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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 ClintonConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Sen. Walter Huddleston was a reminder that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue No, civility isn't optional 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) SandersHarris presses young people to vote early in Iowa trip Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout 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 BidenTrump: 'You know what I am? I'm a nationalist' Biden jokes about Obama memes: 'Barack did the first friendship bracelet, not me' 'Broad City' stars urge Clinton not to run again MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren wants probe into whether former U.S. soldiers worked as assassins for UAE 'Broad City' stars urge Clinton not to run again Big Dem donors stick to sidelines as 2020 approaches 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 TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: 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 McCaskillDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements McCaskill campaign says ‘intern’ who filmed campaign had access to voter data 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.