Barack Obama’s official and long-awaited endorsement of Joe Biden on Tuesday was likely greeted by a collective sigh of relief from the Democratic establishment. But what was largely seen as Obama’s inevitable support for his vice president’s White house ambitions might not mesh that well with the so-called Bernie Bros — loyal supporters of Bernie Sanders — even after the Vermont senator suspended his own campaign and theoretically cleared the path for Biden to be the presumptive Democratic nominee.
The endorsement could prompt them to reluctantly rally around Biden as a means to defeat the person who Sanders has called “the most dangerous president in modern history.” Or, more perilously, the endorsement could make them even more resolute in their support for their preferred candidate, who made no secret of keeping his name on the ballots for the remaining primaries.
Regardless, Obama could not have been more clear or more urgent in his endorsement of Biden.
Without mentioning Donald Trump’s name, Obama spelled out the country’s future based on the present if voters re-elected the incumbent president.
“Right now, we need Americans of goodwill to unite in a great awakening against a politics that too often has been characterized by corruption, carelessness, self-dealing, disinformation, ignorance, and just plain meanness,” Obama said matter of factly.
While Obama has been largely playing the sidelines during the primary process, his role has been understated, according to a New York Times report published Tuesday. Obama “had at least four long conversations with” Sanders before the Vermont senator suspended his campaign on Wednesday. The New York Times also reported that Biden was hesitant to involve Obama too much in his campaign, something that stood in stark contrast to the repeated requests from the Democratic National Committee for him to play a larger role.
“But the former president, often communicating through Eric Schultz, a political aide who has also served as a bridge to the Biden campaign, insisted that his best use would be as a passive peacemaker,” the Times reported.
Now, with Biden as the only Democratic candidate who has not suspended his campaign, Obama has also been cleared, so to speak, to factor much more heavily in a race against Trump that was expected to turn nasty.
It may be up to Obama to figure out a way to bridge the divide between Biden and Sanders’ supporters, many of whom have threatened to either withhold their votes or cast ballots for another candidate to demonstrate their displeasure with the Democratic Party as a whole. That was true for Sanders’ youngest supporters, especially the Black ones, two demographics that helped power Obama to victory in both of his presidential elections.
A Sanders ad tried to bridge the disconnect between him and Obama, but it was greeted with skepticism and called “disingenuous” on social media.
In reality, Sanders and Obama have had more of a complicated relationship.
According to The Atlantic, during Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, multiple sources reported that Sanders considered running against him in the primaries before ultimately supporting Obama’s reelection. Sanders’ deputy campaign director Ari Rabin-Havt denied these reports, telling CNN, “This never happened. Bernie Sanders never considered a primary challenge to Obama. Bernie was running for reelection in 2012 and that’s what he was focused on.”
However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Sanders has disagreed with Obama immensely on political stances or actions. For example, back in 2017, he called the former president’s speech at a Wall Street-sponsored event “distasteful,” according to Time. This was an event where Obama accepted $400,000 to speak. Sanders explained, “I think at a time when people are so frustrated with the power of Wall Street and the big-money interests, I think it is unfortunate that President Obama is doing this.”
Biden’s campaign team also spoke out after Sanders released his Obama ad.
“Barack Obama chose Vice President Biden to be his partner over eight years in the White House, entrusting him with managing the stimulus that saved our economy from a depression, obtaining the deciding vote for the Affordable Care Act, and countless national security priorities,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates explained. “By contrast, Senator Sanders explored a primary challenge to President Obama, who he compared to a ‘moderate Republican’ and said was not a ‘progressive.’ As recent history has proven, no quantity of ads can rewrite history — and there’s no substitute for genuinely having the back of the best president of our lifetimes.”
However, if the stance from Sanders’ former national press secretary was any indication for how his other supporters really feel, it’s going to be a tough row to hoe on the way to Election Day. Briahna Joy Gray tweeted on Monday that she would never endorse Biden’s candidacy unless he conceded to a set of conditions that includes softening his stance on healthcare.
That type of attitude could lead to a repeat of the 2016 election when 10 percent of Sanders’ supporters voted for Trump.