The Slatest

Obama Warns Democratic Candidates Not to Go Too Far Left: “Be Rooted in Reality”

Former President Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Obama Foundation Summit on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology on October 29, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
Former President Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Obama Foundation Summit on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology on October 29, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama has taken pains to avoid commenting on the 2020 Democratic presidential contest, repeatedly saying he will support whoever comes out on top. But he seemed to shift gears a bit Friday night while speaking to a room filled with wealthy donors as he sent an apparent warning to presidential hopefuls to not move too far left. The American voter, as a general rule, isn’t really interested in extremes, the former president warned. “This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement. They like seeing things improved. But the average American doesn’t think that we have to completely tear down the system and remake it,” Obama said. “And I think it’s important for us not to lose sight of that.”

Obama obviously didn’t mention anyone by name but it seemed pretty clear that the two candidates that most fit the description are Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Plus it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that he was speaking to a room filled with the kinds of wealthy Democratic donors who are most concerned about the rise of Warren and Sanders in the polls.

“There are a lot of persuadable voters and there are a lot of Democrats out there who just want to see things make sense. They just don’t want to see crazy stuff. They want to see things a little more fair, they want to see things a little more just. And how we approach that I think will be important,” Obama said.

The former president also criticized those who take their cues from “left-leaning Twitter feeds,” calling on candidates to pay attention to what goes on in the real world. “Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality and the fact that voters, including the Democratic voters and certainly persuadable independents or even moderate Republicans, are not driven by the same views that are reflected on certain, you know, left-leaning Twitter feeds,” he said.

Obama’s message wasn’t just filled with warnings. He also made a point of trying to calm nervous donors who may think that a competitive primary only benefits President Donald Trump’s bid for reelection. “For those who get stressed about robust primaries, I just have to remind you that I had a very robust primary,” Obama said. “Not only did I win ultimately a remarkably tough and lengthy primary process with Hillary Clinton, but people forget that even before that we had a big field of really serious, accomplished people.”

This wasn’t the first time Obama has warned about extremists in the presidential nominating process. Earlier this year, the former president expressed concern that members of the progressive wing of the party could end up hurting their own cause by being too rigid on allies. “One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States —maybe it’s true here as well — is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, ‘Uh, I’m sorry, this is how it’s going to be,’ and then we start sometimes creating what’s called a ‘circular firing squad,’ where you start shooting at your allies because one of them has strayed from purity on the issues. And when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens,” he said in April.