Obama To Democratic Donors: The Sanders Campaign Is Nearing Its End

President Obama told a group of Democratic donors that the Sanders campaign is nearing its end and that they need to start uniting behind Hillary Clinton.

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton listens to U.S. President Obama speak during a meeting with members of his cabinet in Washington

The New York Times reports that President Obama is privately telling Democratic donors that it’s time to unite behind Hillary Clinton:

In unusually candid remarks, President Obama privately told a group of Democratic donors last Friday that Senator Bernie Sanders is nearing the point where his campaign against Hillary Clinton will come to an end, and that the party must soon come together to back her.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that Mrs. Clinton is perceived to have weaknesses as a candidate, and that some Democrats did not view her as authentic.

But he played down the importance of authenticity, noting that President George W. Bush — whose record he ran aggressively against in 2008 — was once praised for his authenticity.

Mr. Obama made the remarks after reporters had left a fund-raising event in Austin, Tex., for the Democratic National Committee. The comments were described by three people in the room for the event, all of whom were granted anonymity to describe a candid moment with the president. The comments were later confirmed by a White House official.

Mr. Obama chose his words carefully, and did not explicitly call on Mr. Sanders to depart the race, according to those in the room. Still, those in attendance said in interviews that they took his comments as a signal to Mr. Sanders that perpetuating his campaign, which is now an uphill climb, could only help the Republicans recapture the White House.

Mr. Obama’s message came at a critical juncture for Mr. Sanders, who had just upset Mrs. Clinton in the Michigan primary and has been trying to convince Democrats that his campaign is not over, despite Mrs. Clinton’s formidable lead in the delegate tally.

Mr. Obama has been careful in public to avoid disparaging Mr. Sanders, given his deeper history and relationship with Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Obama also does not want to alienate the liberal voters who have flocked to Mr. Sanders.

Mr. Obama acknowledged what have emerged as the central complaints about Mrs. Clinton among Democratic activists: that she is not generating enough excitement in her campaign, and lacks the “authenticity” of Mr. Sanders.

Those in attendance described an urgency in Mr. Obama’s tone as he suggested that Democrats needed to come together to prevent an opening for the Republicans, whose leading candidate is Donald J. Trump, to exploit.

Mr. Obama addressed the group four nights before Tuesday’s nominating contests, in which Mrs. Clinton was heavily favored. As it happened, Mrs. Clinton won at least four of the five states that voted — Missouri has yet to be called — further padding her lead in the race for delegates.

Mr. Obama indicated that he knew some people were not “excited” by Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy, a White House official confirmed.

But, while he stressed that he was not endorsing either candidate, and that both would make good presidents, Mr. Obama went on to lavish praise on Mrs. Clinton, describing her as smart, tough and experienced, and said that she would continue the work of his administration. Mr. Sanders has very publicly criticized Mr. Obama on certain policies and has called for a “political revolution.”

Mr. Obama said that he understood the appeal to voters of a candidate who is authentic, the official said. But he also reminded the Texas donors in the room that Mr. Bush was considered authentic when he was running for president, suggesting that being authentic did not necessarily translate into being a good president, in his view.

For the most part, President Obama has continued the practice of previous two-term Presidents and maintained his neutrality in the race for his party’s nomination while the process was still going on. As in the past when it was clear that President Reagan favored Vice-President Bush in the 1988 Presidential primaries, and that President Clinton favored Vice-President Gore in 2000, this silence is often just a formality and that’s really been no different in this case. Notwithstanding whatever bad blood may have existed between Obama and the Clintons in the past, it’s been clear for some time that President Obama would prefer Hillary Clinton to succeed him as the Democratic nominee. In no small part, of course, this is likely because Obama has long viewed Clinton as the Democrat most likely to be able to win the General Election rather than because of any particular admiration that Obama may have for Clinton at this point in their complicated relationship. Whatever the reason, though, this latest report is just the latest indication where the Presidents preferences lie.

The interesting thing about these statements, though, is that it doesn’t seem as though they are likely to have much of an impact on Bernie Sanders or his campaign. For one thing, Sanders has not been relying on the kind of high dollar donors that Obama was speaking to at this gathering. For the most part, this group of people has either gotten behind Clinton already or they’ve waited on the sidelines while she fought out the primary battle with Sanders. When it comes to fundraising, most of Sanders money has come from individual donors who were most likely not among the audience that the President was speaking to when he made these remarks. Moreover, reports that President Obama is telling rich Democrats that its time for Bernie Sanders to give up, which is the clear implication of what the President is saying here, seem just as likely to cause Sanders supporters to rally behind their candidate even more notwithstanding the fact that his candidacy is indeed a lost cause at this point.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Davebo says:

    The interesting thing about these statements, though, is that it doesn’t seem as though they are likely to have much of an impact on Bernie Sanders or his campaign.

    It wasn’t intended to have any impact on Sanders’ campaign. Nothing is going to have an impact on Sanders campaign at this point. As you noted, it’s been all but over since Tuesday night.

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Clinton won at least four of the five states that voted — Missouri has yet to be called

    Unless I’m mistaken, Sanders has already conceded Missouri.

  3. Jeron says:

    It is plausible that he did say that, since the advantage of Hillary is now gigantic. There’s a chance though that this story started as a rumor which has taken a life of its own. It is such a good story that it may appeal to all sides of this: the media’s, Clinton’s supporters, Bernie’s supporters…

    Obama was already aiming at Trump for the past month or so. Just yesterday, Plouffe, one of his former campaign managers was sounding the alarm that Trump had a good chance of winning come November. In other words, they do not want to underestimate Trump’s chances at all.

    Obama is still considered the leader of the Democratic party. Until perhaps Hillary wins the election. The fact that Democrats could fracture and disappoint come November, missing a good chance to make up for the past 6 years or so, gives them reason to worry.

    Given Bernie’s independent leanings, many would expect him to branch out and potentially divide the Democratic party. This is a revolution that interests Trump very much so. Bernie supporters have reasons to be annoyed at their underdog treatment by the media and elites. I’d remind though that this is the same media that is profiting a lot from covering Trump a lot!

  4. An Interested Party says:

    Bernie supporters have reasons to be annoyed at their underdog treatment by the media and elites.

    Surely any wounded feelings on their part will be overwhelmed by the specter of Donald Trump as their president…

  5. Scott F. says:

    Obama is doing here what he has always done – pragmatism first and foremost.

    And I think the pragmatic consideration here has less to do with Obama thinking Clinton is best capable of winning in November than it does with his thinking that Clinton is best capable of governing come January 2017.

  6. Tyrell says:

    This strong arming and pushing by the President seems inappropriate and out of line. It amounts to further stacking of the deck against Sanders. You have the chairman of the party, Debbie Schultz, openly showing favoritism. You have the controlled “news” media with their one sided, slanted coverage.

  7. PJ says:

    @Tyrell:

    This strong arming and pushing by the President seems inappropriate and out of line. It amounts to further stacking of the deck against Sanders.

    I know what you’re trying to do, but, please, entertain us and explain how Sanders at this time would be able to win the nomination. What percentage of the votes do you think Sanders will get in New York, California, New Jersey, Washington, and Pennsylvania?

    It’s over for Sanders. Unless he thinks that he can sway the superdelegates, and he won’t be able to do that either, there’s no way for him to win. He’s not going to get more pledged delegates that Clinton.

  8. Jesse Cooday says:

    Recent polls show Bernie Sanders 53% vs Donald Trump 43%.
    Women for Bernie Sanders 2016 shared — Democratic Presidential Primary 2.0. It runs from March 16 through June 7. It includes none of the “Old South” states, because they all will have already voted. It includes all of the Pacific states, and all of the “Mountain” states except Colorado and Nevada (which already voted). The biggest prizes are California (545 delegates), New York (291) and Pennsylvania (210).
    Democratic presidential primary 2.0 elects a total of 2033 pledged delegates. If Bernie Sanders wins those races (and delegates) by the same 60-40 margin that he has amassed in primaries and caucuses outside the “Old South” to date, then that will give him an advantage of 407 pledged delegates. That is more — far more — than the current Clinton margin of 223.
    Almost 700 pledged delegates are chosen on June 7 alone. It seems unlikely that either candidate will accumulate a margin of 700 pledged delegates before then. So this one may come down to the wire.’ Buckle up. We have work to do.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    Buckle up. We have work to do.

