An arresting quote from Myra Adams’s op-ed today listing 10 reasons why Barack’s better half is the strongest hand Democrats have to play in 2024.
I think she’s right. If you want to grasp how thin the Democratic bench is, meditate on the fact that the party’s five strongest nominees over the past 30 years have been Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton’s wife, Barack Obama, maybe Barack Obama’s wife, and Joe Biden, a guy who first got elected to Congress during the Nixon administration and was pushing 80 when he became president.
It would be overstating the case but not by much to say that Michelle Obama is the only nationally known Democrat capable of winning in 2024 besides Biden himself. And given the trajectory Sleepy Joe is on, only a fool would rather have him at the top of the ticket right now instead of her.
By no means would Obama be a sure thing. But between her name recognition, her popularity among Democrats, and her demographic appeal to the party’s base of nonwhite and women voters, who’s a better play?
When I told a Republican activist I was writing about Michelle 2024, he gasped, “God help us. She could beat any of our candidates. It’s a good thing she doesn’t want to run.” An accurate assessment, and what follows is why Mrs. Obama is the Democrats’ “break glass in case of emergency” candidate:
1) She has a winner’s aura that could instantly clear the primary field and allow Democrats to focus on the general election. No Democrat would want to contest her if Biden does not run, including the vice president.
2) Michelle Obama’s popularity would attract crowds equal to Trump’s and reminiscent of her husband’s. Crowd momentum translates into positive news coverage and voter enthusiasm. Her record-breaking 2019 book tour filled arenas in 31 cities…
5) Michelle Obama embodies a modern American success story. She carries no obvious baggage, nor is she scandal-plagued. The former first lady is a known quantity with an authenticity that appeals to Democrats, independents, women and minority voters.
6) Obama’s fundraising ability is limitless for 2022 Democrats and herself in 2024.
Follow the link up top for the full list. As for whether she’s qualified, Adams cites the post-Trump standard for presidential qualifications: “If you get elected, you are qualified.” The Obamas would doubtless claim that Michelle was Barack’s most important advisor as president, looped in on everything, and therefore enjoyed a degree of on-the-job training that few people in history have ever matched.
As for general popularity, there are worse credentials than this:
All that’s standing between her and the nomination, in all likelihood, is her oft-stated disinterest in running. But if the entire Democratic establishment goes to her next year and tells her, not implausibly, that she’s the only person who can prevent a second Trump term, would that wear her down?
Still, she’s no sure thing if she runs. For one thing, it’s anyone’s guess how progressives would react to the idea of the Obamas being back in charge of the party. To the right, the Obama era represented a sharp pivot to the left. To progressives, it represented in some ways an era of failed ambition. Obama’s stimulus following the financial crisis was less than half as much money as Joe Biden secured for COVID relief last year, and that wasn’t even the first round of COVID spending. Obama got ObamaCare through but didn’t pursue a public option, let alone Medicare for All. He didn’t get immigration reform done either. And he presided over massive congressional wipeouts for the party in his two midterm elections.
The left wasn’t as strong in 2008 and 2012 as it was in 2016 and 2020 either. They’ve opted not to settle for “electable” neoliberal politicians in primaries anymore and they have an outspoken class of young socialists in the House who are constantly pushing the leadership to be more progressive. All of that being so, how would they react to the prospect of Barack Obama’s third term being served by the former First Lady? Would they turn out for her in November 2024?
Meanwhile, the story of Democrats’ shocking failure in Virginia last year was the GOP consolidating its strength with white working-class voters. Rural areas are now so overwhelmingly Republican — or anti-Democrat, rather — that mild-mannered hedge fund guy Glenn Youngkin managed to improve on Donald Trump’s margins in those places despite running against a center-left former governor in Terry McAuliffe. Barack Obama’s wife would not be the obvious choice to win back those working-class whites. She also might not be the candidate to reverse the GOP’s gains with Hispanics over the last two years. That phenomenon is viewed as a case of certain Latino voters finding more working-class fellowship in the Republican Party these days than in the Democratic one. Michelle Obama is every inch the highly educated well-heeled professional woman, not a natural match for someone who wants a candidate with a blue-collar touch.
The Obama formula for victory would be trying to recreate the coalition of 2008 as much as possible, compensating for lower support among working-class voters of all races than Barack enjoyed by running the score way, way up with college grads and suburbanites. Facing Trump would make that easier for her. Facing DeSantis would make it less easy.
Anyway, she’s probably not going to run, in which case what’ll Dems do? Read this interesting take from Jonathan Last from a few months back about Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, John Fetterman. Fetterman’s an odd combo, an outspoken working-class white progressive who happens to look like a pro wrestler. (He’s 6’9 and beefy.) He’s running for Senate this year and stands a nonzero chance of winning. If he does and suddenly gains a national profile, he might get a look as a presidential candidate as a pol with obvious appeal to the left but also obvious appeal to some of those working-class voters who’ve shifted right and want a tough guy in charge. How nonwhite voters will react to him, though, I don’t know. Especially if the current VP is contending for the nomination in 2024. Stay tuned.
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