Last year, before stopping at a campaign rally in Iowa, Kamala Harris—then a 2020 presidential candidate—met up with a drumline. Pure bliss ensued. As shown in a video that has since gone viral, Harris boogied alongside a group of young girls, manifesting the image she has curated for herself as a candidate full of exuberance and gusto, the rare politician who actually has moves.
Midway through the 30-second clip, you can see a man wearing dad jeans and a blazer jump in and out of frame. His dancing isn’t entirely on beat, but he is nonetheless a great sport.
Meet Doug Emhoff, Harris’ husband. His blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in that video shows just about everything you need to know about America’s first-ever second gentleman. The 64-year-old attorney has been by her side for the entire election cycle, but quietly. He never seems to bask in the spotlight, though he looks extremely at ease in front of the camera.
Politicians’ spouses—which for so many people still just means “wives”—have long been considered mere adornments, a body present to be hugged and to wave at crowds. Some of them are also, infamously, miserable, like Melania Trump whining about Christmas decorations or swatting her husband’s hand away.
Emhoff appears to check neither of those boxes. He is not a trophy husband and adopted to the campaign trail with the ease of a privileged white dad who seems to genuinely enjoy being along for the ride. (A spokesperson for Emhoff declined to comment for this story.)
As Jill Biden, a college professor, is poised in January to become the only first lady to work a professional job outside of the White House, Emhoff has taken a leave of absence from his Los Angeles law firm.
While his wife’s victory is historic—she will be the first woman vice president, the first Black vice president, the first South Asian American vice president—Emhoff boasts another “first” other than his gender. He is a Jewish man, which brings another level of excitement for some.
“Kamala Harris’ husband is our hot Jewish dad crush,” Jenny Singer wrote for Forward last year. “Schlubby Jewish husbands of much more impressive and attractive women, this is OUR moment,” Atlantic staff writer Adam Serwer tweeted.
Emhoff is a father of two adult children, from a previous marriage to Kerstin Emhoff, founder of the production company Prettybird. In an essay written for Elle in 2019, Harris revealed that the Emhoff children (named Cole and Ella, after John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald) are responsible for giving their stepmother the now-ubiquitous “Momala” moniker.
Born in Brooklyn to a shoe designer father, Emhoff has been a West Coaster since high school; he went to the University of Southern California for law and has been a practicing attorney since 1990. He specializes in entertainment litigation; as The Hollywood Reporter revealed last year, one of his clients included the ad agency behind the Taco Bell Chihuahua commercials.
He met Harris in 2013, after being set up on a blind date by the public relations consultant Chrisette Hudlin. They were married within a year. True to form, Harris wrote in Elle about wearing her go-to Converse sneakers to meet his children. She and Kerstin are “dear friends” and were coconspirator “cheerleaders” at Ella’s swim team meets. “In Harris’ words: We sometimes joke that our modern family is almost a little too functional.”
So how do we talk about Doug? A Marie Claire profile from last month written by Jessica M. Goldstein paints him as an unassuming family man, the type of guy so devoted to his wife that he seemingly has not worn anything other than her campaign shirt for the last two years.
“Our relationship and the way I roll, my whole life has just been to support the people I love unequivocally, and they support me,” he said in that interview. “The whole thing has been based on parity and mutual respect.”
For many women this might be jaw-dropping, almost pornographic, after enduring four years of Trump forgetting his wife’s name and reading about his numerous alleged affairs. When Harris received the news that Joe Biden had won the presidency, the couple was out jogging. A photo from the moment shows Emhoff pulling Harris into a big bear hug. Who does not want to root for their easy intimacy?
“If you didn’t feel that, I don’t know if you have a heart,” Patricia McKinney, a 61-year-old director of human resources and member of the so-called #DougHive told The Daily Beast. “It felt so real and genuine.”
McKinney, who joined the Facebook group “Doug Emhoff for Second Gentleman” this week, first learned his name when Harris began running for president. She looked the candidate up on Wikipedia, then clicked on her husband’s name. “The first thing I noticed was his smile,” McKinney said. “That’s still one of the things I like about him. It seems so infectious.”
Body language experts could write dissertations on the way the couple hugs. “Whenever he embraces her, he puts his left arm on her back,” McKinney said. “That’s the Doug hug.”
