Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden, watching Joe Biden announce that he wasn’t going to run for president—exactly what he wanted and had helped make happen.
Four years later, the president has come a long way on his views of a Biden run.
For many Democrats, Biden’s 2020 announcement today is the bookend to the anxiety and regret they’ve been filled with since Election Night 2016, when they watched the “blue wall” of midwestern states fall away from Hillary Clinton: He would have held on to those white working-class voters and beaten Donald Trump, they believe. He would have won.
“It’s one of the great imponderables,” Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who supported Clinton but immediately endorsed Biden today, told me hours before the former vice president released a campaign video that he will follow with events in Pittsburgh and a tour of the early primary states over the next two weeks.
Biden has had that conversation about what might have been in 2016 with himself over the past two and a half years, and he was having it with Obama four years ago.
This time around, Biden said he’s running as an “Obama-Biden Democrat.” In his 2020 announcement, he leaned heavily into the Obama associations and a sense that he is the heir to the Obama legacy. Obama isn’t quite saying the same, though his feelings about this run are complicated too—word went out from someone familiar with the former president’s thinking today saying Obama isn’t endorsing anyone, for the moment. But an Obama spokesperson cited their closeness and put out a statement that said Obama had always valued Biden’s “knowledge, insight, and judgment throughout both campaigns and the entire presidency.” Putting Biden on the ticket, the statement said, repeating a thought Obama has often expressed himself, was “one of the best decisions he ever made.”