    Indeed…like calling the pharmacy and seeing if the prescription is ready…

  10. PJ says:

    @Jesse Cooday:
    A lot of Sanders supporters don’t seem to understand the numbers. That seems to include you.

    The biggest prizes are California (545 delegates), New York (291) and Pennsylvania (210).

    California has 475 pledged delegates, not 545.
    New York has 247 pledged delegates, not 291.
    Pennsylvania has 189 pledged delegates, not 210.

    Sanders is going to have to get about 58% of the remaining pledged delegates to pull ahead of Clinton.

    Do you actually believe that he’s going to do that in California, New York, and New Jersey? For every state where he fails to get 58% the number goes up for the rest of them, and more so for the larger states.
    Sanders has so far been able to get 58% or more in 6 of his 9 wins, but now he’s going to do it in every state left?

    Do you want to buy a bridge?

  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @PJ: The first stage of grief is denial. I expect they’ll be moving to anger soon, after a few more Sanders losses.

  12. PJ says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    The campaign can lose everything and it won’t matter, because the campaign now believes that it can get super delegates and pledged delegates to switch to Sanders before the convention because the polls show him beating Trump more easily.

    This isn’t denial, it’s insanity.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: On one hand, this sounds like a rerun of the ’08 PUMA story, that Hillary supporters would be disgruntled and sit out the general. Turned out to be a fiction generated by the horse race press. But a lot of Bernie’s support is supposedly enthusiastic millennials. Historically, young people don’t vote. Would they enthusiastically vote for Bernie in the general? Will they sit it out if Hillary’s the nominee? Will some of them shift from populist Bernie to populist Trump? You got me. I don’t even know for sure it’s true they were a big part of Bernie’s success. But I kind of lean toward your theory. They’ll grieve and fairly quickly get to acceptance.

    I think Hillary’s more counting on women to pull her through. Sounds reasonable to me.

    I also think a lot of it depends on what Bernie does. I think that Hillary will reach out and make a deal and I think Bernie is a patriot who recognizes Trump (or Cruz) as an existential (and I mean that quite literally) threat to the Republic. I expect Bernie to be a very effective Hillary surrogate.

  14. ptfe says:

    The math is, indeed, falling short right now for the Sanders camp. On the other hand, I don’t see any downside to him continuing to campaign into the convention, simply because Hillary Clinton is drawing approximately zero media coverage. Sanders isn’t a media genius, but as long as he’s “in the race” (even if he’s got mathematically very long odds), the Democrats get some press — and his causes get press too. It’s good to remind people that there’s an alternative to the balloon animal that stuck up the clown car.

    And I think both Sanders and Clinton know that Sanders’ candidacy is going to end with a call to unify behind the one viable alternative that will remain standing at that point.

    Maybe in 4 years the Republicans will have splintered into the Blue Dogs and the Insane Asylum, and the Democrats will be able to partition into a progressive faction and a centrist faction without fear of flushing the country down the toilet in the process. For now, though, I think the progressives include enough pragmatic people who will spend 9 months pulling for the underdog Sanders but won’t hesitate to rally for Clinton come fall. We’re not going to see a Nader redux this time around.

  15. Davebo says:

    @PJ:

    Ironic.

    This is what it’s come to for Bernie Sanders, that most definitely independent senator from Vermont: With Hillary Clinton enjoying her superest Tuesday yet and mounting what is by any realistic measure a virtually insurmountable lead, he’s planning a last-ditch Hail Mary pass, aimed at winning the nomination by swaying the Democratic Party’s superdelegates.

    Yes, those same superdelegates that Sanders supporters previously denounced as an undemocratic and anti-Democratic tool of the establishment designed to suppress grassroots movements. This would be the group that is the actual, literal, living embodiment of the Democratic establishment that Sanders has so vocally taken on. And this would be the same party whose nomination Sanders sought, he admitted this week, simply as a way to get media attention. Did I call this a Hail Mary? This is a 99-yard field goal.

