It looks as though even Bernie Sanders realizes that America has not yearned for a Fidel Castro apologist in the White House. The morning after their surprising near-wipeout on Super Tuesday, Team Bernie has three new ads hoping to reset the narrative. Two of them go directly on the attack against Joe Biden, but the third intends to convince voters that Bernie Sanders has not just Barack Obama’s endorsement but that he — not Biden — is Obama’s natural successor.
“Feel the Bern,” Obama says, but it’s not exactly in context:
The third Sanders ad features Obama heaping praise upon the candidate in what could easily be mistaken for an endorsement video — mirroring similar spots produced by other Democratic presidential hopefuls including Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
The ad features tape of Obama describing Sanders as “somebody who has the virtue of saying exactly what he believes” and applauding his work on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where Obama says Sanders “got bills done.”
“I think people are ready for a call to action,” Obama says in the spot, which draws upon his old remarks. “They want honest leadership who cares about them. They want somebody who’s gonna fight for them. And they will find it in Bernie.”
Ahem. It takes some chutzpah to use a quote from Obama calling for “honest leadership” in an ad designed to convince voters into thinking Obama has endorsed Sanders, when in fact Obama has done no such thing.
It’s also a threadbare attempt to pander to more moderate Democrats, one that undercuts his supposed strength of authenticity. Nine years ago, Sanders got so fed up with Obama and his establishment-ish policies that he planned a primary challenge against the incumbent. As Edward-Isaac Dovere reported at The Atlantic last month, Harry Reid had to intervene twice to stop Sanders:
It took Reid two conversations over the summer of 2011 to get Sanders to scrap the idea, according to multiple people who remember the incident, which has not been previously reported.
That summer, Sanders privately discussed a potential primary challenge to Obama with several people, including Patrick Leahy, his fellow Vermont senator. Leahy, alarmed, warned Jim Messina, Obama’s presidential reelection-campaign manager. Obama’s campaign team was “absolutely panicked” by Leahy’s report, Messina told me, since “every president who has gotten a real primary has lost a general [election].”
David Plouffe, another Obama strategist, confirmed Messina’s account, as did another person familiar with what happened.
That wasn’t the end of Sanders’ disgust with Obama, either:
The low point between the two men was a 2013 meeting with other Democratic senators. Obama had just put a chained Consumer Price Index in his budget, a proposal that would cut Social Security benefits by tying them to the rate of inflation. Many Senate Democrats were angry about it. But when they arrived for the meeting, it was Sanders who bubbled up, ripping into Obama for giving in to Republicans and not understanding the impact of the cuts.
“I don’t need a lecture,” Obama told him, according to several senators who attended the meeting.
Sanders proceeded to give him one anyway. A number of the senators there were struck by what they told me seemed like a lack of respect.
“Obama fairly forcefully pushed back and said, ‘That’s just not right—that’s not a vision that’s enactable or possible,’” one senator in the room recalled, asking for anonymity to discuss the private meeting. “‘You’re acting like I’m the enemy.’ Obama was trying to say, ‘I hear you that you want this revolution, but explain to me, how’s this going to happen? Look at the current makeup of the Senate and the House. How am I supposed to lead?’” Obama said, in this senator’s memory. The conversation quickly got testy. “It seemed the match of someone who prided himself on his cool intellect and removed analysis versus someone who was convinced with absolute ferocity with the rightness of his worldview and is not given to accepting anything from those who don’t agree with it.”
The two men have since become less hostile to each other, but their relationship is a loooooong way off from what this ad depicts. It’s Team Bernie’s attempt to put out the fires their candidate fanned with his Fidel apologetics, but it’s so obviously pandering that it might just undermine his claim to sincerity over politics. If voters want a glad-handing Obama successor, they already have that choice in the primaries.