There are those—Splinter’s own Hamilton Nolan among them—who would say that Barack Obama has been decidedly lax in his post-presidential life. Here we are, a nation in crisis, and the former president has been largely absent from the public eye, save for a few (refreshingly coherent) tweets and cherrypicked media appearances. But according to a new report from Politico, behind the scenes, Obama has begun meeting with potential 2020 candidates in the first solid indication that he may actually be getting his hands dirty in politics once again.
There’s just one catch. He’s not actually talking about the upcoming presidential election at all—at least not explicitly.
Citing “multiple people who have been briefed on the secretive sit-downs,” here’s Politico on Obama’s chat with Bernie Sanders (emphasis mine throughout):
They talked about the future of the party and their different roles in it. They talked about what the party should be focused on, and what would be distractions. Obama discussed his views on the differences between idealism and practicality, and Sanders responded with his.
They did not get into a specific discussion about whether Sanders would run again for president in 2020.
And his meeting with former Vice President Joe Biden:
The 2020 race and what Biden’s going to do haven’t come up in those discussions, though, with Obama waiting on his friend to make a decision, according to people who have been briefed on their conversations.
And Elizabeth Warren:
They talked about Richard Cordray, the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who is now the Democratic nominee for governor in Ohio. They reminisced. They talked about Trump.
And former Attorney General Eric Holder:
Chatter that the former attorney general has kept going about how he might actually run for president himself hasn’t been at the forefront of those conversations, said people told about those conversations.
Obama has also met with other presumptive contenders, such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Per Politico’s reporting, Obama didn’t appear make 2020 a major conversation topic with them, either.
President Obama, please just acknowledge the giant elephant in the room. Sure, it’ll be awkward and uncomfortable for a second. But this is just weird.