Nice campaign you got there, dad. Don’t get cocky. Joe Biden’s presidential-launch campaign announcement painted Donald Trump as an aberration and the former VP as the return to pre-Trump normalcy. But does the man whose legacy is at stake in this effort think his former running mate is the man for the job?
Barack Obama isn’t saying … and that may itself speak volumes:
Former President Barack Obama expressed support Thursday for Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, but stopped short of an explicit endorsement for his longtime running mate.
Obama, who has remained active in politics since departing office more than two years ago, has offered Biden more than he has to the rest of the Democratic field, as the 19 other candidates are all vying for attention, support, and anything to boost their campaigns.
“President Obama has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made,” said Obama spokesperson Katie Hill. “He relied on the Vice President’s knowledge, insight, and judgment throughout both campaigns and the entire presidency. The two forged a special bond over the last 10 years and remain close today.”
That’s not an endorsement, by design. As Joe Perticone reminds Business Insider readers, Obama sees himself as a Democratic Party eminence grise, in some way similar to Biden’s position before joining Obama on the ticket in 2008. He’s a shared resource, offering support to all but endorsements to none in the 2020 presidential primary race. And that’s a smart strategy; it allows Obama to expand his influence as candidates vie to be seen with Obama and hope some of his high post-presidency approval ratings rub off on them.
However, this statement seems a little too hands-off, under the circumstances. Biden’s no rando wannabe in a field of 387 Democratic hopefuls. Biden partnered with Obama on Hope and Change®, Obama’s Sancho Panza on his “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” quest. Watching Trump dismantle his “transformation” over the past two-plus years and put his legacy on the endangered-species list has to worry Obama. With Biden coming out swinging on returning America to Obama’s path, why wouldn’t the former president endorse the man with whom he “forged a special bond” during that transformation?
Perhaps Obama doesn’t see Biden as the proper keeper of his legacy, Politico’s Marc Caputo and Natasha Korecki suggest. The lack of Obama figures in the Biden campaign seems significant:
While Biden’s campaign manager, Greg Schultz, led Obama’s campaign efforts in swing-state Ohio, Beto O’Rourke hired Obama’s 2012 deputy campaign manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and has enjoyed the support of Paul Tewes, the 2008 Obama campaign’s director in first-in-the-nation Iowa. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren signed Joe Rospars, Obama’s chief digital strategist in 2008 and 2012, and Emily Parcell, political director for Obama’s 2008 Iowa caucus team. Several top former Obama administration officials contributed to Pete Buttigieg.
In the key swing state of Florida, it’s a similar story. Steve Schale, who helped lead Obama to two victories there as state director in 2008 and senior adviser in 2012, is serving as a senior advisor to Biden’s campaign. But California Sen. Kamala Harris scored the support of Obama’s top fundraiser in the state, Kirk Wagar, who was appointed ambassador to Singapore by Obama. Obama campaign’s deputy Florida director in 2008 and state director in 2012, Ashley Walker, is staying neutral.
“I don’t think there’s any one standard bearer for the Obama legacy in this primary. There are multiple candidates who could carry that mantle,” said Ben LaBolt, former spokesman for Obama’s reelection campaign.
“A big question looming over the primary is: is this a moment for the longest record of experience or is this a moment for generational change within the party and a new vision within the party,” LaBolt said, noting that “even President Obama has talked about letting this be a moment for generational change and for others to lead and rise through the party and step up. So I don’t think it will be a completely clean shot if he tries to claim he’s the sole purveyor of his legacy.”
The Washington Post’s Jacqueline Alemany also reports that Biden’s going to have a tough time arguing that he’s the rightful heir and steward of the Obama legacy:
For one, Obamaworld — the former campaign aides and fundraisers who worked for the two-term president — has scattered, some lending their skills to one of the fresher 2020 faces. But perhaps more significantly, several Democratic campaign operatives said Biden isn’t necessarily the heir apparent to Obama, despite being his No. 2 in the White House for eight years. They argue voters will judge Biden by the span of his decades-long career, and are worried the veteran pol hasn’t yet found a winning formula for his own candidacy.
“I think President Obama’s legacy is President Obama’s and he was the president and had a very supportive partner in Biden and his approval ratings remain higher than Trump has had in a single day. But this election will be about where we are today and the future and not about Obama’s legacy,” Joel Benenson, Obama’s campaign pollster, told Power Up.
“Voters are voting in the moment,” Benenson added. “No one casts a vote for historical purposes. They are in the moment and they’re looking forward.”
And one source reminded Alemany that Biden was lucky that Obama rescued him from political oblivion in 2008:
“Before Obama, Biden was viewed very differently, and I’d be wrong to tell you that you can’t evolve. But how much of that was Obama and his branding and energy and how much was Joe?,” a source close to Biden’s campaign told us.
None of those are good signs for Biden. In a field of younger and more demographically diverse competitors, he needs his years with Obama as a differentiator. If Obama treats him as just another Democrat, that will speak loudly itself, perhaps especially so if Biden wraps himself in the 2008 Obama-logo campaign flag in the primaries. And without Obama, what does Biden actually have? Nearly fifty years in Washington mainly fronting for moderate policies that are abhorrent to the party’s activist base.
Still, Biden’s the most significant moderate in the field, and perhaps the only serious moderate so far. He went hard after Trump because he needs to make inroads among the progressives, but he probably will own the moderate lane and will end up being in the top four or five candidates because of that alone. But he’s not the future of the Democratic Party; he’s the past that progressives want to destroy. If Obama’s not willing to rescue him by anointing him Steward of the Restoration By Proxy, Biden’s not going to survive it.