Barack Obama exhorted some of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest Democratic donors to “chill” in their debate over the party’s candidates, seeking to ease the tensions among tech billionaires who have broken into separate camps backing Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and — most surprisingly — Elizabeth Warren.
And even if the eventual nominee is not “your perfect candidate,” Obama said, “I don’t care.”
At a high-dollar fundraiser on Thursday nestled across the street from hiking trails winding through the Los Altos Hills in California, the former US president downplayed 2020 candidates’ differences as merely disagreements over “tactics” — even as he reiterated concerns about his party possibly going too far to the left.
“Everybody needs to chill out about the candidates,” Obama said. “But gin up about the prospect of rallying behind whoever emerges from this process and making sure that we’re hitting the ground running.”
Obama’s remarks were some of his most direct and candid of the entire 2020 campaign so far. Over hors d’oeuvres that included tea-smoked duck and red curry cornbread, Obama implored about 100 donors — some of whom paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend — to put to rest any internecine party battles once the primary concluded.
“The choice is so stark and the stakes are so high that you cannot afford to be ambivalent in this race,” he said. “I want us to make sure that we keep in mind, relative to 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 — compared to that goal, the differences we’re having right now are relatively minor.”
Obama has gingerly handled the 2020 race up until recently, when he has seemed to offer some veiled criticism of the further-left candidates, Bernie Sanders and Warren. Obama said last week that most voters don’t want to “tear down the system.”
And though he stressed that he was calling for unity, Obama reiterated some of that message on Thursday.
“When you listen to the average voter — even ones who are stalwart Democrats, are more independent or low-information voters — they don’t feel that things are working well but they’re also nervous about changes that might take away what little they have,” he said. “So there’s always a balance in politics between hope and fear.”
The event — which featured a top-ticket price of $355,000 — was expected to raise over $3 million for the Democratic National Committee. The fundraiser was hosted at the home of Karla Jurvetson, an ascendant Democratic megadonor in Silicon Valley politics. Other key fundraisers for the event included former Twitter executive Katie Jacobs Stanton and former Obama ambassador Denise Bauer.
Stephen Curry, the star point guard of the Golden State Warriors, also attended alongside his wife Ayesha, who spoke at the event.
Speaking before some executives of America’s leading tech companies and just a few miles from their headquarters, Obama also tried to navigate the new tensions between the Democratic Party and Silicon Valley. Asked about what America could do to better root out misinformation, Obama did not say much about the responsibilities of the tech giants — unlike some other Democrats who have been sharply critical of platforms like Facebook.
“I believe in free speech — and we can’t resort to Chinese-style monitoring of the correctness of every position on every blast that is sent out via social media. So the way for us to deal with that, is that we need to inoculate the body politics by getting our own accurate information out,” he said. “We have to combat falsehood with truth. And that’s hard to do.”
Obama’s remarks, made in an interview with DNC chairman Tom Perez, followed a call to arms by Democratic powerhouse fundraiser Amy Rao, who called on the 100 donors gathered in a cavernous living room to “give so much that it hurts.”
“Give so much that you are digging into your retirement and what you thought you were going to leave to your children,” Rao said. “This is about sitting down, looking at your personal wealth and saying what percent of it you are willing to put on the table to make sure that we win.”
Those stark, unvarnished remarks — calling for more money from some of the world’s wealthiest people — come at a time when big Silicon Valley donors are under more scrutiny than ever. Warren and Sanders have rejected attending high-dollar fundraisers for their campaigns, and Warren has gone so far as to said she will return contributions in excess of $200 from Big Tech executives.
But Obama himself echoed Rao’s sentiment at the conclusion of his remarks.
“If you’ve got a lot of money, give some more money. You can afford it. I know because I can afford it,” Obama said. “I see what’s happening with your companies. You can do more.”