After the CNN debates earlier this week, many were shocked to see 2020 Democrats go after Joe Biden by trashing the Obama-Biden years. Biden himself said that while he expected to be attacked, “I was a little surprised how much the incoming was about Barack.” He added, “I hope the next debate we can talk about our answers to fix the things that Trump has broken, not how Barack Obama made all these mistakes. He didn’t.”
But Biden shouldn’t be surprised one bit. If he didn’t expect this, then he’s not a smart candidate. Months ago I pointed out that by jumping in the race, “Biden [wasn’t] simply putting his legacy on the line, but also the legacy of Barack Obama.” Obama’s presidency marked a huge leftward shift for the party, but that leftward shift has continued since he left office.
“In a party racing further and further to the left, [Joe Biden’s] primary opponents will do everything they can to paint the Obama years as insufficient—having not gone far enough for a party that will settle for nothing less than the most radical of positions anymore,” I explained. Democrats who once loved Obamacare and believed in border security are now embracing Medicare for All and open borders. I said back in April that Biden’s opponents will “tie him to Barack Obama and blast the Obama years if that’s what it takes to take him down.” As long as he’s the frontrunner, the only way to knock Biden down is to take Obama down with him.
This should surprise no one. It makes sense. Kamala Harris trying to paint Biden as a racist in the first debate wasn’t enough to take frontrunner status away from Obama’s former vice president, and none of his opponents took advantage of Biden’s inappropriate behavior with women early on to make that a liability for him. Biden’s record in the Senate is old news, but the Obama years are ripe for inspection and introspection, and there’s plenty to legitimately attack.
Former Obama officials are reportedly concerned that criticizing the Obama record is “bad politics” and that “Obama’s legacy could become collateral damage” as a result. For years, Obama and his record have been in untouchable territory. If you disagreed with Obama and his policies during his presidency, you were dubbed a racist. Democrats fell in line without any pushback, and as a result, the party is clearly unprepared for the Obama record to undergo such examination from within their own party. It was politically expedient to brand Republicans as racist for opposing Obama, but not so much when the fire is coming from their own side from people vying for their party’s presidential nomination. Democrat leaders are so uncomfortable right now that they’re telling the candidates to lay off. “Be wary of attacking the Obama record,” said former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder. “Build on it. Expand it. But there is little to be gained—for you or the party—by attacking a very successful and still popular Democratic president.” But that’s hardly a winning proposition for any Democrat candidate that is not Joe Biden.
The candidates believe that Trump is extremely vulnerable and they’re not gonna hold back on attacking the Obama record to get at Biden just because it makes party leaders uncomfortable to see Obama’s legacy get thrown under the bus. It may take some time to see how effective the recent attacks on the Obama-Biden years will be, but expect more as long as Biden leads in the polls.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis