In his first in-depth interview about the race to succeed him, President Barack Obama on Friday dismissed the notion that Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) insurgent campaign mirrored his own successful 2008 bid.
"No, I don't think — I don't think that's true," Obama said. "I think Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long-shot and just letting loose. I think Hillary [Clinton] came in with the — both privilege and burden of being perceived as the frontrunner. And, as a consequence, you know, where they stood at the beginning probably helps to explain why the language sometimes is different."
During the 40-minute interview with Politico's Glenn Thrush, released Monday morning, Obama occasionally complimented Sanders.
"There's no doubt that Bernie has tapped into a running thread in Democratic politics that says: Why are we still constrained by the terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago?" Obama said. "You know, why is it that we should be scared to challenge conventional wisdom and talk bluntly about inequality and, you know, be full-throated in our progressivism? And, you know, that has an appeal and I understand that."
But, at times, the president sounded a more dismissive tone.
"You know, you're always looking at the bright, shiny object that people don't, haven't seen before," he said, apparently referring to the senator from Vermont. "That's a disadvantage to [Clinton]. Bernie is somebody who —although I don't know as well because he wasn't, obviously, in my administration, has the virtue of saying exactly what he believes, and [with] great authenticity, great passion, and is fearless. His attitude is, 'I got nothing to lose.'"
The president heaped greater praise on his former secretary of state, calling her "a good, smart, tough person who cares deeply about this country." Asked if he thought the race had been "stacked" against her, Obama said he did, adding, "If you are a frontrunner, then you are under more scrutiny and everybody is going to pick you apart."
Sanders, he suggested, would face similar scrutiny if he pulls an upset in the earliest presidential nominating contests.
"I think that there's always just a rhythm to this thing," the president said. "I think that if Bernie won Iowa or won New Hampshire, then you guys are going to do your jobs and, you know, you're going to dig into his proposals and how much they cost and what does it mean, and, you know, how does his tax policy work and he's subjected, then, to a rigor that hasn't happened yet, but that Hillary is very well familiar with."
The Sanders campaign appeared to take the president's comments in stride.
"[Sanders and Obama] are very different people, but I think in terms of what people are seeing in Iowa, I think the similarity in Iowa is this, which is large numbers of young people are being motivated to come out to the polls, a lot of nontraditional voters are motivated to come to the polls," Weaver said. "I think in terms of messaging of our chief opponent that seems to be very similar and I think that's reinforcing it as well: pie in the sky proposals, wrong experience, can't do foreign policy. These are all ... the attacks from 2008 on Obama."