In his frankest comments on the 2016 Democratic race to date, President Obama said in a podcast interview published Monday that Hillary Clinton has the skills necessary to govern and that the grassroots enthusiasm surrounding Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders does not remind him of the excitement that propelled his historic 2008 presidential campaign.
“Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose,” Obama told Politico. “I think Hillary came in with the both privilege — and burden — of being perceived as the frontrunner and she has been in the public eye for a long time and in a culture in which new is always better. You’re always looking at the bright, shiny object that people haven’t seen before – that’s a disadvantage to her.”
Obama’s remarks were the closest he has come in public to endorsing his former secretary of state — while distancing himself from the Vermont senator.
The president suggested Sanders will have to broaden his message if he wants to make the transition from a long shot for the White House to a legitimate one.
“One thing everybody understands is that this job right here, you don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one thing,” the president said. “As you’ll recall, I was sitting at my desk there just a little over a week ago … writing my State of the Union speech, and somebody walks in and says, ‘A couple of our sailors wandered into Iranian waters’ … That’s maybe a dramatic example, but not an unusual example of the job.”
When asked if Sanders’ rise reminded him of himself in 2008, Obama replied: “I don’t think that’s true.”
Obama’s comments on the Democratic race come at a critical time for both candidates as they battle for position ahead of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. And for an administration that has publicly affected a nonendorsement strategy, they amount to a tacit endorsement of Clinton, who leads in national polls but finds herself locked in a dead heat in Iowa and trailing Sanders in New Hampshire.
“The truth is, in 2007 and 2008, sometimes my supporters and my staff, I think, got too huffy about what were legitimate questions she was raising,” Obama said. “And there were times where I think the media probably was a little unfair to her and tilted a little my way in calling her out.”
Obama said Clinton “had a tougher job” throughout 2008 primary than he did.
“She had to do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers, backwards in heels,” he said. “She had to wake up earlier than I did because she had to get her hair done. She had to, you know, handle all the expectations that were placed on her.”
He added: “Had things gone a little bit different in some states or if the sequence of primaries and caucuses been a little different, she could have easily won.”
(Cover tile photo:Carlos Barria/Reuters)