Barack Obama is staying quiet as the 2020 Democratic primary heats up, so his former campaign aides are speaking up to correct the record about his relationship with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The self-funding billionaire, who made a late entry into the race, has been flooding the airwaves with millions of dollars in ads over the last several weeks suggesting he worked closely with the former president and his administration on issues like gun violence prevention, jobs and education.
“He’s been a leader throughout the country for the past 12 years. Mr. Michael Bloomberg is here,” Obama says in one of the ads, which features footage of a 2013 event on gun violence where both men were present. In another campaign ad, Obama is shown introducing Bloomberg as a leader who can “bring people together to seek pragmatic solutions.”
The strategy has helped to boost Bloomberg, a former Republican, to a competitive position in the Democratic primary despite his decision to skip the first four nominating contests and much of the critical news coverage that comes with competing in them.
But the ads have irked several former top Obama aides, like former National Security Council spokesman and co-host of Pod Save America Tommy Vietor:
Bloomberg did not endorse a candidate in the 2008 presidential election. In 2012, he endorsed Obama over his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, citing the president’s commitment to combating climate change. But he also took shots at the Democratic incumbent, writing in an editorial that he “devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists” to enact his agenda. He also said Obama “engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.”
Jon Favreau, a co-host of Pod Save America who worked as Obama’s speechwriter, said Tuesday that he remembered being “annoyed” by the “tepid” endorsement when it was published. “It basically could have been a fucking Romney ad,” he added in a podcast this week.
Dan Pfeiffer, a former Obama adviser who also co-hosts Pod Save America, said on MSNBC that the relationship between the two men is more “complicated” than what the Bloomberg campaign has suggested.
“Did they work together on issues? Absolutely. I think these ads tell a story that is belied by the reality of that relationship that I think is somewhat complicated,” Pfeiffer said Tuesday.
Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, meanwhile, tweeted that someone approached him about the ads in California, which votes next month as part of the critical Super Tuesday contests.
Several candidates have run campaign ads playing up their relationship to Obama, including his former vice president, Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Biden, who basically used his former boss as a shield to counter attacks from other candidates on the debate stage, was particularly annoyed by Bloomberg’s strategy.
“The advertising I’ve seen, you’d think that Mike was Barack’s vice president,” he said last week at a fundraiser in New York.