Michelle Obama becomes Clinton’s most powerful weapon

Michelle Obama becomes Clinton’s most powerful weapon
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Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaObamas reportedly buying Martha's Vineyard mansion The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Obama explains decision to get into movie business: 'We all have a sacred story' MORE proved her effectiveness as a surrogate for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces DHS cyber agency to prioritize election security, Chinese threats ABC chose a debate moderator who hates Trump MORE in the most dramatic fashion yet on Thursday.

The first lady eviscerated Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE in a speech in Manchester, N.H., hammering him for his rhetoric and behavior toward women.

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“This is not normal. This is not politics as usual,” Obama said at one point. “This is disgraceful. It is intolerable.”

Though she did not name Trump in her address, she did refer to the 2005 tape of the GOP presidential nominee boasting to TV anchor Billy Bush about being able to grab women by the genitals without permission because he was famous.

“This was not just a lewd conversation, that wasn’t just locker room banter,” the first lady said. “This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior and actually bragging about kissing and groping women — using language so obscene that many of us were worried about children hearing it when we turn on the TV.”

The speech caught fire on social media and elsewhere even as Obama was still at the lectern, with left-leaning pundits and others heaping praise upon her.

“This is Michelle Obama’s ‘yes we can’ speech. Right here,” MSNBC anchor Joy Reid tweeted

“Flotus torches Trump,” was the headline on The Huffington Post, using an acronym for "first lady of the United States."

The address was covered live on cable news, and the reaction to it stole some of Trump’s thunder from a rally he held shortly afterward. There, he inveighed against media bias and said that the women who have come forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct are engaged in “slander and libel.”

Obama’s address was just the latest reminder of how the first lady has become comfortable — and increasingly potent — as an overtly political figure.

Her address at this year’s Democratic National Convention was one of the highlights of that event. She brought some delegates to tears in the speech’s closing moments when she said, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.” 

The poeticism of that image was followed by a direct punch at Trump. Obama argued that her personal story and the historic changes she has witnessed meant that people should not “let anyone tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth.”

Trump is loath to let any attack go unanswered, so the first lady might find herself in his sights after her New Hampshire speech. But the White House is betraying no nervousness about that prospect, insisting that any such move would backfire on the GOP nominee.

“I can’t think of a bolder way for Donald Trump to lose even more standing than he already has than by engaging the first lady of the United States,” principal deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters on Thursday.

Obama’s biography in itself makes her a uniquely difficult person to counter.

Any harsh attack on the only black first lady in the nation’ s history is fraught with political danger. Her status as the mother of two young daughters, one of whom is still at high school, gives her views about Trump’s rhetoric added heft and resonance.

As someone who neither holds nor is seeking any elected office, she is mostly untainted by contentious debates about the merits or legacies of any particular policy, as both her husband and former President Clinton can be.

She is also extremely popular. In August, Gallup found that she was viewed favorably by twice as many Americans as viewed her negatively, 64 percent to 32 percent. That put her ahead not only of Trump and Clinton — the two most unpopular presidential nominees of modern times — but also in more positive territory than her husband, or the two people who might succeed her as the presidential spouse, Bill Clinton and Melania Trump.

At one time, Michelle Obama was neither as popular nor as willing to enter into the political crucible as she is now. 

She was skeptical of her husband’s political ambitions from the very start of his career, as his second book, "The Audacity of Hope," makes clear. 

During the 2008 campaign, conservatives criticized her for some remarks — most famously, she said in March of that year that “for the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country.” A cover story of the conservative magazine National Review anointed her “Mrs. Grievance.”

For most of her time in the White House, she has focused on uncontroversial issues, such as the need to take care of veterans. At the same time, even apparently innocuous drives, such as her efforts to reduce childhood obesity, have become more contentious than she might have expected.

But the first lady is willing to do her share this year to elect Clinton — a woman who competed against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocratic governors fizzle in presidential race Obamas reportedly buying Martha's Vineyard mansion Trump has 62 percent disapproval rating in new AP poll MORE with ferocity during the 2008 Democratic primaries but whom both Obamas now view as a guardian of their legacy.

Obama’s Thursday speech made clear that her efforts are not just motivated by the desires, common in any political campaign, to spark voter enthusiasm and drive up turnout. This is about something more personal.

“If we let Hillary’s opponent win this election, then we are sending a clear message to our kids that everything that they’re seeing and hearing is perfectly okay,” she said. “We are telling our sons that it is OK to humiliate women. We are telling our daughters that this is how they deserve to be treated. We are telling all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country. Is that what we want for our children?”

Shortly afterward, a tweet apparently from Clinton herself appeared, on the @HillaryClinton account.

.@FLOTUS, I'm in awe. Thanks for putting into words what's in so many of our hearts. -H,” it read.