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Obama won’t endorse any Democratic candidate before primaries are over.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough announced today that the president will not lend his support to any Democrat in the race until the general election. At that point, McDonough said on NBC’s Meet the Press“We’ll do exactly what has been done in the past.”

Of course, Obama’s decision not to endorse a candidate during primary season does break somewhat with tradition. Back in 2000, President Bill Clinton endorsed Al Gore while Democratic opponent Bill Bradley was still in the running for the nomination. It’s a favor Gore declined to return to this cycle’s Clinton, though silence from Obama is a far more interesting development than Gore’s demurral. 

As for the reason behind Obama’s reticence, it’s hard to say. Maybe Clinton is no longer “likable enough,” or perhaps the president feels certain aspects of his legacy would be compromised by an outright endorsement.

Still, as Slate’s chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie pointed out on Twitter, Obama’s decision to wait might be the best thing for the Democratic Party in the long run: