Democratic Politicians Are Embracing Barbiecore

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If you logged onto Twitter following Barbie’s opening-weekend success, you might have been one of the well over one hundred thousand users who noticed a curious image. It depicted President Joe Biden wearing a blush-colored suit, accompanied by former President Barack Obama dressed in his own rosy ensemble. Stamped in magenta script on the picture of the leader of the free world: Barbie.

The image was manipulated—the Democratic fundraiser who posted it, Jon Cooper, said it was photoshopped or AI-generated; a Twitter content note labeled it the latter. But it isn’t a surprise that some users were fooled. Barbiecore has been everywhere. And if there is one sure thing in Washington, it is that the political classes will always feel compelled to weigh in on cultural moments in their constant quest for relevance.

That reliable truth has been on full display as America heads into the depths of summer. On the right, conservative influencers like Ben Shapiro are burning Barbie dolls and decrying how “woke” the film is. Republican lawmakers like Texas Senator Ted Cruz have slammed it for displaying a map with a disputed border

Democratic politicians, for their part, have leaned into the trend. “This Barbie wants Congress to pass the #PROAct to protect every worker’s right to organize,” tweeted Washington Senator Patty Murray last week along with an image of a doll holding a sign in favor. Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman and Maryland Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin have all issued Barbie-themed tweets, the latter with an image of himself sporting an Equal Rights Amendment pin superimposed on a glittery pink background. “Come on Barbie, let's go party,” California Rep. Robert Garcia responded in April to a post by his communications director declaring him the Ken who “is the first LGBTQ+ immigrant in Congress.” 

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No one may have embraced Barbiecore more fully than Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.  Earlier in the summer, a group of women on her staff planned an entire social media campaign around the doll, styling a Governor Barbie doll after the real thing, complete with fuschia power suit and signature-ready legislation. 

“We meet people where they are and use cultural moments to make change in policy, government, and politics,” says Kaylie Hanson, Whitmer’s chief communications officer, in a statement to TIME. “This campaign will hopefully help show people that yes, girls can embrace who they are and do what girls do best: lead.”

A majority of the country’s female governors are Democrats, as are a majority of the women in Congress. Given that Barbie has had White House aspirations since 1992, when her maker, Mattel, introduced a Barbie for President doll, many real women in power are now celebrating the doll as a symbol of their representation in high office.

Barbie, which has been traditionally marketed to women, is also helping Democrats message to female voters. Historically, women tend to vote more Democratic than men in presidential and congressional elections. Democrats have sought to court women voters even more explicitly since the fall of Roe v. Wade last year, and abortion rights remain top of mind for many of the party’s strategists going into 2024. For some Democrats, Barbiecore is a subtle way to remind the public that they are prioritizing issues that disproportionately affect women.

Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock used Barbie marketing to highlight the work he’s doing this month to protect women. “This Ken is pushing to end maternal mortality,” he tweeted.

“Not only was the image that I posted just plain fun, but importantly, it also played into the fact that women's empowerment is an important value in the Democratic Party,” says Cooper, who gained a following online tweeting during Donald Trump's presidency, of his viral tweet. “In contrast, the other side continues to tear down women's rights in ways we couldn't have even imagined just a few years ago.”

Republicans have been a lot less enthusiastic than Democrats about Barbie. Asked by reporters ahead of opening weekend which film they would attend, Barbie or Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, several Democratic Senators gushed about Barbie, while the handful of Republicans who admitted they’d see it sounded less than enthusiastic.

“I’m shallow and I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m going with Barbie,” Wyoming Senator Cynthia Lummis told NBC News

But there was at least one Republican who didn’t shy away from the film, donning a pair of heart-shaped, rose-colored glasses over the weekend. 

“35 and still party like Barbie,” tweeted embattled New York Rep. George Santos.

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