President Obama did not come right out and say it. In his position he cannot really afford to explicitly choose one faction of the Democratic Party over another. But in a lengthy Politico interview released on Monday, Mr. Obama all but endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidency.
“She’s extraordinarily experienced – and, you know, wicked smart and knows every policy inside and out,” said Obama in his interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush for a new podcast.
The occupant of the Oval Office has to handle many problems that come blasting through the door every morning like water from a fire hose, Obama said, in essence. You can be sitting down, drafting a speech, when an aide sticks their head in and says some American sailors have just been captured by Iran.
He implied that Mrs. Clinton, with her long experience in government, is the candidate best prepared to handle that aspect of serving as president.
“[The] one thing everybody understands is that this job right here, you don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one thing,” Obama said.
This does not mean the president knocked Bernie Sanders. To the contrary, he sounded admiring of the Vermont senator as an outsider who blasted into the Democratic primaries via strong, authentic beliefs about the nature of economic inequality.
“Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose,” Obama said.
But when asked whether Senator Sanders’s insurgent 2016 campaign bears any resemblance to his own 2008 outsider effort, the president said, “I don’t think that’s true.”
Will Obama’s non-endorsement backing of the Clinton campaign make a difference? After all, to some extent, it may not matter whether he’s explicit here or not.
Clinton has carefully cast her effort as a continuation of what Obama has started. For instance, she’s attacked Sanders on health care by pointing out that his ambitious plans for a single-payer government-run US system would necessarily entail the dismantling of Obamacare, the hardest-fought domestic political victory of Obama’s term in office.
To the extent that Democrats believe Clinton to be the chosen successor, the quasi-nod may matter. Obama’s middling approval ratings mask the fact that he remains very popular in his own party. Among Democrats, his approval rating has averaged between 82 and 84 percent during his time in office, according to Gallup.
However, in a general election Obama might weigh Clinton down. His approval rating among Republicans is only 13 percent. Among self-described independents it is 34 percent.
And some Republicans claim that Obama’s Clinton endorsement proves he was never serious with his “Hope and Change” theme in 2008. Facing a choice between one Democrat who’s promising more of the same, and another who wants major alterations in the United States political system, he’s choosing the former, goes this criticism.
“Obama’s seen the future and . . . he apparently prefers the past,” writes right-leaning Ed Morrissey of the “Hot Air” blog.