Disgraced 44th president Barack Obama has recently let it be known through a third party what he thinks of Joe Biden’s chances for victory. Obama said to a Democrat pro who leaked it, certainly with Obama’s approval, “Never underestimate Biden’s ability to screw this up.” Various versions of the line are making their rounds on social media, but one thing is clear: Obama does not want to be tarred with a Biden loss.
Actually, Obama is playing a double game. If Biden wins he will take credit. If Biden loses he will say, “I told you so.” This is all in an effort not to damage the Obama brand while Michelle prepares her own run for office, probably in Illinois.
There is a bit of ideology and a vendetta at play here as well. Obama knows at heart Biden is a machine moderate, not a PC radical like himself. Just look at Biden in the 70s when he was first elected to the Senate. He could almost have been called leaning right then. Look at his treatment of Anita Hill when he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991. He wasn’t quite subservient enough for the likes of Obama’s wing of the party and the former chief executive remembers it.
Then there was this primary season and his battle with Sanders. Obama’s socialist heart lies with Sanders, as does almost of all the Obama administration types still active in the party. And the vendetta?
Obama correctly sees Biden as more of a member of the Clinton wing of the party, left wing corporatists, than of his socialist wing. And there is very little love lost between Obama and Clinton. Obama holds Hillary Clinton responsible for squandering his legacy by losing to Trump and Obama still recalls the harsh words between the two camps in the North Carolina primary of 2008.
For his part, Biden’s people know how polarizing and potentially radioactive Obama is to swing voters. They also want their own mandate and reject advice and arm’s length sponsorship from a guy they see as an ineffectual show pony. They saw in the congressional GOP landslide in 2010 and in Trump’s victory that Obama has little to non-existent coattails. After this last leak, their enmity for their boss’ former boss will increase accordingly.
So how does it play out in the general? Obama will continue to walk a tightrope between support for Biden and letting it be known that Biden’s loss is not his proxy loss. Biden will use the ex-president when and where he can, but Biden knows Obama’s double game and will be suspicious of more anonymous leaks.
If President Trump’s team is smart they will do all they can to fan the flames and rub salt in any outstanding wounds. They could run ads in urban areas calling out racial gaffes by Biden and then contrasting them with Obama lines. They can execute that and other tactics to make Obama think the price for sticking with Biden may be too great for the Obama brand to endure. Then, just sit back and watch the fun.