With Hillary Clinton reaching the end of a generation-long quest to return the Clintons to the White House — successful or not — some are pondering the First Lady-to-POTUS model in the future. With Michelle Obama hitting the hustings hard for Hillary*, that question obviously applies in the present tense. Don’t worry, former Barack Obama campaign chief tells Hugh Hewitt this morning — he’d bet “everything I own” that the current First Lady wants a non-electoral life when Barack Obama retires in January:
HH: You’ve known her a long time. I actually have, I know she’s given a few political speeches. I think of her primarily as non-political.
HH: And is there a risk to her in doing this? Or is this simply a complement to what she’s done?
DA: Not in the way, I don’t think in the way that she is campaigning, you know, Hugh. You know, she’s giving speeches that are very sort of value-laden and personal and to her. I don’t think she’s hurting herself. It is, it is, to me, it’s really interesting, because you know, she was a reluctant conscript to politics. I mean, when Michelle, you know, she had her own sort of professional life, and she was very committed, as she is now, to the kids. And so there was this understanding between them before he ran for president that you know, that was his career. She would be as supportive as she could, but she wasn’t really involved. You know, she wasn’t, she didn’t campaign terribly much for him in 2004 when he ran for the Senate, for example, a campaign that I was involved in. And that was just the understanding between them. But you know, obviously when you run for president, that’s a different, it’s a different deal. So she, you know, she became, you know, she gave up a lot to help him and assist him, and then as First Lady. And, but she’s, you know, to say, people say to me all the time well, do you think she might run for office sometime? I would bet everything that I own against that prospect. She is not someone who loves politics or, at all. And I don’t think she’s really out there as a political figure. Now she’s out there because she feels passionately about the choice here.
Axelrod knows Michelle Obama personally and has more insight into her motives, but this doesn’t take into account the rest of the Democratic Party. At the moment, she’s one of the top three most prominent women in the party (Hillary and Elizabeth Warren being the other two), and the only woman of color in their top tier. If Democrats somehow boot a chance to win control of the Senate in this term, she’d be their top prospect to carpetbag into another state to take on a vulnerable Republican in 2018. If by some chance Donald Trump wins in two-plus weeks, Michelle would instantly become the best potential candidate on the Democratic bench to become the first woman President. She might not have that ambition now, but it would be hard to resist getting drafted into running in those circumstances. Frankly, if Republicans had an asset with this much potential electoral value (at least theoretically), they’d be righty scolded for leaving it on the shelf.
What happens if Hillary wins? Hugh wonders whether Michelle would accept an appointment to the bench, but Axelrod doesn’t think she’s much interested in the practice of law any longer:
HH: I really do not think, and there are some conservatives who believe she is political. She has been like Laura bush, very non-political. I am curious if you think she would ever accept an appointment to the Bench, because she was a pretty good lawyer before she went into the role of First Lady.
DA: She was. You know, that’s another question, but I’ve never discussed it with her. I would say no, because the fact is she was a good lawyer. I mean, you know, she went to a, I think you may have attended this place, at least as an undergraduate.
HH: Oh, no. I’m a University of Michigan lawyer.
DA: But she went to your college alma mater…
HH: Yes, she’s a Harvard lawyer.
DA: And, but she really, she hasn’t, she was less about the practice of law than about doing other kinds of work. She worked for the University of Chicago in kind of community relations work and building a community health network and things like that. So you know, I don’t, I’ve never heard her speak in that context. I honestly think she’s going to be very happy to get her life back when this is over, and to recede a little bit from the public eye, and trying to help on the issues that she cares about.
Well, pardon my skepticism on this point as well, but Democrats also have a particular notion about the judiciary that coincidentally matches up with Axelrod’s description. As Hillary put it in the debate on Wednesday, they see the judiciary as a position for activism rather than adherence to the letter of the law. If she wants to “help on the issues that she cares about,” what better place to do so (for progressives) than on the bench somewhere at the appellate level — and especially on SCOTUS?
Axelrod may be right that Mrs. Obama wants to retire from the national spotlight and get back to community work. The rest of us shouldn’t bet the house on it.