She's got experience working in the White House, is a stellar public speaker, and has some of the highest approval ratings in the country. It's not surprise that her name has often been floated as a possible 2020 presidential candidate — but at an event on Thursday, former first lady Michelle Obama explained why she won't run for president. And it's a fairly compelling reason.
"The reason why I don’t want to run for president — and I can’t speak for Oprah — but my sense is that, first of all, you have to want the job,” Obama said at the 39th annual Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston Thursday. "I've never had the passion for politics. I just happened to be married to somebody who has the passion for politics, and he drug me kicking and screaming into this arena."
An October 2017 survey found that the former first lady gets higher marks from Democrats than Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, and of the other potential 2020 candidates polled. But it's never a good idea to seek a job you don't want, and by all indications, it looks like Obama — for all of her natural political talents — doesn't want it.
Obama added that there are millions of women who actually do want to run for president, and that anybody who wants to see a woman in the Oval Office should focus on supporting these young up-and-comers, as opposed to simply trying to convince women like her or Oprah Winfrey to throw their hats into the ring.
"You just can’t say, ‘Well you’re a woman, run,'" Obama said. "We just can't find the women we like and ask them to do it, because there are millions of women out here who are inclined — who do have the passion for politics."
Although Obama has always been a well-respected public figure, chatter about a future presidential run didn't kick off in earnest until after her extremely well-received speech at the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Similarly, speculation that Winfrey would make for a good presidential candidate geared up after she gave a stirring speech at the Golden Globe Awards, wherein the praised the "magnificent women" who are "fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say 'Me too' again."
Yet Winfrey, like Obama, has said that she's simply not interested in running for president ("I don't have the DNA for it," she told InStyle magazine after her Golden Globes speech). Likewise, Obama stressed on Thursday that being able to speak impressively behind a podium isn't itself a qualification to serve as president, and that voters should look for future leaders who are more than just charismatic
"Just because I gave a good speech, and I'm smart and intelligent, doesn't mean that I should be the next president," Obama said. "That's not how we should pick the president. That's our problem: We're very shortsighted about how we think about selecting the commander-in-chief."
Obama said she was "disheartened" by the fact that Hillary Clinton — who she called "probably the most qualified person to ever seek the presidency" — didn't win in 2016, and yet she also stressed the importance of supporting female candidates for state and local offices as well as the presidency.
"We need to see more women in the statehouse, in Congress, in the governor's houses," Obama said. "So you have to start building that pool from the bottom. And then we have to support them through it. Then it means that we've got to be willing, when we do find qualified people, to vote for them. And we didn't do that in this election."