Barack Obama got exactly what he wanted out of the Democratic primary—and not just because Joe Biden has suddenly pulled ahead. His party managed to start sorting out its year-long mess without him.
But Obama is still not going to speak out. He won’t push Sanders out of the race, though the Vermont senator acknowledged on Wednesday, “I have not the slightest doubt that there is enormous pressure on President Obama to step in and support Joe Biden.” He hasn’t ruled out that he might end up campaigning for Sanders instead, and has thought of the case he’d make. But it’s clear to everyone around the former president how much more comfortable he would be making the case for Biden, whom he largely agrees with on policy and whom he really thinks of as a brother.
Obama knows that top Democrats were fantasizing about him stepping in for months, before moderates had coalesced around Biden. He and the people around him heard complaints every day. He knows that many think he was too cautious, and overcorrecting for the appearance of nudging primary voters toward Hillary Clinton in the run-up to the 2016 election. Sometimes his friends and aides told him a more gentle version of what was often being said behind his back: that there’s too much at stake for him to be worrying about respecting the process and protecting his own legacy. His answer was still no—precisely, he argues, because there is so much at stake, and he can see what a mess the party is, and that it could very well get worse.