The Perfect Candidate Should Biden Step Down (It Will Never Happen, But We Can Dream)

President Joe Biden says goodbye to former first lady Michelle Obama on Nov. 28, 2023, before boarding Air Force One after an appearance in Marietta, Georgia.
President Joe Biden says goodbye to former first lady Michelle Obama on Nov. 28, 2023, before boarding Air Force One after an appearance in Marietta, Georgia. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

From fiery rallies to his sit-down interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last Friday, President Joe Biden has vowed to stay in the race, that his debate performance last month was a one-off and that he’s in it to win it.

Still, speculation remains rampant, from wonks to regular folks, about what should come next, and who. None of the names suggested, including Vice President Kamala Harris, have generated much excitement, let alone a belief that they could beat the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Is there anyone out there right now who would be a stronger candidate than Joe Biden?

There might be: Michelle Obama.

Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week indicated that the former first lady would trounce Trump in a hypothetical matchup. She whipped him by an 11-percentage-point margin, 50% to 39%, among the respondents (11% said they wouldn’t vote, would vote for another candidate or didn’t know).

The poll found Trump beating each Democratic governor floated as a potential replacement for Biden: Gavin Newsom of California, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Andy Beshear of Kentucky and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois.

The idea of Michelle Obama running for office isn’tnew. But it has almost always been an unserious musing since she has repeatedly said she has no interestin running. “Being president was my husband’s dream, not mine,” she’s often said.

Then again, the call to serve your country can prove hard to resist. You often hear that when the president asks you to serve, you don’t say no. What if it’s the country that’s asking, and doing so out of desperation?

She knew those stakes four years ago. “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” she said during her keynote speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. “You know I hate politics,” she added. “But you also know that I care about this nation. ... So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can.”

Many voters think the nation is at an inflection point and that it actually can be worse. Trump can continue what he would have done had he won reelection in 2020, now with impunity, given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on presidential immunity. Are those stakes high enough to convince Michelle Obama that if Biden is replaced, then it has to be someone who can beat Trump? At this moment, less than four months to Election Day, is there anyone else who can?

With the perfect storm of Democrats despondent, an opponent many see as an existential threat to democracy and potential Democratic replacements generating little enthusiasm or strong enough numbers to beat him, the poll’s timing seemed almost like a Holy Grail moment, like in a “Hey, that just might be crazy enough to work!” way.

And why not? She’s bright, articulate, a Harvard law graduate and telegenic. At 60, she’s relatively young, a refreshing advantage in a campaign where age has been a negative for Biden, 81, and Trump, 78. And the country knows her. That name recognition alone would eliminate a big hurdle in launching a campaign.

It’s not like she isn’t well-versed in addressing issues. On the international stage as first lady, Michelle Obama focused on diplomacy, women’s rights and education, representing the United States in a positive, dignified manner. Since then, initiatives like Let’s Move! and Reach Higher have demonstrated her commitment to improving public health and education, respectively.

She spent eight years watching her husband doing the job, even as his administration guided America out of an equally stressful time. She has seen “the immense weight and awesome power” of the presidency up close.

And who better to advise her than what would be the first gentleman, along with a team of advisers, wonks, strategists and seasoned White House veterans who’d come rushing back to not only serve the country but also to literally save it from an obvious menace.

For those who would argue she has no experience, I would ask why that didn’t seem to be a problem for Trump voters in 2016. And Trump has zero qualifications even after serving.

She is well-liked, consistently ranking as one of the most popular political figures in the United States.

In a 2011 poll, 6 in 10 voters gave her a positive rating, even higher than her husband during the first term of his presidency (56.5%).

In a poll nearly a decade later, her favorability rating was 60%, compared with Trump’s 39%.

Her likability could energize Democrats and attract several voting blocs: traditional Democrats, progressives, women, Black voters, independents, undecideds and the voters who currently hate both candidates. The voters who panicked over the debate and decided to change their vote to Trump? They’d switch right back.

