January 30, 2024 - 6:00pm

Rumours are once again circulating among figures on the American Right that Michelle Obama could run for president.

A New York Post op-ed cited anonymous sources to claim that former president Barack Obama has polled donors and is plotting behind the scenes to have his wife replace Joe Biden on the ballot. The incumbent president will supposedly announce that he’s dropping out of the race just before the Democratic National Convention in August, where Michelle Obama will be nominated to run in his place.

We’ve heard this all before. Each time the Democrats face a popularity crisis, the fantasy of a second Obama in the White House reemerges. Trump’s victory in 2016 sparked a wave of therapeutic speculation from the media about Mrs. Obama’s political future — despite her repeated denials of any ambition towards high office.

The latest round of gossip concerning the former first lady comes amid poor polling for Biden — numbers that have Democratic strategists worried. Voters are concerned about his age, and younger Americans are sceptical of his support for Israel in its war against Hamas. Recent polls are projecting a close race in November, with Trump outperforming Biden in several key states. 

Michelle Obama offers a salient solution to the Democrats’ popularity problem. She was the top choice among party voters for the next president in a recent Center Square poll, beating Biden, Kamala Harris and a handful of other prominent Democrats. 

Obama said she was “terrified” of what could happen in the 2024 election during a recent podcast appearance, adding that the race keeps her awake at night. The statement struck some commentators as a sign that she was preparing to enter the limelight in advance of a surprise presidential bid. 

The public has long speculated about a Michelle Obama candidacy. She ranks 372nd on YouGov’s list of the most popular people of all time — right between Frederick Douglass and Socrates — and enjoys a 60% favourability rating from the same pollster. She was the most admired woman of 2020, according to Gallup, and enjoys the name recognition of a first lady without carrying the baggage that comes with political experience. 

During her husband’s time in office, Michelle focused on childhood obesity and helped get a bill passed that regulated the nutritional standards of school meals and made free lunches available to more students — for which she received some heat from schoolchildren. She also built a vegetable garden on the White House lawn, then reinforced it with steel and cement a month ahead of the 2016 election to deter any future presidents from making alterations. 

Since her husband left the White House, Michelle has made speeches at three Democratic National Conventions and has been outspoken about the country’s legacy of racism and her own experiences of discrimination. She has enjoyed flattering media coverage, including three Vogue front covers and a New York Times article celebrating her “rippled and gleaming” arms. 

The former first lady has previously said she doesn’t want to run for president, and that she reluctantly entered the political realm only because of her husband. 

America’s quest for a female president has thus far been unsuccessful. Hillary Clinton, who nearly won the presidency in a close 2016 race against Trump, blamed her loss on sexism, as did many in the media. But some political operatives view female candidates, most recently Nikki Haley, as an asset rather than a liability — including, if recent reports are to be believed, Barack Obama and his advisers. 

“Our leaders matter. Who we select, who speaks for us, who holds that bully pulpit — it affects us in ways that sometimes I think people take for granted,” Michelle said in her recent podcast appearance. “We cannot take this democracy for granted. And sometimes I worry that we do.”


Laurel Duggan is UnHerd’s US correspondent.