In the aftermath of Biden’s first primary victory after three decades of running for president, we saw Democrats coalesce behind the former vice president. Pete Buttigieg dropped out, as did Amy Klobuchar. Even Beto O’Rourke came out of hiding and endorsed Biden, as did Harry Reid and Susan Rice.
Missing from the list of endorsements, however, is Barack Obama. You might have heard about him, Joe Biden has been name-dropping him repeatedly throughout his campaign. Despite claims by Amy Klobuchar that this isn’t a coordinated effort to stop Bernie Sanders, we’re not stupid. The party doesn’t want Sanders to win the nomination, and quite frankly, they don’t want a repeat of the 2016 battle between Hillary and Bernie, either. Though, it seems likely at this point that’s where we’re headed.
There’s very little reason to believe that Joe Biden’s South Carolina victory will give him the momentum he needs to crush Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday. If you look at the polls and do the math, it’s just not likely to happen. Biden being endorsed by his former primary opponents might help him some, but thanks to early voting, probably not as much as he would hope. His best chance to have really changed the dynamic of the race would have been the endorsement of Barack Obama.
Under most circumstances, it’s smart to stay out of the primary and pledge to endorse the nominee in the general election. But Obama has allegedly been sounding the alarms about Bernie Sanders, while simultaneously not passing the baton to his former vice president. This move made sense when there were multiple contenders for the nomination, but now that this has become essentially a two-man race between Biden and Sanders, Obama’s moment to endorse Biden presented itself very clearly and yet he didn’t.
Every other endorsement Joe Biden has received in the 72 hours since his South Carolina victory is nothing compared to the impact of a Barack Obama endorsement. Despite the party continuing to move further to the left since his presidency, Obama remains a highly symbolic and popular figure to those who have managed to convince themselves he was a good president who saved the economy and never had any scandals.
With voting currently underway, Obama could endorse Biden now and it would be too late. The chance to change the dynamic of the race is gone. There’s no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama was aware he had the moment to endorse Biden and didn’t take it. The question is: “why?”
It’s possible that Obama is not confident that his endorsement can save Joe Biden. In 2016, Hillary was always the heir apparent to his legacy, but that wasn’t enough to quash the movement that supports Bernie Sanders. Had the primary not been rigged in her favor, Bernie would have likely won the nomination. Taking that into consideration, Obama simply might not be willing to put his political capital on the line to save Joe Biden. Obama said he saw Trump’s victory as a personal insult. He campaigned heavily for Hillary Clinton and it wasn’t enough. Does he really want to show the world he’s lost his influence in the Democratic Party now? Joe Biden, with all of his gaffes and historically poor record, just isn’t worth the risk of damaging his brand.
But with Super Tuesday underway, it’s still anyone’s guess whether anyone will emerge as the clear victor, or if we’re looking at another prolonged primary between Bernie Sanders and the establishment candidate. If stopping Bernie Sanders were really that important to Barack Obama, he should have endorsed Joe Biden. It would have been risky, given how close Super Tuesday was to the South Carolina primary, but Obama probably should have taken that risk if he really believes Sanders can’t win.
If Bernie Sanders emerges with more delegates after Super Tuesday, Barack Obama will be the one to blame. He had the best chance of giving Joe Biden the boost he needed and he didn’t take it.
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