't have" a bond with voters -- and might intervene to stop Bernie Sanders

It’s undeniably true that Biden doesn’t have much of a connection with the Democratic electorate, annnnnd it’s also undeniably true that he could get nominated despite that fact. I ask you: Which of the Democrats’ big two in 2016, Hillary or Bernie, had more of a visceral connection with primary voters?

And which won the nomination?

So long as Biden remains the candidate widely perceived as most likely to defeat Trump, he’s a legit threat to win. He’s like Hillary in certain key ways — center-left, Obama administration pedigree, massive name recognition, thoroughly establishment and supposedly electable. He’s also 10 times as likable and carries one-tenth as much scandal baggage. It just so happens that he can no longer produce a coherent sentence during the third hour of a primary debate. Dems will accept that flaw in a president as the price for tossing Trump out on his ear.

Sometimes [Obama] offers candid advice about his visitors’ strengths and weaknesses. With several lesser-known candidates, according to people who have talked to him or been briefed on his meetings, he was blunt about the challenges of breaking out of a large field. His advice is not always heeded. He told Patrick earlier this year that it was likely “too late” for him to secure “money and talent” if he jumped in the race. Occasionally, he can be cutting. With one candidate, he pointed out that during his own 2008 campaign, he had an intimate bond with the electorate, especially in Iowa, that he no longer has. Then he added, “And you know who really doesn’t have it? Joe Biden.”

Biden’s campaign *is* a bit of a trainwreck in Iowa. He’s slipped to fourth in the RCP average there and his allies are openly fretting in political media that he hasn’t put in the time in the state needed to win. You get the sense from his campaign that they don’t think Iowa’s a must-win so long as South Carolina remains Biden country, but Obama’s point about the importance of a “bond” with the primary electorate is well taken. He had it in 2008; Trump had it in 2016. It would be strange in 2020, an era of intense partisan polarization, to see a guy get elected president whom everyone is “meh” about.

Obama doubting Biden’s appeal isn’t the real headline from today’s Politico story, though. This is:

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.)…

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.”)

A vicious online war between Obama cultists and Berniebros, with Team O getting savaged from the left, is the outcome all good people should favor in this primary. Assuming the excerpt is true, though, the question becomes: When, exactly, would Obama intervene to oppose Sanders? The scenario described by Politico’s sources of Bernie “running away” with the nomination sounds to me like it refers to him building up a huge lead in polling this past summer and then seeming poised as of the fall to win the early states. You can imagine Obama endorsing someone in that alternate reality in September (or even recruiting candidates to enter the race), believing that there was still plenty of time to slow Sanders’s momentum before Iowa. In our current reality, of course Bernie isn’t “running away” with anything — but he is in the thick of things in the first three states and certainly could surprise by winning all three. If he does, and suddenly Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada are all in his back pocket, does Obama dare gamble his legacy on trying to take him out at that point? The party might ignore him, and to the extent that it doesn’t, Obama’s favored candidate — Biden? Booker? Klobuchar? — just might not have the juice to hold Sanders off even with O’s backing.

Realistically, an opportunity to speak out against Bernie will have already passed by the time of the caucuses. Obama’s taking a gamble by declining to say anything right now, when he can still influence the selection process.

unless the “break glass in case of emergency” option after Sanders wins the early states is to have Michelle Obama jump into the race. Maybe that’s the Obamas’ ace in the hole. Michelle really, truly, definitely doesn’t want to run — but maybe she’s willing if and only if it looks like the country is headed for a Trump vs. Sanders showdown. Of course, progressives would never forgive her or Barack for trying to thwart socialism’s finest hour in the United States, on the cusp at last of taking over the Democratic Party, but maybe Obama thinks that’s a risk he and Michelle will need to run. We saw what happened in 2016 when a party’s establishment decided that they were better off cautiously embracing a “burn it all down” outsider candidate instead of going all-in to stop him and risking a schism with the party’s base. O might figure that it’s worth doing things differently this time — block the insurgent by nominating a more electable centrist and dare the base to stay home in November against Trump if they don’t like it.

I think progressives might take that dare!

Just one problem: Could Michelle Obama even get on the ballot in most primary states if she got in after Iowa? Her best chance would be to pile up enough delegates in the limited number of states she’d be eligible to run in and force a brokered convention. But who knows what would happen then?

Here’s Tucker Carlson a few days ago warning viewers not to rule out the possibility of a late Michelle Obama entry. He’s right about David Axelrod talking Biden down, too. In the Politico story excerpted above, Axelrod marvels at how resilient Biden’s polling has been given his underwhelming “Mr. Magoo” performance on the trail. Exit question: If Barack Obama is firm about not endorsing Biden, will he at least weigh in publicly to vouch for Biden’s clean hands in the Ukraine/Burisma process? A source told Politico, ”I do think there’s frustration when Joe Biden and Hunter Biden get attacked by Republicans on the Ukrainian thing and they say, ’Obama and his administration looked the other way back when this was happening,’ and Obama doesn’t say anything. The Biden people ask, ‘Why won’t Obama say something?’”