A source says that in conversation with a foreign politician, it emerged that their government assumes Joe Biden will not be the Democratic nominee in 2024. Joe will pull out before the first primaries; it will be too late for a grassroots candidate to enter the fray; an establishment stooge will be crowned at the convention. And the name of that lucky winner? Michelle Obama. It’s a wild scenario, but if it does happen, please remember that you read it here first.
This anecdote confirms what I’ve heard from UK sources, too: when governments engage with Biden they feel they are dealing with the face of an administration but not always the person in charge. Were the Democrats to drop him from their presidential ticket, the world would understand. The race is tied, which is too close for comfort; Biden is unpopular; he is ageing before our very eyes (the latest gaffe is that he called the Grand Canyon one of the “nine wonders of the world” – built, if you know your history, by the Phoenicians). Doubts about his capabilities are enhanced by the grim alternative should he expire in office. The charmless Kamala Harris is one of those deeply average people who, unaware that her limited knowledge isn’t the sum of human understanding, talks to everyone as if they were simpletons. Her latest pearl was to inform an audience that “community banks are in the community” – a revelation to those who thought they were in the Grand Canyon.
We face a rematch between two unpopular nominees, Biden v Trump, which nobody really wants. So why not ask/force one of them to retire? Assuming it will never, ever be Trump – thanks to various legal troubles, his own choice is now between the White House or prison – it would be logical to persuade Joe to do the decent thing, or else dump him without letting him know. One can imagine a “Good Bye, Lenin” scenario wherein Biden is relocated to a mock-up of the Oval Office and is told he is still president. Nancy Pelosi could be wheeled in from time-to-time to ask if he’s any closer to ending the Great Depression.
Swapping-out Biden would pose big challenges. There are deadlines for filing to run in primaries – Nevada, for example, is as close as October – and a Democratic convention hasn’t been properly fixed since 1968. Is Joe happy to be told what to do? Has he ever operated an independent agenda? A Michelle Obama replacement would suggest he’s always been Barack’s third term, a conspiracy theory endorsed by Barack Obama in a 2021 interview. He said: “Joe and the administration are essentially finishing the job” begun by Obama and paused by Trump, noting that “ninety per cent of the folks” who worked for him are now back at their desks. This was an exaggeration, but not by much. The figure of Obama people working for Biden, among his top 100 aides, was closer to 75 per cent.
The Biden presidency has its own character; he’s spent more money and pushed the cultural issues harder. Obama was more cautious for fear of being labelled a radical. Nevertheless, journalists often joke that Obama is running the country from his iPhone, and a recent, much-read interview between reporter David Samuels and historian David Garrow highlighted a curious detail: Obama still lives in central Washington DC, violating the historical agreement that ex-presidents should move away. Samuels notes that Obama has openly lobbied on internet censorship and gun control, and suggests that he lingered in DC society to serve as a potent symbol of the legitimate political order that had been stolen by Trump (never forget how many liberals said 2016 was a fix).
The interview is most famous for Garrow’s claims that, as a young man, Obama fantasised about gay sex, but more pertinent is the suggestion that Obama is the guiding hand in Biden-era foreign policy. “It’s turtles all the way down,” argues Samuels. “There are obviously large parts of White House policymaking that belong to Barack Obama because they are staffed by his people, who worked for him and no doubt report back to him.” He concludes: “personnel is policy,” adding that the arrangement is “spooky” because it operates “outside the constitutional framework.”
So, a court coup to replace Biden with the next Obama available, far from being revolutionary, would reinforce the line of political continuity that stretches from 2008-2024, with only Trump’s election as a temporary aberration (Michelle has revealed that his amusing inauguration caused her to “sob uncontrollably”). Mrs Obama has always polled well. She has published two best-selling books of biography and womanly wisdom. She has served in the White House. She is known by everyone but, unlike Trump, has retained some of the enigma of privacy. She has denied that she has any intention of running for the presidency, but that’s usually a sure-fire sign that someone is interested.
As for the suggestion that her overnight nomination would be too fantastical, too Hollywood – has our sense of the “possible” not been radically expanded by Donald Trump? Mrs Obama’s opponent would be spending much of the election cycle in court. There is no “normal” anymore in US politics.