Dems say Obama return from sidelines is overdue

When former President Obama left the White House, he pledged to take a back seat to make room for other Democrats in the party to shine. 

Nearly 17 months later, that’s proving to be an impossible task. 

Obama drew headlines this week after a Politico report  revealed that he is consulting a long line of would-be 2020 candidates and offering advice to party leadership. And he drew another round of headlines when it was announced that his political committee, Organizing for Action, is revving up to help Democrats in the midterm elections.

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Democrats have turned to the party patriarch as fatigue with the Clintons has set in, a factor exacerbated in recent days by former President Clinton’s tone-deaf comments on Monica Lewinsky and the “Me Too” movement. 


The desire among Democrats for Obama to take a more leading role in the midterm fight and party building in general is just getting stronger, particularly with the lack of alternatives.  

“There’s f---ing no one else,” one frustrated Democratic strategist said. “Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTime running out for Trump's NAFTA talks Pioneer of modern redistricting dies at 75 To reduce urban violence, let's consider the real causes — not guns, police or 'low' taxes MORE is toxic, [former President] Carter is too old, and there’s no one else around for miles.” 

Some say Obama should get off the sidelines — and should have done so earlier. 

“He’s been way too quiet,” said one longtime Obama bundler who rarely criticizes the former president. “There are a lot of people who think he’s played too little a role or almost no role in endorsing or fundraising and he’s done jack shit in getting people to donate to the party.”

The vacuum at the top of the party has been created by the fall of the Clintons; Obama’s disappearance, for the most part, from the public stage; and the fact that other Democrats with national voices are getting ready for 2020. 

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBoogeywomen — GOP vilifies big-name female Dems RealClearPolitics editor: Moderate Democrats are losing even when they win Sanders tests his brand in Florida MORE (I-Vt.) was among five possible contenders for the Democratic crown attending the “We the People” conference in Washington on Wednesday. He received the loudest applause and heard chants of “Bernie.” 

But he can’t play the elder role for the party, both because he may run for president and because he’s not a Democrat. 

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBernie Sanders socialism moves to Democratic mainstream Biden: Aretha Franklin was 'part of the soul of the civil rights movement' Biden to Trump: If you think revoking Brennan's clearance will silence him, 'you just don't know the man' MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBoogeywomen — GOP vilifies big-name female Dems Overnight Health Care: Senate takes up massive HHS spending bill next week | Companies see no sign of drugmakers cutting prices, despite Trump claims | Manchin hits opponent on ObamaCare lawsuit Elizabeth Warren and the new communism MORE (D-Mass.), two other possibilities, have mass followings but also may join the 2020 race. 

The bundler said the lack of endorsements by Obama amid a primary season in which progressive and more centrist candidates have gone head-to-head has been particularly frustrating to some Democrats. 

While Clinton made a number of midterm endorsements after he left office, Obama has stayed away. 

“You have all these people running for office, some of them against other Democrats, and his strategy has been to not endorse anyone and that’s what’s been so f---ing ridiculous because not only are you not helping them, you’re hurting them,” said the bundler, who argued that candidates should be free to reflect their districts and not be pushed to political extremes that might make winning the general election more difficult.

Former aides and Democratic strategists said Obama has sought to maintain a lower profile not only for his party to find new life, but also to avoid playing a foil to President TrumpDonald John TrumpArizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Alyssa Milano protests Kavanaugh in 'Handmaid's Tale' costume Bomb in deadly Yemen school bus attack was manufactured by US firm: report MORE and Republicans. 

A source close to Obama said the former president is looking forward to hitting the campaign trail, fundraising and issuing more endorsements closer to the midterms. But the source added that injecting himself into day-to-day politics would do the Democratic Party a disservice by making it more difficult for other Democratic voices to rise to prominence.

The source pointed to four fundraisers Obama has done since leaving office: One for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), one for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), one for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a fundraiser for Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Schumer to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday GOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work MORE (D-Mo.) Obama is set to headline DNC and DCCC events in California later this month and will raise money for the NDRC. 

Former aides and strategists maintain that Obama has remained the leader of the Democratic Party, partly by necessity and partly by default.

“He always wanted to help, without a doubt. He cares tremendously about our country and our party. But I think he always intended to be a little more on the sidelines than he’s been,” said one former Obama aide. “I think he realizes he is needed and needed badly.”

Those around him say he has tried to reemerge from private life only when it’s absolutely warranted and when he wants to weigh in on a particular issue. 

In June, he’s tweeted about National Gun Violence Awareness Day, the passing of Anthony Bourdain and the Washington Capitals victory in the NHL Finals. 

Ex-aides say Obama has been unsettled by not only the tone and tenor of the Trump administration but by the policy stemming from his former office.

“It’s certainly not the post-presidency he might’ve preferred,” said Democratic strategist David Wade. 

The New York Times earlier this week reported that Obama made clear in a meeting with his aides that “recapturing the House and helping Democrats gain more influence in the redistricting process were two of his top goals.” 

Those who worked for Obama say it’s not surprising the former president is wanted on the political stage.

They noted that his approval ratings are up, making it easy to see why Democrats would want his fundraising and most would seek his endorsement.

“President Obama’s approval ratings were rising in the final year of his presidency, thanks largely to an improving economy and the sense that many of his most high-stakes decisions were paying off,” said David Litt, who served as a speechwriter to the former president and went on to write a memoir, “Thanks Obama.”

“On top of that, ex-presidents almost always see their popularity increase after they leave office, and President Trump has accelerated that process,” Litt added.