Relatively quiet throughout the course of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, former President Barack Obama may have had more behind the scenes influences on the nominating contest and its results than those in his inner circle have let on.
Shortly after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ surprise Wednesday departure from the race, CNN reported that Obama has been in frequent contact with the radical progressive over the last few weeks as Sanders’ campaign suffered a steady loss of traction after Super Tuesday.
Over-performing in several first-to-vote states, Sanders fell more than 300 delegates behind longtime establishment favorite and Obama administration Vice President Joe Biden, according to RealClearPolitics, and was rumored to have been questioning his campaign’s viability for some time.
“I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful, and so today I am announcing the suspension of my campaign,” Sanders told supporters in a social media livestream Wednesday. “If I believed we had a feasible path to the nomination, I would certainly continue the campaign — but it’s just not there.”
The senator’s official departure all but assures Biden a clear path to uncontested nomination at the Democratic National Convention in August, barring an unforeseen turn of events.
Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders spoke multiple times in the last few weeks as the VT senator determined the future of his campaign, per a source familiar with the conversation.
The path is now clear for Obama to endorse Joe Biden, but that process will be highly choreographed.
— Dan Merica (@merica) April 8, 2020
Sanders’ team has been coordinating extensively with the Biden camp since early March.
Barack Obama was part of those discussions, and he has spoken with both Biden and Sanders multiple times in the past month. https://t.co/O51ktD7GWA
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 8, 2020
Obama has been known as a player in the unofficial campaign advisory business this campaign cycle since at least November, making calls and inviting Democratic primary candidates to his personal offices in D.C. to talk strategy and messaging.
According to Politico, nearly every candidate to announce for the 2020 nomination last year made that “pilgrimage,” keeping in touch with the former president to seek out advice on the trail.
Exactly what Sanders and Obama discussed in their more recent phone communications has not yet been revealed, CNN reported.
However, the outlet’s anonymous source, apparently familiar with Obama’s advisory meetings, did say victory over incumbent Republican President Donald Trump in November would likely have been at the forefront of conversations with Sanders.
“While the content of those conversations remains private, there was always agreement that winning in the fall was paramount,” the source said.
“[Obama’s] private counsel consistently emphasized staying focused on the ultimate goal: Winning the White House in November.”
— The Hill (@thehill) April 8, 2020
Reportedly impressed with the expanded 2020 Democratic field, Obama has been unwilling to provide any endorsements this cycle, even for close friends and cabinet members like Biden or former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.
Instead, party unity has been the former president’s concern.
Unable to truly unify behind Obama-endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016 — partly as a result of discontentment with the nominating process from Sanders’ progressive base — Democrats had been swept away by an unprecedented red wave headed up by Trump, then a political rookie.
For Democrats to avoid such losses again this year, it seems Obama believes there will be no room for such fragmentation within the party.
“Everybody needs to chill out about the candidates,” Obama said at a November fundraiser, according to Vox. “But gin up about the prospect of rallying behind whoever emerges from this process and making sure that we’re hitting the ground running.”
“The choice is so stark and the stakes are so high that you cannot afford to be ambivalent in this race,” Obama added.
“I want us to make sure that we keep in mind, relative to the ultimate goal — which is to defeat a president and a party that has I think taken a sharp turn away from a lot of the core traditions and values and institutional commitments that built this country.
“Compared to that goal, the differences we’re having right now are relatively minor.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.