Book: Obama 'Enamored' with Beto O'Rourke, Skeptical of Joe Biden in 2020 Democratic Primary

Feared 'Biden would dishonor himself with a bad campaign'

March 4, 2021

A new book on the 2020 election provides more evidence suggesting former president Barack Obama has a remarkably low opinion of his former sidekick, Joe Biden.

"Obama's fears about Biden and his team ran deep—deeper than defeat," journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes write in Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency. "Obama worried that his former vice president would embarrass himself on the campaign trail and that the people around him would not be able to prevent a belly-flop."

Obama, who had vowed to remain neutral during the Democratic primary in 2020, had repeatedly urged Biden not to run for president. "It had stung Biden badly in 2015 when Obama made clear his preference for Hillary Clinton," the authors write. "Adding insult to injury, Obama's advisers told Biden aides back then that they didn't think he could beat Clinton. They pressured him to get out of the way."

Obama's lack of support in 2016 was especially insulting to Biden because the former VP thought Hillary was a "terrible candidate" who would be easy to beat.

In 2019, Obama tried once again to talk Biden out of running. "You don't have to do this, Joe, you really don't," the former president told Biden, according to the New York Times. Allen and Parnes explain that Obama's "reluctance to bless Biden's candidacy" was born out of a "fear that Biden would dishonor himself with a bad campaign."

Obama ended up being wrong about Biden's prospects and seems to have embarrassingly misjudged the Democratic primary in general. "Obama, like much of his brain trust, seemed to be enamored with a former Texas congressman, Beto O'Rourke," the authors write.

O'Rourke, whose most notable accomplishment before running for president was losing an election to Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), launched his campaign with a Vanity Fair cover story in March 2019. Many of the Democratic Party's foremost political pundits insisted that Beto was a formidable candidate who reminded them of Obama and John F. Kennedy.

Beto's splashy entry into the Democratic primary was fueled by the support of wealthy Obama donors, as well as former Obama aides, including the "Pod Save America" bros. The fact that Obama himself was "enamored" with the failed candidate might have had something to do with it.

Alas, even Obama's infatuation could not save the former congressman from another failed campaign. Beto dropped out of the race in November 2019, just eight months after launching his campaign and months before the Iowa caucuses. (He would have struggled to finish in the top 10.)

The new revelations about Obama's views on Biden are supported by previous reporting. Biden has said the former president "was not encouraging" heading into the Democratic primary in 2020. During the campaign, Obama reportedly assessed that Biden "really doesn't have it" and warned Democrats not to "underestimate Joe's ability to fuck things up."

Even after Biden won the Democratic nomination, Obama declined to donate any money to his general election campaign, despite being a multimillionaire. Just days after Biden's victory in November, the former president stole the spotlight by launching a book tour.

Beto is currently "thinking about" launching a failed campaign for governor of Texas.