America has already been put on notice: Always refer to the first lady as Dr. Jill Biden. She has a doctorate in education and she’s earned the honorific, thank-you-very-much.
However, as Dr. Biden barnstorms around the country ahead of the midterms, it’s worth raising a question that’s a bit more than just idle speculation: Will Dr. Biden try to become President Biden sometime in the near future?
If you think this is silliness, consider two bedrock facts that are becoming increasingly apparent as we approach the midterms.
The first is that the current President Biden, Jill’s husband, lacks both the stamina and the cognizance to mount a 2024 run. While that may not actually stop him from doing so, it seldom augurs well when a candidate a) doesn’t seem to know where he is a good half of the time and b) doesn’t seem to particularly care.
The second is that, if the president steps aside, there’s no agreed-upon frontrunner.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who was supposed to step into the role, has somehow become a bigger liability to the administration than the president is. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is popular among progressives, but inexperienced and did badly with minorities during his 2020 presidential run.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom clearly wants the gig, but promising to govern the United States just like the Golden State sounds like a threat to most of America, not a promise.
A Sunday New York Times profile of the first lady’s midterm campaign efforts reveals why a never-elected teacher might end up being a credible compromise candidate in the 2024 race for the White House.
For one thing, unlike her husband, she’s been a tireless campaigner — and one other Democrats want around.
“Jill Biden’s weekend included five flights, 11 events and three appearances with Democrats who all requested her help ahead of the midterm elections. There was also a spin class in there somewhere,” wrote the Times’ Katie Rogers.
“With President Biden’s job approval hovering at about 40 percent at a moment when Democrats are struggling to hold on to the House and Senate, Dr. Biden has become a lifeline for candidates trying to draw attention and money but not the baggage that an appearance with her husband would bring. According to a senior White House official, she is the most requested surrogate in the administration.”
Michael LaRosa, a communications strategist who was the first lady’s previous press secretary, told Rogers that Dr. Jill “does not offend people in a way that a president can because she’s much less polarizing and political … It’s why she was sent all over rural Iowa and New Hampshire during the campaign and why she can go places now that the president can’t.”
She’s hardly apolotical, though, telling voters how she helped a friend recover from an abortion in the 1960s, back in the pre-Roe days: “It happened a long time ago, but it is a story that might not be unfamiliar to you,” she told Florida voters in an appearance for U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who’s trying to unseat GOP Sen. Marco Rubio.
“The first lady has long been thought of in Biden world as a ‘closer’: a surrogate they rely on to travel to corners of the country that her husband cannot easily reach, ideologically or geographically,” Rogers wrote.
“White House officials believe she appeals to suburban women and can communicate to Americans ‘beyond the Twitterverse and cable news chatter,’ according to Elizabeth Alexander, her communications director.”
It’s worth noting that the other two popular surrogates mentioned by Rogers just so happen to be the two of the three likeliest candidates for 2024 if Joe Biden doesn’t run: Buttigieg and Harris.
Buttigieg is described in the piece as “a smooth-talking Midwesterner and potential future presidential candidate,” while Harris, Rogers wrote, “has an approval rating lower than the president, but she has been sent across the country to energize young voters on issues including abortion rights and student loans.”
Furthermore, Rogers noted that observers say “the East Wing [of the White House] under Dr. Biden … has become completely intertwined with the political efforts of the West Wing.”
“This role has become so serious and political,” Princeton professor Lauren A. Wright, who has written about the political appearances of first ladies, told Rogers.
“It must be part of the strategic White House planning and effort. Otherwise you’re wasting opportunities.”
Her role has also involved the strategic protection of a certain elderly president who shares her last name and is prone to embarrassing himself.
After Joe’s second solo news conference back in January — an almost two-hour affair in which he didn’t come across well — Rogers reported that Jill “pointedly asked the group, which included the president, why nobody stepped in to stop it, according to a person who was in the room. Where was the person, she demanded, who was supposed to end the news conference?”
Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki signaled the president to wrap it up during the latter stages of the debacle, the New York Post noted. Of course, it’s also worth remembering that Jill Biden helped vet Psaki in the first place, according to a Times report from January 2021 co-written by Rogers — a clear sign of just how active Dr. Jill is behind the scenes in her husband’s White House.
Drawing this speculation from Rogers’ piece is just that — speculation, and unconventional speculation at that. It would also be unprecedented. While there were calls for Michelle Obama to step into the 2016 race when it became clear Hillary Clinton was a vulnerable frontrunner, the then-first lady put them down quickly.
She had no political experience as an actual candidate or office holder, after all, and a nasty fight between the Clintons and Obamas was probably the last thing that campaign needed anyway.
Furthermore, while the early days of any presidential campaign abound with wild speculation about long-shot candidates who could take the nomination (remember when now-convicted felon Michael Avenatti was seriously talked about as a Democratic candidate in 2020 because he’d represented porn star Stormy Daniels in her suit against Donald Trump?), only three genuine long-shots at the beginning of the primary process have taken a major-party nomination in the past half-century: George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Donald Trump in 2016.
However, the current president doesn’t seem like a likely candidate himself, and none of the potential replacements look good for the Democrats at the moment. Jill Biden doesn’t have subterranean poll numbers, she goes over well with the party base and, if not young at 71, she at least seems mentally there. Sure, she may have no experience, but her husband has 50 years of it and a fat lot of good it’s done him so far.
Of course, the very fact the idea can be floated is a sign of how doomed the Dems might be in the 2024 White House race. It may be a stretch to think Dr. Jill will effortlessly transition into President Jill, but the fact she’s being leaned upon as a surrogate for voters in swing states is a signal she could be being prepped for something bigger.
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