Former President Barack Obama finally weighed in on the Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday by endorsing his former vice president, the only candidate left in the race.
Joe Biden, the 77-year-old two-term VP to Obama, emerged as the nominee-in-waiting after rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reluctantly dropped out last week. Sanders endorsed Biden on Monday.
Obama released a 12-minute video on Tuesday, saying he was “proud to endorse my friend” for president of the United States. He referenced the coronavirus pandemic in his statement and said times of crisis make the need for good leadership more critical—“the kind of leadership that’s guided by knowledge and experience, honesty and humility, empathy and grace.”
“I believe Joe has all the qualities we need in a president right now,” he said.
Biden rarely missed an opportunity on the campaign trail to remind everyone he was “Obama’s guy” but, from the outset of the primary process, Obama made clear to every candidate that he would not endorse anyone until the primary’s conclusion.
Biden, who was discouraged from making a 2016 presidential run by Obama, even said himself that he had asked Obama not to endorse him so that whoever won the nomination would do so “on their own merits.”
Obama was also sensitive to lingering hurt feelings from the 2016 race, when he endorsed Hillary Clinton before Sanders dropped out.
But the former president’s radio silence still left many in the Biden camp personally offended after their candidate had to muscle his way through a rocky primary and fight back from consistently low polling in the lead up to his Super Tuesday wins.
“I think that everyone is playing along with the campaign line on that—on Joe’s line—but, I mean, how could you not expect quote-unquote your best friend to support you?” a Democratic source close to Biden told The Daily Beast last week. “For fuck’s sake—in what surreal world does a vice president not expect the support of their boss, someone that they were that close to, and oversaw so much of their foreign and domestic policy, and received the only Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction?”
President Trump had also seized on Obama’s silence, saying it “amazed” him that Obama “has not supported Sleepy Joe.”
“He knows something that you don’t know. That I think I know. But you don’t know,” Trump said last Thursday.
Several people close to Biden said they believed he was a stronger candidate for not having Obama’s endorsement as it forced him to break through a tough campaign on his own.
However, now that Obama has weighed in on the race, the question is whether it will provide the balm needed to bring the Democratic party together ahead of November.
“I think it will definitely change the temperature of the race,” Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina and senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee, told the Daily Beast last week.
Obama made some overtures to unity in his endorsement message, saying victory was the only way to bring about a progressive agenda of green energy initiatives, climate change action, and expanded access to health care.
“Democrats may not always agree on every detail or the best way to bring about each and every one of these changes but we do agree that they’re needed and that only happens if we win this election,” he said, adding that “our country’s future hangs on this election.”
He praised Sanders as “an American original” and said the Democratic primary field was one of the best ever, filled with decent people with smart ideas and bold visions for the future.
“[Sanders] and I have not always agreed on everything but we’ve always shared a conviction that we have to make America a fairer, more just, more equitable society,” he said.
Biden, a party centrist who may struggle to win over some of the Democratic Party’s far-left flank, has the most progressive platform, based on “real structural” change to fix vast inequality, Obama said.
He described Biden as a genuine and empathetic politician, a lifelong teacher, a parent of a veteran, and a “steely” man of God, who has consistently fought for the middle class and who personally knows the pain of grief and loss.
“Through all his trials he’s never once forgotten his values or the moral fiber that his parents passed on to him, that made him who he is,” he said.