Former President Barack Obama on Thursday appealed to Democrats to “chill out” about their differences during the presidential nomination race and focus instead on beating President Donald Trump.
“There will be differences,” he said, but they are minor compared with “the ultimate goal, which is to defeat a president and a party that has, I think, taken a sharp turn away from a lot of the core traditions and values and institutional commitments that built this country.”
Speaking a day after Democratic candidates met in Atlanta for their fifth debate, he added: “Everybody needs to chill out, but gin up about the prospect of rallying behind whoever emerges from this process.”
Obama made the remarks at a fundraising event at the Silicon Valley home of psychiatrist and progressive political donor Karla Jurvetson, where 100 people paid for tickets that cost up to $355,000 and that was attended by NBA star Stephen Curry. The funds were for the Democratic Unity Fund, which will support the Democratic nominee.
Obama again said Democrats shouldn’t be so worried about the large number of candidates running this year. “We had a massive field in 2008, people don’t remember that,” he said. The 2020 contenders, he said, hold compatible values on important issues like confronting climate change, and providing better health care and a “humane immigration policy.”
The former president also brought up comments that he made at a fundraiser in Washington last week, when he said “the average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”
Those remarks were interpreted as a rebuke of some of the more expansive proposals such as “Medicare for All” by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two of the most progressive candidates.
Nevertheless, Obama said Thursday that while big change could be off-putting, he hoped candidates would push the envelope on some issues, citing climate change and criminal justice reform. “I want candidates now to propose policies that go beyond what we got done” when he was president, he said.
He also warned fellow Democrats against adopting “purity tests” because “at the end of the day we are going to need everybody.”
Obama also pointed out that some of the candidates face bigger challenges because they are women or in Pete Buttigieg’s case because he’s gay. “We have a number of women candidates, and we have one gay candidate, and those candidates are gonna have barriers if they win the nomination or if they win the general election, just like I did,” he said. “You can overcome that resistance.”
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