Her likability would also make it difficult for Republicans to attack her without being seen as demeaning, insulting and even racist. They would have to walk a fine and refined line. Does anyone see Trump being anything but refined?

Their campaigns would be polar opposites. She has class. Her rhetoric would be above the fray of cesspool name-calling and petty vindictiveness. Hers would be a campaign of aspiration, not vengeance.

Her entry into the race would eliminate concerns about race. Nothing against Gretchen Whitmer, a capable candidate, but she and any other governors frequently mentioned as a replacement for Biden are all white. Passing over Kamala Harris for one of them leaves Democrats open to damaging attacks about being racist — from conservatives.

Talk about going through the looking glass: conservatives accusing Democrats of being racists?

A Michelle Obama candidacy would put Republicans on notice that they’d be called racists if their campaign rhetoric went over the line. Someone, somewhere, is likely to do that. You’ve heard that expression: It’s not that Republicans or conservatives are racist, but if you are racist, you’re probably a Republican or a conservative. Yeah, that.

Former first lady Michelle Obama at opening day of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament on Aug. 28, 2023, in New York City.
Former first lady Michelle Obama at opening day of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament on Aug. 28, 2023, in New York City. Jackson Lee/GC Images via Getty Images

There is the obvious historical significance: Becoming the first woman president of the United States, the first African American woman, would be a milestone, much like Barack Obama’s election in 2008 as the first African American president. Such a candidacy and a November victory would inspire generations of women and girls, highlighting the significance of diversity and representation in leadership. (Yes, a Kamala Harris win would be similarly historic as a first for a woman of color, as would Gretchen Whitmer as a first female president.)

Still, the knives will be out. In 2008, during her husband’s presidential campaign, she mentioned that, for the first time, she was proud of her country. You’ll see that repeated over and over by hateful conservatives who will never provide the proper context. (There is one.)

In her 2016 convention speech, she noted that the White House was built by slaves, drawing criticism from those who felt the remarks were divisive or inappropriate. In a 2008 speech, she described America as “just downright mean,” a statement opponents seized upon to paint her as unpatriotic or ungrateful.

Really? Mean? Like those “Fuck Your Feelings” T-shirts and flags, or the ones saying “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat”?

Half the country voted for a mean, rotten individual, and will do so again.

Oh, and enslaved labordid build the White House.

Apparently, this is another one of those inconvenient truths about American history that conservatives don’t want their precious snowflakes to learn about in school.

To quote a famous conservative, “Get a brain! Morans.”

To counter, Republicans might roll out Sen. Tim Scott as a campaign weapon. He might suddenly become Trump’s running mate, which would only make Republicans look like they were cynically trying to placate African American voters with “See? Look! We’re not racists!” Heck, Michelle Obama might even stand a good chance of winning in Scott’s home state of South Carolina.

Personally, the idea appeals to my mean streak (yeah, I have one) and my sense of poetic justice.

The idea of Michelle Obama running for president has a sense of poetic justice. Conservatives always talk about “owning the libs.” Their heads would explode over this. What? Another Black president? (You know that’s going to get said.) What? An Obama back in the White House?! Nooooo!

The best part: Michelle Obama would never go down that road. She might even scold or disabuse other Democrats from doing so. Go high. Let them go low. We’d certainly learn something about her character by staying that course.

And it would complete a circle. It was an Obama who launched Donald Trump’s political career. Now it can be an Obama who ends it. It would be the ultimate karma. Please send him a copy of her husband’s birth certificate as a parting gift. Here ya go, loser. Now hit the bricks.

How’s that for mean and vindictive?

I get it. Michelle Obama entering politics to replace Joe Biden is unrealistic and unlikely. She is likely just as adamant not to run as Biden is to refuse to step down. But it may be the only opportunity for America to keep Trump out of the White House. And if it means saving the country, maybe it’s time to put aside egos and understandable personal concerns and think bigger, not just four months down the road or even four years, but the next 40.

Yes, it’s sad that we too often pick our politicians based on popularity. This time, many Americans will choose the least terrifying candidate. That’s probably even sadder.