President Barack Obama just agreed with something long alleged by Hillary Clinton supporters: The media scrutinized her more than Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, an imbalance that favored Obama's campaign.
"There were times where I think the media probably was a little unfair to her and tilted a little my way in the — in calling her out when she was tough and not calling some of our folks out as much when we were tough in ads," Obama told Politico's Glenn Thrush in an interview published Monday.
While not offering a formal endorsement, Obama extensively praised Clinton in the interview.
His comments could prove helpful to his former secretary of state, who is back in Iowa, this time running neck and neck with Bernie Sanders.
Obama says his 2008 campaign was too dismissive of the Clinton campaign's "legitimate questions"
In 2008, Obama's team rejected questions about his preparedness for the presidency, and his campaign dismissed Clinton's infamous 3 am "ringing phone" ad as a scare tactic.
After nearly two terms of serving in the White House, however, Obama gave a different assessment of the issues raised by the Clinton campaign.
"The truth is in 2007 and 2008, sometimes my supporters and my staff, I think, got too huffy about what were legitimate questions she was raising," Obama said in the Politico interview.
There are two main contexts for understanding Obama's apparent change in tone.
One, of course, is that Obama has spent seven years in the Oval Office and now has an added appreciation for the complexity and rigor of the job.
Another is that the president made the remarks during a Politico interview in which he was signaling support for Clinton in an increasingly close Democratic nomination race.
Obama called Clinton a disciplined, thoughtful leader who "knows every policy inside and out" and can "start here, [on] day one."
Acknowledging the validity of the Clinton campaign's "legitimate questions" for Obama in 2008 may be one way of suggesting the legitimacy of posing similar questions to Bernie Sanders, whose foreign policy expertise has come under similar scrutiny in 2016.
Obama says Clinton had a "tougher job" than he did in the 2008 campaign
In extolling Clinton, Obama didn't just validate the idea that the media helped his candidacy over hers: He also said she had to work harder, for less credit, than he did — a double standard for women Clinton herself has pointed out before.
"She had to do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers, backwards in heels," Obama said in the interview, published on Monday.
"She had to wake up earlier than I did because she had to get her hair done. She had to, you know, handle all the expectations that were placed on her."
As Sanders rises in the polls, pundits have been increasingly speculating that Clinton will collapse from her commanding position as the frontrunner, as she did against Obama.
But in the Politico interview, Obama stressed how easily the 2008 race could have gone the other way.
In talking about Clinton's strengths in 2016, in other words, Obama took care to minimize her weaknesses in 2008.
"She had a tougher job throughout that primary than I did and, you know, she was right there the entire time," he said. "And had things gone a little bit different in some states or if the sequence of primaries and caucuses been a little different, she could have easily won."
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