[guest post by JVW]
Hey, I’m as sick and tired as the next guy of the onslaught of news regarding COVID-19 and the likely economic fallout. As I acknowledged in my previous post, it’s part of the reason that I haven’t been posting much in the last month. But desperate as I am for interesting stories outside of the dreary news of the day, I am a bit flabbergasted that Barack Obama’s endorsement of Joe Biden in this fall’s election turned into such a big story. Witness:
Janet Hook reporting in the Dog Trainer:
Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday formally endorsed Joe Biden for president, a big step in helping to unite their party and marking his own entry into the fight against President Trump.
Evoking the nation’s current health and economic crisis, Obama said in a video release, “Joe has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times, and heal us through a long recovery.”
There had been little doubt that Obama would back his former vice president once Biden had a lock on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, but Obama — one of the most popular Democrats in the country — had steadfastly withheld any endorsement during the long party contest that featured numerous contenders.
You follow that, folks? It’s simultaneously “a big step” yet one that was utterly expected.
Trevor Hunnicutt and James Oliphant reporting for Reuters:
The swell of support around Biden gives him a dose of energy and attention at a time when the American public is largely focused on the government response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has pushed the presidential race out of the spotlight.
“Because he is so popular and the comparison between President Trump and Barack Obama is so stark, it will be such a unifying, motivating factor,” said Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor and longtime party official.
Is the “dose of energy” being supplied by the voters or by a fawning and sycophantic media? And since when has Barack Obama proven that he can deliver votes to any Democrat candidate when he is not actually the one at the top of the ticket? Does Mr. McAuliffe recall the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections?
Ex-Clinton flack Joe Lockhart spinning for CNN:
Sometimes in politics the least surprising development can be the most important.
This is a true thing that has often been lost amid the reality show-style administration of our current President. While it was expected, Barack Obama’s endorsement Tuesday of Joe Biden is still critically important to the Democrat’s chances of winning back the White House.
Let’s start with the raw politics. Former President Obama’s nod reinforces Biden’s existing strengths among the Democratic constituencies he needs to win the election, particularly black Americans. More importantly, Obama’s help on the campaign trail will motivate young people, many of whom have only recent memories of two presidents in their lives.
Uh, Slow Joe won the nomination because of his strength with black voters. Does he really need Obama’s help in that regard? Was Obama able to deliver black voters for Hillary Clinton four years ago?
Jeanine Pirro and Dana Perino on Fox News:
“When was the last time you remember an ex-president actively campaigning against a sitting president?” the “Justice with Judge Jeanine” host asked on “The Five.” “This is contrary to anything that we have seen in this country before.
“But Barack Obama hates Donald Trump so much that he is going to continue to go after him,” she added. “And it does not matter to him whether it is an empty suit like Joe Biden or a guy who does not know where he is or what he is thinking.”
Co-host Dana Perino, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, said she could not recall her former boss campaigning on behalf of Mitt Romney against Obama in 2012 and added that she also recalled that former President Bill Clinton “laid pretty low” in the 2004 race between Bush and then-Senator John Kerry.
I’m a big fan of Dana Perino, a Colorado girl who went to college in my hometown, but the reason GW Bush wasn’t active in the 2012 election was because he knew he couldn’t help Romney among swing voters, and she forgets that Bill Clinton had major heart surgery two months before the 2004 election which prevented him from seeking the adulation on the campaign trail that he so desperately craves.
One person who agrees with my unenthusiastic reaction to the news is Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight. In a roundtable discussion, he acknowledges the utter ordinariness of the endorsement:
How best to put this … Obama’s endorsement is simultaneously completely unsurprising/pro forma and also an important part of political pageantry.
Like, obviously no one doubted that Obama would endorse the eventual Democratic nominee. And I don’t think it will really matter in terms of winning Biden votes in the general election (although I expect we’ll debate that below).
But it is still a nice little bit of free media for Biden and has come to be an expected part of the modern presidential campaign — the old party leader draping his arm around the new one. Certainly without that moment, Biden would have had a problem, as the question of “Why hasn’t Obama endorsed?” would hang over his campaign. So it’s important in that respect.
I think that Mr. Rakich has it right. To the degree that yesterday’s endorsement qualifies as important news it is because people want to discuss something other than COVID-19 or because the media wing of the Democrat Party wants news about Joe Biden that doesn’t cause one to think immediately of his recent disjointed and inarticulate public addresses from his home library. I suppose if I were a Democrat I would be pointing out that Donald Trump is unlikely to receive the endorsement of two of the three living previous GOP nominees (Bob Dole, good soldier that he is, will probably endorse President Trump again this time around). Yet I wonder how many centrist and left-leaning independents — not loyal Democrats who presumably were bound and determined to vote this year no matter who the nominee — are going to respond favorably to a party establishment candidate being backed by the party establishment.
Fortunately for Mr. Obama this is something of a no-lose scenario. Should his former Vice-President win in November he can take a victory lap and steal credit for the result. Should Mr. Biden lose, the 44th President can shrug his shoulders and grumble privately at what a horrible candidate the party was left with. But I contend that the endorsement and those of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, and whomever else might rear his or her ugly head is virtually meaningless.