McKinney says she wants to know about Emhoff’s fashion the same way she followed Michelle Obama’s style. “I want to know what Doug wears when he’s jogging,” she said. “What’s the brand? We all have our specific brands. Does Doug wear Ralph Lauren? It’s important to know that, because it gives you a sense of communi
cation. If I see Doug in a Ralph Lauren shirt, and I recognize it, I might go out and buy one to be like Doug.”
The Daily Beast was unable to find any men’s brands willing to go on the record about their desires to dress the second gentleman; if he were a woman, designers would no doubt rush to send samples.
“I just don’t think we’ll have anything to talk about with him sartorially,” Evan Ross Katz, a fashion writer, said. “Fashion is such a window into who the first lady is, and with Michelle Obama larger conversations came out of what she wore. I just don’t think we’re going to see Doug wearing Supreme. I don’t think there will be any interest in dressing him at all.”
Does that give him a free pass against the scrutiny that first ladies have endured for generations? Sure. “We can’t not talk about what Doug’s wearing without speaking about the gender politics of it all,” Katz added. “It goes to show you how misogyny rears its ugly head.”
One popular meme account, @queeraioli, run by a 26-year-old queer woman from Portland, Oregon, spent this weekend pointing out the absurdity that comes with media thirsting over Doug.
@Queeraioli, who declined to give The Daily Beast her full name, posted a Twitter thread that began, “Please let’s only give Doug fashion and sartorial media attention like all of the White House wives through history. A little sassy equity as a treat?”
“Diagonal stripes? Bold choice, Doug,” read the caption to a photo of Emhoff in an entirely boring blue suit.
“We’re not conditioned to criticize or even pay attention to normative men’s appearances to the extent we are conditioned to criticize and focus on how all women and gender-nonconforming folks look,” @queeraioli said. “A white, cis-heterosexual, upper-class male named Doug? He seems hilariously uninteresting and forgettable. I think a fashion magazine would be hard-pressed to write an intriguing article, which is why it’s so funny to try and create headlines about him.”
The “punchline of the memes,” @queeraioli clarified, “Isn’t femininity being applied to a cis-man. These memes are funny because they articulate a double-standard that non-men have been well aware of and speaking out against for centuries,” she explained. “The joke is the way society has viewed and talked about women and femmes.”
Aparna Thomas, a professor of political science and gender studies at Cornell College, believes that Emhoff’s ascension provides “a great time to have this conversation about traditional gender roles and norms that have been turned upside down.”
Emhoff himself might not be an avatar of empowerment, but he could be a subtle role model for men, especially after years of Trump hawking toxic masculinity. “We are still thinking along the gender binary when we talk about a second gentleman,” Thomas said. “Even this term ‘second gentleman,’ carries with it that loaded connotation. We have to move past this, in our language, in our attitude, in our thinking.”
Michael Sebastian is the editor-in-chief of Esquire, and though he wants his team to cover Emhoff, he hopes to do so carefully. “If you put too much focus on him, it would belie what he has done so much of a good job of in the first place, not taking attention from her,” Sebastian said. “In some ways, I have had to remind myself that Doug is there and we should be writing about him. Kamala is the much, much bigger story.”
Esquire might cover Emhoff’s clothing—if he steps up his game. “If you look at his style right now, he doesn’t wear anything bold and unusual,” Sebastian said. “He’s very much a lawyer dad. The only thing I have seen that’s stuck out, which I love, is when he wears the Kamala t-shirts with a blazer. That’s a very dad move, a middle-aged dad move, and he pulls it off well.”
Sally Holmes, the editor-in-chief of Marie Claire, also noted Emhoff’s penchant for Wife Guy fashion. “It’s kind of fun that he supports his wife through his shirts,” Holmes said. “It’s meaningful. It’s something that shouldn’t be a headline, or shouldn’t be noteworthy, but unfortunately it still is. I think it brings a lot of excitement back to this idea of covering political fashion.”
Emhoff projects a message of “unyielding support,” said Harper’s Bazaar executive editor Leah Cherkinoff. “That’s not revelatory but it’s a kind of role we’ve seen women be expected to play for so long. It’s refreshing to see that flipped.”
So maybe we can expect a bit of Doug-mania in the coming months. “The internet loves straight white men that ‘seem’—I’m using heavy air quotes—atypical in appearance,” Katz, the fashion writer, said. “He’s going to get a little bit of that in terms of people thinking, ‘Isn’t Doug cute?’ There is a viral life for someone like Doug.”