Column: Michelle Obama for president. The only one who can beat Trump?

When I walked into his South Los Angeles barbershop Thursday morning, Lawrence Tolliver had a question. Did I think Donald Trump would be reelected.

Yes, I said. His supporters are rabid, no matter what he says or does. We’re looking at a trillion-dollar deficit, and the GOP — the party of fiscal conservatism — just shrugs. Consumer prices are rising because of tariffs and a recession is feared, but Trump’s populist supporters don’t mind.

We didn’t get the promised cheaper and better healthcare. The national infrastructure program never happened. The party of family values adores a man who mocked women’s looks and lied about secret payments to a Playboy bunny, and the days of GOP hatred of commies is officially over, because Russia helped elect Trump.

Yet for all that, the GOP — or roughly 90% of it, according to polls — is standing by its man. That’s partly because of who Trump is, but largely because of what he isn’t.

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A Democrat.
The Dems, meanwhile, don’t have a single candidate who’s caught fire. It’s early, and maybe it’ll still happen. But if the nominee is on the left — Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, for instance — it could turn off moderate voters. And if the nominee is more centrist — Joe Biden, for instance — millennials and minorities might sit out the election.

Mr. Tolliver didn’t argue those points. He said he wasn’t wild about any of the options, and his customers aren’t either.

“Other than ‘beat Trump,’” said Tolliver, there’s no consensus.

Lawrence Tolliver works on a customer at his barbershop in South Los Angeles.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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The vast majority of his customers are African American, but Mr. Tolliver said Cory Booker is getting lukewarm response.

“Some people like him, some people don’t,” said Tolliver.

William Taylor, 71, told me he likes Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, but can either of them beat Trump? He’s not sure and neither am I, despite the fact that some polls have shown Biden taking the president down.

To be fair, my opinion may be worth less than a Michael Dukakis for President button, but I can think of only one person who would beat Trump, hands-down, no problem.

“Michelle Obama,” I said.

Lawrence Tolliver cuts the hair of Arthur Gomez, 26, under a framed portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Finally, we had a consensus. Tolliver, Ella Brown, Yusef Mohammad, Taylor and Lawrence Walker, who was in the chair for a trim, all agreed: Of course Michelle could take Trump. And as if even she was down with the idea, there she was, on a poster on the barbership wall, flexing her bicep like she was preparing for a knockout punch.

“Yes We Can!” said the poster.

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“I bought that at the African American Museum,” said Mr. Tolliver.

There is, however, one problem Michelle Obama fans are going to have to deal with, and it’s a big one.

She ain’t interested.

“There’s zero chance,” she told the National, an Amtrak magazine. And in an interview with Conan O’Brien, she said being in the White House and under the spotlight for eight years was enough, and “I’m not interested in politics.”

I understand and respect that. But we can hold out hope, can’t we? No offense to Amtrak and Conan O’Brien, but unless and until Michele Obama tells it to a higher authority — like Ellen DeGeneres — the dream is alive.

Lawrence Tolliver poses with customers Yusuf Muhammad, 73, from left; Arthur Gomez, 26; William Taylor, 71; and Lawrence Rogers, 73.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A Michelle Obama-Donald Trump showdown would be glorious, even though it could get ugly. And it’s shocking to think about how we’ve regressed since Nov. 5, 2008, when I walked with Tolliver, his wife, Bernadette, their sons Aaron and Bernard and daughter Alexandra to McCarty Memorial Church, where they voted for Barack Obama.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” Mr. Tolliver said then. “Glory Hallelujah!”

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Fast forward — or backward, depending on how you look at it — and we’ve got a president who for no good reason has insulted the intelligence of African Americans LeBron James, Don Lemon and Maxine Waters. He’s belittled football players for taking a social stand and he tweeted a mocking “too bad” when the Baltimore home of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings was burglarized.

“I know her name has been coming up, and I think absolutely Michelle Obama would be a great choice if she would run,” said Michael Williams, 66, a retired L.A. County medical technician who got a haircut at Tolliver’s on Friday morning. “I think she appeals to most of the country and I think it would energize the Democratic Party and our younger folks.”

“She would beat the pants off of Trump,” said Taylor, who’s in the moving and storage business. He noted that images of Michelle are on all four walls at Tolliver’s.

“She has the support of the shop,” Taylor said.

Do you hear this, Michelle?

Williams told me there are things he likes about four of the Democrats — Biden, Warren, Sanders and Booker. And he’s leaning toward Biden, but told me his son sees things a little differently.

There you go. That’s one of the Democratic Party’s gut-wrenching dilemmas.

“I think Biden would have the worst chance of winning,” said Michael Williams Jr., 32, an account manager at Pandora, the internet music site.

“I’m a minority and I’m a millennial and we definitely don’t come out to vote as much as my dad’s generation,” said the son, who doesn’t think Biden would change that. But he thinks “a true progressive” like Warren or Sanders would get him and a lot of his contemporaries excited.

Williams Jr. said he plans to vote for Warren in the primary, but if she goes down, he’ll vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination. You can call Trump racist or mysogynist, Williams Jr. said, but he just thinks of the president as a dim bulb who’s not curious enough to educate himself on matters of critical importance.

“I think he’s just a bad person.”

As for Michelle Obama, Williams Jr. said, “Our generation looks at her and President Obama lovingly, and I think she would inspire minorities.”

Young people would flock to the polls. People of color would be in lockstep. And women would turn out in droves. Even the father and son Williams would be on the same side.

The more Tolliver thought about it, the more excited he became. This country is headed for the rocks, he said. Only one person can save us and silence Trump.

I don’t know about that last part.

It’s a longshot, sure, but the very idea of Michelle as a candidate would give Trump fits.

I nominated Michael Williams Sr. to be director of the Barbershop Committee to Draft Michelle Obama.

He accepted.

Politicians have been known to drop by Tolliver’s, and Williams Sr. knows what he’d say to her.

“I would say, ‘For the sake of the country, we need you.’”

Hallelujah!