Barack Obama is semi-retired from politics these days, and this suits the former president just fine. But Obama’s standing with Democrats has never been higher, and there are many establishment Democrats who have been begging him to intervene in order to prevent Bernie Sanders from walking away with the nomination.
According to those closest to him, that isn’t going to happen.
“There is no way Barack Obama is intervening, unless something very strange happens,” said a friend who’s heard his reasoning. “He just doesn’t have that in him.” Even if he felt like speaking out against Sanders specifically, he knows such a statement would likely ruin his standing on the left and almost certainly divide the party just when it needs uniting, according to multiple people who’ve spoken with him about the race. Obama and those around him “have a very clear understanding that if they put their finger on the scale right now, all of a sudden half of the Democratic Party hates him,” an influential Democrat who keeps in touch with Obama explained.
The civil war between the left and the loony left is just beginning. Obama knows enough to keep his head down and his powder dry unless he thinks it’s absolutely necessary that he should “put his finger on the scale.”
And he apparently doesn’t think that a Sanders nomination would warrant that intervention.
Anyway, Obama’s team has made clear to Sanders’ inner circle that the former president has no intention of getting involved in the primary. And people from both camps who are familiar with the discussions say the pair has also spoken directly during this election cycle. Top Sanders advisors accordingly viewed the Fox Business report as a case of rogue former Obama aides speaking wishfully and out of turn, rather than a preview of things to come. (The Democratic establishment backlash will be fierce if Sanders starts running away with the nomination, they’re sure, but it won’t come from the ex-president.) The Sanders camp also takes reassurance from 2016, when Obama easily could have spoken up for Hillary Clinton — his chosen candidate — during the rougher parts of the primary, but was careful not to.
Democrats have never understood Obama’s narcissism. The man needs the love and admiration of Democrats and knows that if he intervenes against Sanders, half the party will hate him.
Obama has insisted that he’ll support Democrats’ nominee, no matter who it is, publicly saying so as recently as November. Privately, he reminds friends that the views of the candidate — even if it’s Sanders, whose democratic socialism is a significant break from Obama’s technocratic progressivism — will more closely reflect not just his values, but Democrats’ and the nations’, than Trump’s. He often adds that he expects to campaign often and loudly in the general election, even if he has to step in to try and unite liberals, moderates, and progressives beforehand.
Most Democrats would see a Sanders nomination as a significant break with the Obama era. That simply isn’t true. In fact, stylistically they may be different. But Sanders’ ideology is clearly a grandchild of the Obama presidency. It’s a logical outgrowth of Obama’s desire to “transform” America. Sanders wants a transformation all right — on steroids.
Of course Obama could support Sanders. As a practical matter, he might see the disaster in the making that a Sanders candidacy would be for the Democratic Party. But he has no qualms about supporting Sanders’ agenda and will apparently campaign enthusiastically for it in the fall.