Election 2016

As Sanders Polls Closer to Clinton, Obama Declines to Stick His Neck Out

It's typical for the president not to endorse early, but it's a reminder there's no true 'successor.'


It's a toss up as to who looks less sincere in this picture.
Credit: marcn / photo on flickr

There's much ado in the media over the fact that President Barack Obama is at this point declining to endorse a successor within the Democratic Party before the primaries started. Well, really, the ado is over the fact that he's not endorsing Hillary Clinton. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told Meet the Press on Sunday the president will not endorse a Democratic nominee until he or she has been chosen by the party.

It is not unusual for the president to wait, though it may feel odd given Clinton's former relationship with the Obama administration as secretary of state. The Christian Science Monitor notes that some of the more recent Republican presidents (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) declined to endorse candidates prior to the primaries. Our previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, did endorse Al Gore earlier, though, and that might be what's setting some tongues wagging.

Obama has also declared that he won't endorse a candidate in either party that doesn't support his perception of "common-sense gun reform." Some pundits are perceiving this as a nudge toward trying to push Bernie Sanders, who has a history of votes that at least acknowledge that the Second Amendment exists and means something.

It must nevertheless sting for at least some in Clinton's campaign, if not Clinton herself, to have this typical "wait and see" scenario play out. Clinton's entire campaign is revolving around not only aping just about every single one of Obama's positions, but the very dynamic of candidate as beloved activist celebrity drawing the stars out in support.

And yet, something is just not gelling as well for her as it did for Obama (eventually—recall his initial underdog status). The possibility of a Sanders upset in Iowa and New Hampshire is growing. Polls have Sanders within six points of Clinton among Iowa caucus-goers and four points behind Sanders in New Hampshire among likely voters. As always, we should overestimate neither the polls nor the value of the outcomes of these early states, but the polls do help highlight why Obama is holding his tongue. Lots of Democratic voters do not see Clinton as the natural successor to Obama, despite the way she's campaigning. And perhaps there's a significant number of Democratic voters who actually don't even want Obama 2.0.

Of course, her email scandal from her private server as secretary of state continues to unspool. Unnamed sources (take it for what it's worth) tell Fox News the FBI is considering whether the possible intermixing of Clinton Foundation work and her work as secretary of state might have violated anti-corruption laws.