Michelle Obama's office says the former first lady 'will not be running for president' in 2024

Democrats and Republicans have mused about a Michelle Obama candidacy, albeit for different reasons.

Former first lady Michelle Obama on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in April 2023.Todd Owyoung / NBC via Getty Image file

WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama has said he’s “all in” for President Joe Biden’s re-election effort. But a question nagging at many Democrats is what role his popular spouse might play.

Democrats nervously looking ahead to November say they want to see Michelle Obama playing a bigger role in the campaign. Some even whisper about the possibility that she might replace a politically hobbled incumbent on the 2024 ticket this summer — making her a fantasy candidate for members of both parties, albeit for different reasons.

Supporters of Republican front-runner Donald Trump have fixated on the notion of Obama’s swooping in to replace Biden in attempt to diminish the president’s political viability and stoke the GOP base.

In a statement to NBC News, the former first lady’s office tried to rein in imaginations on the right and the left, making it clear her 2024 plans don’t include running for office.

“As former First Lady Michelle Obama has expressed several times over the years, she will not be running for president,” said Crystal Carson, director of communications for her office. “Mrs. Obama supports President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ re-election campaign.”

Sources familiar with the discussions say she intends to assist the Biden campaign this fall, as she did four years ago. But as in 2020, her engagement is likely to be fairly limited compared to that of her husband, reflecting both her other commitments and her long-standing reluctance to re-enter the political fray full time, the sources said.

The expectation of many close to Biden is that, given the former first lady’s star power, the Biden campaign will seek to maximize her limited role later in the campaign, when more swing voters will be paying attention to the race. A senior Biden adviser said there have been early conversations with Obama’s team about campaign engagements and noted that an obvious area of “alignment” with her is her nonpartisan voter registration group, When We All Vote, which aims to promote turnout and close the registration gap among young voters and people of color.

“President and Michelle Obama were enormously helpful in the fight to beat Donald Trump and elect President Biden and Vice President Harris the first time and we are grateful to have their voice and their support in the fight for the fate of our democracy this November,” Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz said in a statement.

An aide to Obama pointed to her discussion last year with Oprah Winfrey to reflect her thinking still today — and why she would most likely never appear on a ballot herself.

“Politics is hard,” she said in the Netflix special. “And the people who get into it … you’ve got to want it. It’s got to be in your soul, because it is so important. It is not in my soul.”

In a 2022 BBC interview, she also said she “detests” questions about running for president.

But in at least one instance, the former first lady appeared not to want the idea of her holding public office ruled out entirely. 

Amid speculation about Biden’s potential running mate in the summer of 2020, CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota suggested in an interview with Jill Biden: “Maybe former first lady Michelle Obama?” 

Jill Biden laughed. “You know, I’d love it if Michelle would agree to it. But I — you know, I think she’s had it with politics. I don’t know. She’s so good at everything she does. That would — that would be wonderful,” she said.

People close to Obama weren’t happy that Jill Biden foreclosed the option and wanted her to give a different answer if she is asked a similar question in the future, according to two people familiar with the matter. An ally of the former first lady called top Biden campaign adviser Anita Dunn, sharing the view that it wasn’t the right response, these people said.

New talking points that Obama’s office proposed would affirm that she would be great at anything she chose to do and say that she was a terrific first lady and that the Biden team is grateful for the work she’s doing at When We All Vote, according to the people familiar with the matter. They said the response was crafted to not make it sound as though Obama would never hold public office, which the former first lady’s aides thought Jill Biden did in her CNN interview.

“It doesn’t close the door,” a person familiar with the drafting of the new statement said, “and that’s what prompted Michelle’s office to call.” 

As first and second ladies in the Obama administration, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden forged a close partnership, including in their shared Joining Forces initiative to support military families. They’ve remained friendly, sources close to both women say. 

They spent some time alone together last month as they were flying back to Washington from former first lady Rosalynn Carter’s funeral. And last week, Jill Biden also hosted a private screening at the White House of “Rustin,” a film produced by the Obamas’ Higher Ground productions, though Obama didn’t attend.

Among Democrats, especially Democratic donors, Obama’s name continues to come up among those who are worried about Joe Biden’s weak standing in the polls. When special counsel Robert Hur released a scathing report questioning Biden’s frailty, “Michelle Obama” became a trending topic on X.

Republicans have for months alternatively warned and delighted in discussing the prospect of an Obama candidacy. 

Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller said she comes up in discussions with the former president.

“Everyone sees what’s happening with Joe Biden, but only a few Democrats will say it out loud,” Miller said. “Behind the scenes, Democrats across the country are calling for Joe Biden to be replaced, and of course President Trump is going to be asked for his opinion.”

Former GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy raised the notion of an Obama presidential bid no fewer than 20 times during primary campaign appearances, arguing that if he won the nomination, “there’s no way they let Biden run.”

“It’s going to be a new puppet Gavin Newsom, Michelle Obama, you name it,” Ramaswamy said.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, an entire panel discussion was devoted to the possibility of her being “parachuted” in as the Democratic nominee at the convention in her hometown, Chicago.

The 2020 Democratic National Convention was one of Obama’s key moments in a campaign in which she played a targeted role for her husband’s former running mate in the closing phase of the race. She delivered the closing keynote address on the first night of the convention, calling Biden a “profoundly decent man” and a “terrific vice president” with the empathy to guide the nation forward. 

A month before the election, she released an even longer address that the campaign called her “closing argument,” in which she, in very personal terms, blasted Trump for engaging in “racism, fear and division” that threatened to “destroy this nation.”

“We can no longer pretend that we don’t know exactly who and what this president stands for. Search your hearts, and your conscience, and then vote for Joe Biden like your lives depend on it,” she said. 

But she never appeared on the campaign trail, as her husband did in a series of solo campaign appearances, as well as joint events with Biden in Michigan the weekend before Election Day.

At the time, her advisers cited her role leading When We All Vote, a group that now says it is “gearing up for our biggest election cycle yet in 2024.”

Still, nothing she has done or said has stopped the speculation, or the fantasizing, about a 2024 candidacy. 

After having voted for “uncommitted” in last week’s Michigan Democratic primary, Carol Reynoso was asked whom she might write in if she could select an alternative candidate.

“Michelle Obama would be phenomenal. But she’s too smart to do this,” she said.