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  Opinion   Columnists  08 Oct 2023  Padma Rao Sundarji | Will Michelle replace Biden to take on Trump in 2024?

Padma Rao Sundarji | Will Michelle replace Biden to take on Trump in 2024?

The writer is a senior foreign correspondent and the author of Sri Lanka: The New Country
Published : Oct 9, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Oct 9, 2023, 12:05 am IST

Michelle Obama would be the first woman President and the first fully African-American person to be elected to that position.

Former first lady Michelle Obama. (AP File Image)
 Former first lady Michelle Obama. (AP File Image)

She’s on vacation aboard film director Steven Spielberg’s yacht, somewhere in European waters. But when she returns home, the stage seems set for Michelle Obama to have a close encounter with power of the highest kind: as presidential candidate of the US Democratic Party in election year 2024.

Incumbent President Joe Biden is bent on contesting again. But the nearly 81-year-old’s cognitive skills are deteriorating fast. He has fallen off bicycles, tripped on aircraft steps, stumbled on wires, staggered into flagpoles and wandered aimlessly on stages after appearances. He mumbles and forgets names, he nods off during meetings, he drops brick after embarrassing brick.  

Little wonder that voices have been growing louder for former First Lady Michelle Obama to enter the arena. For it is she, not any current Democratic hopeful and certainly not President Biden, who is likeliest to defeat the current Republican forerunner, former President Donald Trump. 

Since the beginning of this year, poll after opinion poll has confirmed Mr Biden’s declining ratings, Mr Trump’s lead over all the other Republican hopefuls, and Michelle Obama’s popularity across the political spectrum.    

In a recent Washington Post survey, Mr Biden won the approval of only 37 per cent -- 10 points lower than Donald Trump.

In a poll conducted by AP/NORC, 88 per cent of Americans (69 per cent of Democrats) think Mr Biden is too old for a second term. Another fear looms large. Even if Mr Biden wins, he is expected to retire mid-term -- and bring his even more unpopular deputy, vice-president Kamala Harris, to power.

Ms Harris' approval ratings have remained low throughout her vice-presidency. A recent NBC News survey found that she had the lowest rating (32 per cent) for any vice-president since the 1990s.

But since ditching Kamala Harris alone won’t guarantee a victory for the Democrats, it is Mr Biden who is being urged by analysts on all sides of the political divide to bow out of the race.

Earlier this year, the Centre Square Voters’ Voice Poll found that Mr Biden may coast to victory over other Democratic potentials like Robert F. Kennedy Jr, former New York City mayor Bill de Blasio or even popular California governor Gavin Newsom. But if pitched against Michelle Obama, he would get only 36 per cent, whereas Ms Obama would win 48 per cent of the vote.

It is early days yet to test Michelle Obama’s strength against that of Donald Trump himself. However, the reactions of Republican leaders to the very thought of her candidature show that she is expected to rock the boat.

“If they (Democrats) were to run Michelle Obama, that would put us in a very difficult position because they’d reach for a candidate who is completely plausible, very popular, and immune to criticism,” former Trump aide Monica Crowley had warned at a Republican gathering in Florida way back in 2022 itself.

More recently, Republican Senator Ted Cruz described what he called “the most likely and dangerous scenario in August 2024”. He said that the Democrats will “jettison Biden and parachute in Michelle Obama”.

Former GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, too, says that the Democrats will go with Michelle Obama. “Don’t be surprised. It’ll be Michelle O’s #2024Election. Biden’s out”, she posted on X (formerly Twitter).

Ms Obama’s support base consists primarily of Americans below 55, women’s groups, childless voters, the LGBT community and young parents.

She may have only been the spouse of a former President, but Michelle Obama qualifies eminently.  She is an attorney with degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She is the author of four books. She has campaigned against Donald Trump in 2020, advocated several causes, worked in non-profit groups, in community service and for poverty awareness. She has faced vile abuse and criticism with grace. “Barack and I have been in the public eye for many years now, and we've developed a thick skin along the way. When you’re out campaigning, there will always be criticism… it comes with the territory,” she once said.

Michelle Obama has emerged a winner in surveys since the beginning of her husband’s presidency. In 2009, she was named popular show host Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating Person of the Year. In April 2012, she received the NCHV Award from homeless veterans along with her husband. In 2015, she received it again. In three Gallup polls from 2018 to 2020, Ms Obama remained “the most admired woman” in the United States.

She has been Time magazine’s Woman of the Year and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Further and due to eight years in the White House, Michelle Obama is well-versed with the duties and challenges of the world’s most powerful office.

She is much younger than both Mr Trump and Mr Biden.

She would be the first woman President and the first fully African-American person to be elected to that position.

And unlike Republican contender Donald Trump, who has not only been indicted but is now being accused of sharing nuclear secrets with a foreigner, Ms Obama has an unblemished track record, unmarred by scandals and rumours.

And finally, her children are now old enough for her to focus entirely on the presidency.

The Democratic National Committee has ruled out primary debates ahead of 2024. Still, both voters and senior Democratic leaders have been pushing for candidates to “prove” themselves ahead of 2024.

Interestingly, even African-American Democrats are now demanding in public that current V-P Kamala Harris “prove” herself ahead of the election, and that her being Mr Biden’s running mate against “is not a given”. Their remarks are being interpreted as a door being opened to let Michelle Obama in.

Conservative website “The Hill” writes that a Michelle victory would revive the charisma of Barack Obama’s presidency, one that persists till date. “Giving Michelle Obama the ticket would give Democrats their best chance of winning in 2024,” commented the site.

“There are three things certain in life: death, taxes and Michelle is not running for President,” Barack Obama had said way back in 2016, when asked whether his wife would ever enter the contest.

Last week, the former President dodged the same question, when leaving a restaurant in Los Angeles. His wife, too, has said that she “never had the passion for politics” and has ruled out her candidature several times.

But to audiences old and young, Michelle Obama has also been an inspirational motivator.

“Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right?” she once urged students of Harvard University.

Will she walk that talk now?

Tags: michelle obama, joe biden, 2024 us elections