What Will Michelle Obama Do Once She Leaves the White House?

Michelle Obama Portrait Art Streiber Variety
Art Streiber for Variety

At a Louisiana Town Hall earlier this year, President Obama told a crowd that “there are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and Michelle is not running for president.”

The first lady herself has repeatedly said that she’s not interested in running for office, but after her well-received speech at the Democratic National Convention last month, speculation continues.

According to those who have followed her tenure in the White House, what’s likely is that Mrs. Obama will write a book after leaving office, the way every first lady since Betty Ford has. The memoir would get a multimillion-dollar advance.

Art Streiber for Variety

The first lady has stayed mum on her exact plans, other than to say that she intends to continue her initiatives in some form.

“Given her professional experience and her popularity, her options will be virtually limitless,” says Peter Slevin, author of the book “Michelle Obama: A Life.” “The question is what she wants to do.” He adds that “she has made very clear that a political career is not in her future,” even if she’ll likely continue to campaign and raise money for Democrats.

The Obamas will stay in Washington to see their youngest daughter, Sasha, through high school. They’re reportedly leasing a home in the Kalorama neighborhood. The proximity to their former residence is itself unusual: President Obama will be the first ex-president to reside in D.C. immediately after his term since Woodrow Wilson settled in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in 1921.

Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies,” says that while being first lady is an incredible platform, Obama — who gave up her job as VP for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center — might want to return to private life. “She doesn’t like the way that politics are played, and the game of politics,” Brower says. The author also states that Obama has given signals that she longs “to be a normal person again.”

“I think she will probably be starting her book, if she hasn’t already,” Brower says. She says that Obama has “stuck to a pretty traditional model” as first lady, as she has not taken on major policy legislation, like Hillary Clinton and healthcare. Obama has referred to herself as the “mom-in-chief.”

“I think she is more relatable than most first ladies because of what she has done in media and entertainment,” Brower says.

Obama’s future may mean more privacy, but not anonymity. Obama has talked about being able to have more flexibility in pursuing her initiatives outside the White House, and Brower notes that she’ll have more freedom to be outspoken on subjects like gun violence.

Brower also says that those who speculate on Mrs. Obama’s future shouldn’t discount the need for her to help her family make money. “Financial security — I do think that weighs on every family,” she says.

Of course, that’s where a book deal would come in handy.

Myra Gutin, author of “The President’s Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century,”  notes that Laura Bush and Obama were “very mindful of trying to avoid controversy if they could. You are not just in the news cycle. You are the news cycle.”

So even though Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention, she “has the skill of a certain perception of being apolitical,” Gutin says. In her post-White House life, it may very well stay that way.