2019年11月18日 星期一

On Politics: Barack Obama Can’t Be Bothered

He feels liberated to weigh in on 2020 despite the online backlash, people close to him say.
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By Lisa Lerer

Politics Newsletter Writer

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

Did Barack Obama just cancel himself?

That’s the question an editor here asked me on Saturday, as we watched comments Mr. Obama had made about the 2020 race reverberate across social media.

In case you missed it: Mr. Obama expressed some thoughts at a meeting of wealthy donors in Washington on Friday night. Aides billed the event as a chance for him to calm some of the anxiety that establishment party types are expressing about the Democratic field. Mr. Obama did that, reminding them of how brutal his primary fight was against Hillary Clinton in 2008 — and, hey, that turned out O.K., right?

Then, Mr. Obama’s remarks veered into his own worries about the field.

“I don’t think we should be deluded into thinking that the resistance to certain approaches to things is simply because voters haven’t heard a bold enough proposal and if they hear something as bold as possible then immediately that’s going to activate them,” he said. “People rightly are cautious because they don’t have a lot of margin for error.”

“This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement,” he added. “They like seeing things improved, but the average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”


No one was mentioned by name. While Mr. Obama has spoken privately with nearly all the candidates, he’s been very careful to avoid even the appearance of influencing the race.

But it was pretty clear who Mr. Obama was talking about this time — Senators Elizabeth Warren (“big, structural change”) and Bernie Sanders (“political revolution”).

I was covering his remarks and there wasn’t much reaction from the room at the time. But by the next morning, tweets were flying, a hashtag had been created — people proudly proclaimed they were #TooFarLeft — and voters, activists and strategists were chattering.

And, boy, did they have plenty to say. Mr. Obama got a resounding chorus of “O.K. boomer” from liberal activists, who questioned his record on issues like health care, climate change and immigration.


Of course, as readers of this newsletter know, Twitter is not real life. The views of Democrats on social media often bear little resemblance to those in the wider electorate. Twitter Democrats are whiter, more liberal and more politically active, according to a New York Times analysis from earlier this year.

People close to the former president say he wasn’t bothered by the reaction. At this point in his life, he feels liberated to give what he sees as his best advice to his fellow Democrats based on his political experiences.

And he’s giving voice to concerns from moderates that have been bubbling up for several weeks now as Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders have shown resilience in the polls. But Mr. Obama’s sentiments are in direct conflict with what the more liberal activists who have an outsize role in the party’s politics and the nominating process have been expressing.

Still, it’s worth noting that my colleague Jenny Medina was at the California Democratic Convention in Long Beach on Saturday — and none of the political types she spoke to had seen the Twitter backlash to Mr. Obama’s comments.


If Mr. Obama was right about one thing, it’s that the disconnect between the wings of the party is real.

I want to know what you all think about Mr. Obama’s remarks.

Is he right that Democrats are playing risky politics by pushing to the left? Or, is his brand of more centrist politics simply not meeting today’s “fierce urgency of now?”

Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com. Please include your name and location. We may feature you in an upcoming edition of this newsletter!

Democrats don’t think impeachment helped them win

Gov. John Bel EdwardsEmily Kask for The New York Times

Democrats scored a big victory in a second red state over the weekend, when Gov. John Bel Edwards won re-election by more than 40,000 votes in Louisiana. His victory came less than two weeks after another Democratic win, a narrow one in the Kentucky governor’s race.

President Trump had invested political capital in both off-year races, seeing potential Republican victories as a way to steady his political footing amid the drumbeat of impeachment news.

In rallies before the elections, he cast the contests as a referendum on himself.

“You got to give me a big win, please, O.K.,” the president pleaded with his supporters last Thursday in Bossier City, La.

Yet, officials on both sides of the aisle said those Democratic victories came in spite of the impeachment inquiry — not because of it.

“It was not a help,” Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, who was deeply involved with all three races as head of the Democratic Governors Association, told me on Sunday evening. “Candidly, it made it more difficult, if anything.”

We’ve spent a lot of time analyzing how impeachment may be affecting our politics. These two races give us the start of an answer.

For months, Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to start House impeachment proceedings, pointing to the reluctance of her members who had flipped more moderate, suburban districts in the midterms, handing Democrats control of the chamber.

Now we have some evidence for the political rationale behind her hesitation: In deeply conservative states like Louisiana and Kentucky, which Mr. Trump won in 2016 by 20 points and 30 points, the House impeachment process rallied his base, according to Ms. Raimondo — encouraging Mr. Trump’s voters to turn out and defend him.

But any Republican backlash against impeachment wasn’t enough to elevate the Republican candidates who had tied themselves to Mr. Trump. In these two governor’s races, the pro-Trump turnout was still smaller than the coalition of African-Americans and moderate whites in suburbs and cities energized to come out and support the Democrats, who were well known in their states. (Republicans did pick up a win in the Mississippi governor’s election.)

That dynamic happening in conservative states should be a big, flashing danger sign for the president, who will be fighting for his re-election in far more purple places.

Much of the outcome of the 2020 race is likely to depend on whether either party — or an event like the impeachment inquiry — is able to alter that balance.

Come to TimesTalks in Washington

Join Jennifer Steinhauer, a Washington correspondent for The Times, on Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C., for a discussion with four of the 131 women of the 116th Congress.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear these four trailblazing women share their personal perspectives on what it means to be a woman — and a woman in power — in 2019. Included in the ticket price is a copy of the new book “The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power.” Buy tickets here.

… Seriously

What do you do with $7,000 of surplus campaign shoelaces?

Our far-flung political reporter Jenny Medina sends along this report: Representative Eric Swalwell’s extra swag from his short-lived presidential campaign has finally found its forever home.

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Thanks for reading. On Politics is your guide to the political news cycle, delivering clarity from the chaos.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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