(CNN) – Former United States President Barack Obama played an active, albeit private, role in the Democratic primaries that effectively ended on Wednesday when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders abandoned the race for the presidential bid.
Obama and Sanders spoke several times in recent weeks when the Vermont senator determined the future of his campaign, a source familiar with the conversation told CNN. Sanders’ decision Wednesday to step aside paves the way for Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president for eight years, to become the Democratic candidate.
Obama’s eventual endorsement of Biden and full entry into the campaign, when it occurs, will mark a new phase in the Democrats’ efforts to defeat President Donald Trump.
According to tradition, Obama had previously made it clear that he would not publicly launch into his party’s 2020 presidential primary fight, but promised to support whoever ended up as a candidate. And with Sanders out, the former president’s endorsement of his former running mate is an obvious conclusion, something Trump acknowledged at the White House on Wednesday.
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“He will come out, I’m sure he will have to come out sometime,” Trump said of Obama. “Because he certainly doesn’t want to see me for four more years. We are not… we think a little differently ”.
Obama’s endorsement of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016 was highly choreographed, even though it happened in June, more than a month before Sanders officially endorsed the eventual Democratic candidate.
Although Obama remained relatively quiet during the primaries, only speaking multiple times before voters began casting their vote in 2020, the former president was closely following the debate and holding regular conversations with candidates before, during, and after their respective bets. .
“His private attorney always emphasized staying focused on the ultimate goal: winning the White House in November,” a source familiar with Obama’s calls told CNN.
READ: Bernie Sanders abandons 2020 Democratic presidential race
Obama, the source said, was impressed by the caliber of Democrats who chose to run, and more than two dozen did. But the former president “urged them to keep in mind that we must be well positioned to unify as a party once we have a candidate,” the source said of the calls.
“While the content of those conversations remains private,” the source said of Obama’s calls with Sanders, “there was always agreement that winning in November is paramount.”
Clinton declined to comment on Sanders ending his campaign, a spokesman told CNN on Wednesday.
The story between the two is tense, with Clinton and many of her allies feeling that Sanders stayed in the 2016 race long after his path to victory was closed. And the former secretary of state said her decision to fight until the California primaries in June hurt her in the general election.
“It hurt me, there’s no question about it,” Clinton told Howard Stern in December 2019. “And I hope he won’t do it again with whoever receives the nomination. Once is enough ”.
In the rare moments when Obama commented on the 2020 race, he urged voters to stop worrying about the candidates’ strength and pressured candidates to remember that the biggest victory would come in November against Trump.
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“There will be differences,” Obama said at a November fundraiser on Democratic candidates, “but I want us to make sure we keep in mind that, relative to the ultimate goal, which is to defeat a president and a party that … abruptly removed from many of the core traditions and values and institutional commitments that built this country, “those differences are” relatively minor. “
At the same fundraising event, he denounced the purity tests and said that although the policy arguments are “good,” “you have to win the elections.”
Obama, in a previous fundraiser, also warned against worrying too much about primary bruising, noting that he and Clinton had a difficult primary during the 2008 election.
“I am sure that at the end of the process we will have a candidate who has been evaluated,” Obama said, “and we will be able to proudly carry the Democratic flag, and we will have to unify around that.”