The title question today comes to us via the latest syndicated column from our friend Andrew Malcolm. He notes that former President Barack Obama has, at least for the most part, stayed admirably silent about the 2020 elections thus far. That’s a rather curious state of affairs when you consider how hard he worked to craft his image as a non-threatening centrist during his own campaigns. Today, with the Democrats seemingly racing each other to see who can dive off the cliff into full-blown socialism, does his silence indicate some sort of tacit approval of these developments? Or is he biting his tongue in frustration over a leftward lurch that could leave the eventual nominee virtually unelectable? If so, the day may be coming when he speaks up.
The biggest remaining question this cycle is: What, if anything, will Obama do to join the party hierarchy, publicly or perhaps behind the scenes, and stall Sanders’ momentum as he tries to assemble the 1,991 delegates necessary for a first ballot victory at the party’s national convention in Milwaukee come mid-July?
Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist,” but the qualifying nuance is certain to be lost in a campaign against the detested but well-financed Donald Trump. Party leaders’ fear is that a likely resounding thumping on Nov. 3 of the man proposing countless trillions in new taxes and spending would also cost Democrats their House majority and their attempt to erase the GOP’s slim advantage in the Senate.
On the other hand, an obvious bid to push the convention to a second ballot could well alienate the fervent Sanders crowd on the left as yet another perceived rigging of results to deny the independent senator what they view as his hard-earned rightful place atop the national ticket of the party he does not belong to.
A more cynical person might opine that Obama is remaining on the sidelines not out of some impulse to honor the traditions established by previous presidents, but because he simply doesn’t care. After all, he already cashed in on the office in a big way, departing with book deals to complete and Netflix docuseries to produce. Why should he care if the Democrats drive themselves into a ditch?
But somehow I don’t think that’s it. I’m pretty sure that Barack Obama is watching these events closely and, assuming he wasn’t faking everyone out over his entire career, recoiling in horror. That’s not to say that he might not approve of some of the more radical, populist proposals being put on the table. But he also surely knows that many of them are not popular in the heartland and the Democrats may be setting themselves up for an electoral disaster in November and four more years of the Bad Orange Man.
Andrew also reminds us, however, that Obama may be looking at the lessons of American political history and remaining wary of trying to stamp out Bernie in favor of his own former Veep. The fact is, former Vice Presidents haven’t fared well in presidential bids in the modern era. Just consider the fates of Vice Presidents Al Gore, Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon in 1960. The only one to win their own presidential term on the first try was Bush 41, but as Malcolm notes, that was more of a third term for Reagan than anything else.
If Barack Obama is averse to the likely toxic effects of Sanders’ socialism but worried about the viability of Biden as the nominee, what’s left? Could he possibly be considering Mike Bloomberg? After all, the former NYC mayor has been running endless advertisements featuring pictures of him with Obama and talking about how they worked together in the past. If Obama objected to his image being used that way he’s had plenty of time to complain, but he hasn’t. An Obama endorsement would go a long way toward solving Bloomberg’s image problems or at least push the party closer to a brokered convention where Mike could buy the nomination using the superdelegates. And that would really throw a monkey wrench into the entire works.
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