CHICAGO — Less than a day after he suggested that should consider dropping out of the 2024 race, David Axelrod insisted in an interview that he was not calling on the president to suspend his campaign.
“It’s overreacting to say I told him to drop out,” said the political architect of former President ‘s victories. “I didn’t do that.”
“He’s the only one to make the decision. And if his decision is ‘no, I’m the best person to take this on,’ then he will,” Axelrod added.
Axelrod’s comments came shortly after he issued a viral tweet on a New York Times/Siena College poll that showed Biden down by four to 10 points in key battleground states. In it, the longtime Obama hand said, “Only @JoeBiden can make this decision. If he continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?”
The remarks were met with derision by Biden allies, some of whom argued that Axelrod has a penchant for criticizing the president as part of his career as a cable news pundit. A text chain among current and former Biden folks took to mocking Axelrod’s tweets on Monday while prominent alums like Ron Klain openly pushed back on it.
“Axe is a little bit of a special case in terms of how unhelpful people consider him to be,” said one former Biden aide on the group text thread, where “head-scratching Axe tweets” are often circulated. “It’s not like it’s some incipient new dynamic. It’s the kind of thing he’s been doing for years.”
Asked about Axelrod’s remarks, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said only, “We appreciate his thoughts.” Several Biden allies noted that while Axelrod’s comments were seen as irritating in the moment, there’s no sign they represent any broader rebellion among Obama alums.
Tensions between the Obama and Biden camps are not new. But they have become a bit more pronounced in recent days, both because of Axelrod’s comments and as Obama himself has grown more open about his concerns with Israel’s government in its current conduct in Gaza.
Among Obama alums, there was quiet anger early on in Biden’s presidency that the president’s team kept touting his record as the most transformative for a Democrat since the Lyndon Johnson administration (notably skipping over their time in office). Among Biden aides, there is a perpetual sense that Obama alums discount them politically.
At an event in Chicago last week marking 15 years since Obama was elected, some of Biden’s close supporters were miffed that the reunion didn’t do more to prop up the president. Biden was part of the administration for eight years and he only appeared in a short video talking about how important the Obama years were to his current presidency.
But there was a reason that Biden’s reelection bid wasn’t touted outright. The event was put on by a nonprofit entity, the Obama Foundation, which is building the Obama Presidential Center.
An exception was a separate event headlined by Rufus Gifford, the Biden-Harris campaign finance chair who held the same position for Obama in 2012 and was Biden’s deputy campaign manager in 2020. Gifford held a briefing for Obama alums, addressing Biden’s fundraising and the need to ramp up donations now, as opposed to down the road.
In an interview with POLITICO, he said he was surprised at the “standing-room only” turnout.
“Any opportunity we have to create a certain level of connectivity between what we’re building and the communities that frankly elected presidents in the past we need to try to take advantage of that,” he said. “So that’s what we did.”
Axelrod echoed Gifford, saying, “the stakes are really high. [Biden] said so himself. And that there’s enough reason for concern that he ought to reflect on it and what he wants to do.”
Asked what the campaign should be doing, Axelrod pointed to the adage that Biden uses — a line that former Boston Mayor Kevin White coined: “Don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.”
“It couldn’t be more important now,” Axelrod said, suggesting that Biden’s campaign draw stronger contrasts with Donald Trump.
Others at the Obama alumni event also want to see Biden pivot to contrast with Trump.
“There’s an emotional energy right now about saving democracy, which we didn’t feel before,” said Michael Blake, who was Obama’s Iowa deputy political director in 2008 before working in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. “I don’t think any of us thought that if somehow we lost in ‘08 or ‘12 that we would lose democracy.”