  16. PJ says:

    @ptfe:

    The math is, indeed, falling short right now for the Sanders camp. On the other hand, I don’t see any downside to him continuing to campaign into the convention, simply because Hillary Clinton is drawing approximately zero media coverage. Sanders isn’t a media genius, but as long as he’s “in the race” (even if he’s got mathematically very long odds), the Democrats get some press — and his causes get press too.

    That entirely depends on what kind of campaign he’s going to run. If he will spend these months attacking Clinton, then he should fold and go back to DC.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @PJ:

    With the unspoken but very real reality that, if he does continue the attack path, he’ll be public enemy number one for Democrats in the Senate when he returns there. In that scenario, he wouldn’t be able to find a single Democratic co-sponsor for a bill renaming a post office, much less anything substantive he might want to accomplish.

    I’ve always more or less thought that he was after his 15 minutes at the podium, which is fine by me. The outcome hasn’t ever really been in doubt, and he introduced some concepts into the conversation that have probably improved the debate in the larger context.

    He’s smart enough to know that running as a Dem was the way to get that, but I remain convinced he’s not nearly stupid enough to set himself out, politically, on an ice floe to die. Those old birds in the Senate have very long memories, and longer knives.

  18. charon says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    There are many diaries at Daily Kos from people still at denial, explaining how Bernie can still win, yes he can!

  19. Tyrell says:

    @charon: There are are 40% of Republicans and Democrats who do not approve of Trump or Hillary. Add 10% independents and you have enough for a successful third party. There are some people out there who could pull it together. I would sure consider voting for someone else.
    Think about this: surveys keep showing that Sanders is more popular and trustworthy then Hillary and Trump.

  20. Pch101 says:

    @charon:

    God created the Daily Kos so that it could be documented that are also at least some leftists who aren’t too bright. This really should just be a math exercise at this point, whether or not one feels the Bern.

  21. george says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    He’s smart enough to know that running as a Dem was the way to get that, but I remain convinced he’s not nearly stupid enough to set himself out, politically, on an ice floe to die. Those old birds in the Senate have very long memories, and longer knives.

    The point of running as a Dem was to not split the vote in the general election come November like Nader did. Do you think it’d have been better for America if Sanders ran as an Independent? Seriously?

    I’d say Sanders has no chance of winning the nomination, and I think (hope) that Clinton will win the presidency. I also think the best way to get there is for Sanders to keep running in the primary until the convention. When he loses he gives a talk there endorsing her, and the party can turn to whoever the GOP has nominated.

    The pro’s:

    1) He continues to pull Clinton to the left (yes she might turn back once in office, but it’d be harder for her to do so the longer she campaigns on the left).

    2) He absorbs all the energy and anger which otherwise might go into an independent rising for the general election which could cost the Dem’s the presidency by splitting the vote.

    3) He keeps Clinton’s name in the press during a very interesting GOP primary.

    4) He keeps the split between Dem’s under control (ie he’s still in the hunt, and he’ll endorse her at the end). If he’s outside, then those unhappy with the established Dem Party have no insider to indentify with, and many will likely go independent. Its the same reason it was very good for Clinton to stay in against Obama after people were calling for her to concede.

    The cons:

    1) Can’t think of any off hand. I suppose he might be draining a bit of money from Clinton’s coffers, but that will more than be refilled once she wins the nomination.

    The point isn’t for Sanders to win the nomination (he won’t and wouldn’t win the general election even if he did), but to give a voice to progressives within the party. Both party’s have basically 45% of the voters locked up; neither can afford to push away or ignore 10% of their followers. The GOP might end up doing just that, but the Dems shouldn’t. Sanders is exactly where the party needs him.

  22. Pch101 says:

    @george:

    Good post. If Sanders can bring his contingent to the Democratic nominee, then he will have been good for the Democrats. His presence makes the party more interesting, and low turnout is the greatest risk that the Democrats face in November.

  23. JKB says:

    Subtext, you’d better slip a little cash in Hillary’s, ahem, pocket, or you are going to get screwed.

