Why Hasn't Barack Obama Endorsed Joe Biden for President Yet?
What is he waiting for?
The past three days have been a political whirlwind in the Democratic presidential primary. Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose campaign was believed dead after embarrassingly poor showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, reanimated like Frankenstein’s Monster on Saturday with a thirty-point blowout victory in the South Carolina primary.
Additionally, in the past twenty-four hours, two competitors in the moderate lane, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, have suspended their campaigns and plan to endorse Biden simultaneously at a rally this evening in Dallas. The Democratic establishment is quickly moving to coalesce itself around a single candidate.
So the question remains: when, and will, former President Barack Obama endorse his old running mate?
Since his announcement, Biden has pitched himself as the candidate closest to the legacy of Obama and the person most likely to return to the heady days before the election of Donald Trump. “And if the Democrats want a nominee who’s a Democrat, a lifelong Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat, join us,” he told his cheering supporters during his South Carolina victory speech.
Following his speech, Obama called to congratulate Biden on his primary victory (the first in his life) but did not offer an endorsement.
Biden has claimed since his announcement that he explicitly told Obama not to endorse him. “I want to earn this on my own,” he said. “I have no doubt when I’m the nominee he’ll be out on the campaign trail for me.”
The truth might be more complicated. Despite the public adulation of each other, behind the scenes of the Obama presidency the two men had a more stressed relationship. When Barack Obama chose Biden, a man twenty years his senior who had just concluded his second failed presidential campaign, to be on his ticket, it was because he did not want to deal with an internecine succession battle. This still almost came to pass in 2016, when Biden mulled a late challenge to Hillary Clinton. Obama was one of several people to quietly talk him out of it.
“We are skeptical that an endorsement coming from us could truly change the political winds right now,” an anonymous Obama associate told CNN. “And if he were try to put his thumb on the scale now, it would take away his ability to do so when it’s most needed—the general election.”
On the other hand, there have been reports that Obama would feel required to intervene in the primary if Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, appeared to be running away with the nomination. The likelihood of this possibility has decreased dramatically.
Other establishment personalities are not ready to be as restrained. This weekend Biden received multiple endorsements, including Harry Reid, the former senate majority leader and political boss of Nevada; Terry McAuliffe, former Governor of Virginia and Democratic fundraising guru; and Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz, former Chair of the Democratic National Committee who resigned in 2016 amid scandal.
That scandal, that the DNC was putting its thumb on the scale and tipping support to their preferred candidate, Clinton, over the challenger Sanders, led to a lot of ill will that still exists today. Now Sanders stands as the embattled frontrunner, and many in the Democratic establishment have said explicitly that they will work to deny him the nomination.
Barack Obama, by staying out of the primary, hopes to be able to heal his party after the blood sport likely to occur in Milwaukee at the Democratic National Convention in July. Whether Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders—neither of whom appear to have been his first choice—is the nominee, Obama plans to campaign hard in the fall to unseat President Donald Trump.
Hunter DeRensis is the senior reporter for the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.