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Following Michelle Obama's rebuke, Trump tries, fails to respond

Asked for a response to Michelle Obama, Trump could've said nothing, but he couldn't help but make himself look worse with self-defeating talking points.
Image: Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama speaks during the first night of the Democratic National Convention on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.2020 Democratic National Convention / Pool via Reuters

A recent national poll found former First Lady Michelle Obama with a 60% favorability rating, positioning her as the nation's most well liked political figure. Similarly, Gallup found that Obama was the nation's most admired woman in 2018 and 2019, despite the fact that she left the White House years earlier.

With this kind of public backing in mind, it wasn't at all surprising that she headlined the Democratic National Convention last night, delivering a breathtaking denunciation of Donald Trump's presidency.

"[W]henever we look to this White House for leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get is chaos and division and a total lack of empathy.... Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is."

Those last five words echoed the president's apparent indifference when asked in a recent interview about the brutal COVID-19 death toll in his own country. "They are dying, that's true," the Republican said earlier this month. "And it is what it is."

Obama added last night that she "hates politics," which is a shame because she's clearly very good at it. (If you missed it, we've posted the full, 18-minute speech online, and it's definitely worth your time.)

For his part, Donald Trump was asked this morning if he wanted to respond to Obama's powerful remarks. It didn't go especially well.

"She was in over her head. And frankly, she should have made the speech live, which she didn't do. She taped it and it was not only taped, it was taped a long time ago because she had the wrong deaths.... You know, she gets these fawning reviews. If you gave a real review, it wouldn't be so fawning. I thought it was a very divisive speech. Extremely divisive."

Right off the bat, it's hard to get over the laziness of a response like this. Michelle Obama said Trump's "in over his head" and fostering "division," so Trump shot back that Obama was "in over her head" and delivered "divisive" remarks.

The president genuinely seems to believe he can "no puppet" his way through any dispute, though he invariably comes across as an intemperate toddler.

What's more, it's worth emphasizing how ill-considered it is to see Trump lash out at Obama at all, given the degree to which she's vastly more popular than he is. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent explained this morning, Trump's offensive against the former first lady served as a reminder that Obama "drew blood" with her indictment.

But what I found especially amazing about the president's response was his complaint that Obama "had the wrong deaths." He was clearly referring to the fact that Obama, in remarks that were recorded several days ago, said in her speech that "more than 150,000" Americans have died as part of the coronavirus crisis.

Or put another way, asked for a response to Obama's brutal takedown of his presidency, Trump's principal concern was that she failed to give him full credit for a higher fatality total. The president apparently thought it would make Obama look worse if he reminded the public that tens of thousands of Americans have died from COVID-19 since she recorded her remarks.

I'm going to assume Trump's White House aides didn't help him come up with these self-defeating talking points.

The funny thing is, he didn't have to say (or tweet) anything. Asked if he had a response to Michelle Obama, Trump could've very easily said he didn't watch any of the remarks last night because he was too busy working on affairs of state. No one would've believed that, of course, but it would've helped him avoid any questions about the Democratic convention.

And it would've been vastly better than what Trump actually said.