President Obama said the 2016 Democratic presidential primary will not be a repeat of the race in 2008, when he emerged as a successful insurgent challenger against the established front-runner, Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonBiden: ‘Guys, I’m not running’ Trump says email hacking during election 'could've been China' or other groups Maxine Waters: ‘I’ve never seen anybody as disgusting or as disrespectful’ as Trump MORE.
“No ... I don't think that's true,” Obama said in an interview with Politico, when asked if he sees Clinton’s chief rival, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersObama makes 0K for speech at A&E event: report Van Jones: Obama should do ‘poverty tour’ Sanders calls for renewed focus on fighting climate change MORE (I-Vt.), as his alter ego in this year’s race.
Obama said Clinton is “wicked smart and knows every policy inside and out” but said that her years in government are also weakness because it “could make her more cautious and her campaign more prose than poetry.”
“I think Hillary came in with the — both privilege and burden of being perceived as the frontrunner,” Obama said. “And, as a consequence, you know, where they stood at the beginning probably helps to explain why the language sometimes is different.”
Sanders, who has earned plaudits on the left for his focus on the issue of income inequality, “came in with the luxury of being a complete longshot and just letting loose.”
The Vermont senator has “tapped into a running thread in Democratic politics that says … why is it that we should be scared to challenge conventional wisdom and talk bluntly about inequality,” Obama added. “That has an appeal and I understand that.”
Obama’s comments come one week before the 2016 presidential election will begin in earnest with the Iowa caucuses. Some recent polls show Sanders leapfrogging Clinton, causing some political analysts to predict he could launch a successful campaign with a victory there, like Obama did in 2008.
White House aides have said the president won’t make an endorsement in the primary, and Obama was careful not to explicitly back one candidate or the other. But he did suggest that Clinton, the former first lady and his first secretary of State, best understands what it takes to occupy the Oval Office.
“What Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics,” he said.
“She can govern and she can start here, day one, more experienced than any non-vice president has ever been who aspires to this office,” he added.
Obama said Clinton and Sanders are “both passionate about giving everybody a shot.” But in a comment aimed at Sanders, Obama said “this job right here, you don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one thing.”
The president also suggested that the Vermont senator has yet to be completely vetted by the media.
“I think that if Bernie won Iowa or won New Hampshire, then you guys are going to do your jobs and, you know, you're going to dig into his proposals and how much they cost and what does it mean, and, you know, how does his tax policy work and he's subjected, then, to a rigor that hasn't happened yet, but that Hillary is very well familiar with.” he said.
The president also weighed in on the Republican presidential primary, saying that Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSeven key players for Trump on immigration Spicer: Media coverage of Trump has not been fair Kasich finds it hard to rule out 2020 MORE and Ted CruzTed CruzKasich finds it hard to rule out 2020 Trump in campaign mode at NRA convention Trump’s hands are tied on 9th Circuit MORE have stoked the American public’s anger.
“This is an expression of frustration,” he said. “It’s real within the Republican Party and the Republican base.”
He said the GOP has grown more extreme than when he defeated McCain in the 2008 election.
“John McCainJohn McCainPoliticians absent from Thompson Reuters brunch McCain downplays threat of pre-emptive strike against North Korea McCain plan gains momentum amid North Korea threats MORE didn't deny climate science. John McCain didn't call for banning Muslims from the United States,” he said. “You know, John McCain was a conservative, but he was well within, you know, the mainstream of not just the Republican Party but within our political dialogue.”
But Obama expressed hope that, when voters go to the polls, they “will settle down and say, ‘Who do we want actually sitting behind the desk, making decisions that are critical to our future?’”