    Obama has already said he plans to stay in DC to meddle. I’d say the odds are pretty good, he ends up on the Clinton Foundation payroll.

  24. PJ says:

    @JKB:
    If it wasn’t for the fact the he would have to recuse himself from a number of cases, President Clinton should nominate and the Democrats should confirm Obama as Scalia’s replacement.

  25. PJ says:

    @Pch101:

    Good post. If Sanders can bring his contingent to the Democratic nominee, then he will have been good for the Democrats. His presence makes the party more interesting, and low turnout is the greatest risk that the Democrats face in November.

    Sanders needs to move away from the idea that he can win by getting already pledged delegates to switch or have super delegates throw the election. Nothing good can come from going down that path.
    (Not that I think that he’ll be able to succeed, considering that he has only been a registered Democrat for six months and that his record of helping down-ballot Democrats is abysmal..)

  26. george says:

    @PJ:

    Sanders needs to move away from the idea that he can win by getting already pledged delegates to switch or have super delegates throw the election. Nothing good can come from going down that path.

    I agree. That is a mistake.

  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @PJ:

    considering that he has only been a registered Democrat for six months

    When did Sanders ever register as a Democrat? To my knowledge he has never done so.

  28. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @george:

    The point was that he has already raised ire within the party, particularly among Senate Democrats, by going negative / on the attack against Clinton. They’ll likely forgive him for that IF he falls in line behind her and supports her candidacy once she’s nominated.

    If he decides to keep up the attack position post the convention, they won’t forgive it.

    And they won’t forget it either. He’ll be made to pay a price for that – as he should.

  29. PJ says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    When did Sanders ever register as a Democrat? To my knowledge he has never done so.

    It was reported in September last year, don’t think you’d be able to run in the Democratic primaries without being registered as a Democrat.

  30. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @PJ:

    I had to look into it to be sure. There is actually no requirement in the party rulebook that requires a candidate for the Democratic nomination to be registered as a Democrat (although IMO there well should be.)

    Vermont also doesn’t do registration by party, so Sanders couldn’t register as a Democrat even if he wanted to.

  31. george says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    And they won’t forget it either. He’ll be made to pay a price for that – as he should.

    Quite possibly. Politics is hardball, and if he’s so mentally fragile that he’s not willing to pay the price then he doesn’t belong in there in the first place (including not belonging in the Senate). The same is true for Clinton – if his attacks bother her personally (which I doubt, she’s a pretty tough person and has been quite happy to attack him as well) then she doesn’t belong in their either. I think they’re both tough enough to accept the attacks as just part of the process – at least I hope so, considering this is nothing compared to what’s coming up in the general election.

    None the less, its good for the Dems (and Clinton) that he’s in the race. The negatives he brings up against Clinton are ones progressives are very aware of already, and aren’t ones that the GOP can use against her later on (too close to Wall Street? Too willing to go to war? Neither Trump nor Cruz can use either against her). He’s acting as a pressure release valve for progressives, and that’s very important for Clinton.

    How much a price he pays is also going to depend on what the Senate looks like. If the Dems pick up a few seats so its pretty much even they’re not going to go out of their way to antagonize him at the cost of losing his support (again, Clinton is a pro, she’s not going to risk her program as President to spite him).

  32. george says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I should add I’m talking about his attacks before the convention. He’s promised to endorse her if she wins, and there’s no reason to think he won’t – he doesn’t want a Trump or Cruz presidency either, as he explicitly said. If he continues his attacks afterwards (ie doesn’t endorse her) then its a different position, and I suspect he’ll lose most of his supporters in the process, so his attacks would become meaningless.

  33. PJ says:

    @george:
    Sanders doesn’t have a viable way to win the nomination. Period. He’s not going to get 58% in every remaining state nor is he going to get super delegates to switch.

    He should either drop out or refocus his campaign.

  34. Turgid Jacobian says:

    @PJ: no… Michelle.

  35. ltmcdies says:

    @HarvardLaw92: long memories… good lord, some of them are still on about Robert Bork who was…what…4 presidents ago.