vision 2020

Obama Is Lending His Aura to Multiple Presidential Candidates

Everybody wants a piece of him. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

You may have heard that Joe Biden’s connection to Barack Obama is an important part of his 2020 presidential campaign’s appeal – say, 80 percent of it. Indeed, it’s more than a bit ironic that someone who spent 34 years in the U.S. Senate and ran for the presidency twice before is relying so heavily on eight years of junior partnership to the 44th president.

Biden insists that he asked Obama not to endorse him, a claim that provokes the rolling of eyes near and far. But the former president’s official neutrality has made it possible for other campaigns to snuggle up to his legacy more indirectly. Most recently, Team Buttigieg has published a list of foreign policy experts who have endorsed Mayor Pete, including many Obama administration alumni, as USA Today reports:

More than 200 foreign policy and national security professionals, including dozens of veterans of the Obama administration, on Monday are endorsing Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg for president.

The text of their joint letter targets President Donald Trump, but the subtext is aimed at former Vice President Joe Biden, who touts his foreign policy experience during the Obama administration as a major asset in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The endorsements are designed to burnish Buttigieg’s credentials as a potential commander in chief and portray him as the leader of a new generation.

Among those from the Obama administration who signed the statement are former Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, former deputy CIA director David Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon, former Under Secretary of Commerce Francisco Sanchez, former State Department adviser Vali Nasr, former White House associate counsel Tess Bridgeman and former National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

This initiative came hard on the heels of a parallel announcement from Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, CNN reports:

With the Iowa caucuses less than two months away, more than 200 Obama alumni joined a signature-gathering effort led by a pair of former senior Obama aides, Sara El-Amine and Jon Carson. Among other roles, El-Amine was national director of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, while Carson was a national field director for Obama’s 2008 campaign prior to joining the administration. Both served as executive directors of Organizing for America, the Obama grassroots organizing network.

The list of endorsers shared with CNN includes Robert Ford, ex-US ambassador to Syria, and Sean Carroll, a former senior official at USAID. It also features Obama alumni who are currently working on the Warren campaign full-time including in senior-most positions, like Warren chief strategist Joe Rospars, senior adviser Emily Parcell, national political director Rebecca Pearcey and national director of public engagement Alencia Johnson.

Because there has been a lot of buzz about Obama and Warren not getting along, and also because of Democratic big-donor hostility to the Massachusetts senator, Obama has personally gone out of his way to give her candidacy a kosher label, as The Hill notes:

[B]ehind the scenes in recent months, former President Obama has gone to bat for Warren (D-Mass.) when speaking to donors reluctant to support her given her knocks on Wall Street and the wealthy. 

And if Warren becomes the nominee, Obama has said they must throw the entirety of their support behind her. 

The former president has stopped short of an endorsement of Warren in these conversations and has emphasized that he is not endorsing in the Democratic primary race. 

But he also has vouched for her credentials, making it clear in these private sessions that he deems her a capable candidate and potential president, sources say.

Complicating the picture even more is the well-known and close connection between Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who could really use some public affection from his friend to lend his very late-developing campaign some oomph. One observer of his effort in New Hampshire told Politico last month: “To call Deval Patrick’s campaign a shoestring operation would be insulting to shoestrings.”

Another increasingly marginal candidate, Julian Castro, was an Obama cabinet secretary, though he has been running a largely anti-Establishment campaign.

One major candidate, however, is not getting much direct or indirect BHO love, as one might expect given his implicit challenge to the former president’s economic policies. There has even been speculation that Obama might go out of his way to oppose him, notes Ryan Lizza:

When it comes to Sanders, I asked one close adviser whether Obama would really lay himself on the line to prevent a Sanders nomination. “I can’t really confirm that,” the adviser said. “He hasn’t said that directly to me. The only reason I’m hesitating at all is because, yeah, if Bernie were running away with it, I think maybe we would all have to say something. But I don’t think that’s likely. It’s not happening.” (Another close Obama friend said, “Bernie’s not a Democrat.”)

Bernie, of course, is doing a lot better in the polls than he was even last month, so the pressure on Obama to get more directly involved in the nominating contest could increase. Tensions arising from Sanders’ challenge to Obama’s policy legacy are natural and real, but the biggest issue for the latter is simply ensuring that for the time being his is the most recent two-term presidency.

Obama Lending His Aura to Multiple Presidential Candidates