At first glance, it looked like a typical Hillary Clinton campaign event in New Hampshire on Thursday afternoon. But First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a campaign speech that was far from typical.
Obama was there to talk about Donald Trump’s history of sexual harassment, the scope and magnitude of which is still only just coming to light. Allegations against the failed businessman stretch back decades, but the public’s first real glimpse into the depths of Trump’s depravity came last week, when tapes of him recounting the times he would approach women and “grab them by the pussy” were surfaced by the Washington Post. Since then, multiple women have come forward with stories of their run-ins with Trump behind closed doors and away from prying eyes.
“We saw this candidate actually bragging about sexually assaulting women. And I can’t believe that I’m saying that. A candidate for president of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women. And I have to tell you, I can’t stop thinking about this,” said Obama. “It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted. So while I’d love nothing more than to pretend like this isn’t happening, and to come out here and do my normal campaign speech, it would be dishonest and disingenuous of me to just move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream.”
Instead, Obama offered perhaps the strongest condemnation of Trump’s misogyny to date, and contrasted his appetite for sexual assault with the historic candidacy of Hillary Clinton — all without calling him out by name.
“It now seems very clear that this isn’t an isolated incident. It’s one of countless examples of how he has treated women his whole life, and I have to tell you, I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally,” she said. “And I’m sure that many of you do to, particularly the women. The shameful comments about our bodies, the disrespect of our ambitions and intellect, the belief that you can do anything you want to a women: It is cruel. It is frightening. And the truth is, it hurts.”
Obama also addressed some of the reaction following the release of the Trump tapes. In the days since they were made public, Trump campaign officials and thousands of his sexist supporters have lashed out at Trump’s accusers, attacking their credibility and even their physical appearance. After a hypothetical poll was circulated that showed Trump winning in a landslide if women weren’t allowed to vote, Trump supporters began tweeting with the hashtag #RepealThe19th.
“We thought all of that was ancient history, didn’t we? And so many have worked for so many years to end this kind of violence and abuse and disrespect, but here we are,” said Obama. “We are drowning in it. And all of us are doing what women have always done: we’re trying to keep our heads above water…Maybe because we think that admitting that how much it hurts makes us as women look weak. Maybe we’re afraid to be that vulnerable. Maybe we’ve grown accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet, because we’ve seen that people often won’t take our word over his.”
Michelle Obama’s comments were perhaps the most powerful rejection of the Trump brand of sexism to date, but hardly the first. Republicans like Ana Navarro have also lambasted Trump and his supporters for their anti-women rhetoric, as have everyday voters like Marybeth Glenn, a conservative woman whose epic Tweet storm calling out Republicans who have refused to distance themselves from Trump set the internet aflame.
Michelle Obama has emerged as one of Hillary Clinton’s most effective surrogates, energizing crowds at the DNC last summer and again on Thursday. The image of the country’s first black First Lady on stage in support of the first female presidential candidate was thrown into sharp relief when, moments after Obama’s speech ended, the networks cut to Donald Trump, who proceeded to attack his accusers as ugly and untrustworthy.