The Elephant in the Room: Michelle Obama’s Rhetorical Shunning of Donald Trump

On the first night of the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama gave a speech that was widely acknowledged by pundits on the right and the left as the strongest convention speech this election cycle. The strength of her speech relied in part on her relentlessly uplifting language, drawing a sharp contrast with most speeches at the Republican National Convention.

The other key element of her speech was the deliberate choice to avoid mentioning Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Despite not mentioning him by name, her audience knew to whom she was obliquely referring. She left them laughing and cheering. This calculated effort strikes at the heart of Trump’s candidacy.

• It reduces Trump’s profile. Up until now, Trump has benefited from disproportionate media coverage. The general election however is a much different news environment than the primaries and that balance is likely to be redressed. Someone searching online for Obama’s speech is probably less likely to use Trump as a search term, reducing his footprint online incrementally.

• It diminishes the legitimacy of the Trump candidacy. Michelle Obama effectively asserted that Trump was not even worth mentioning in a political speech about what is important in the general election. She wrote him out of the narrative.

• It increases the impact of her jibes. It becomes an in-joke: everyone knows who we’re all talking about. The post-speech analysis bears this out. Pundits were commenting on the remarkable attack on “Trump without ever mentioning his name.” It drew more attention to her speech and magnified its reach and effect.

• On some level given what others have written about Trump’s personality and braggadocio, it likely offends Donald Trump as a diminishment. For Clinton and the Democratic Party, an angry Trump is their best friend. He makes his most glaringly dissonant public statements and tweets when he is angry. The perceived disrespect of not being mentioned as the other presidential candidate by name is likely galling.

Michelle Obama laid out an effective blueprint for speakers on subsequent nights to extol Clinton and dismiss Trump. While guest speakers might not avail themselves of this plan, I wouldn’t be surprised if the remaining marquis speakers: President Obama, Vice President Biden, Bill Clinton, Tim Kaine, and Hillary Clinton all adopted this rhetorical style. This would create an effective running joke and point of discussion among analysts and the public alike. It would also further incense the Trump campaign by denying them media attention by making them a laughingstock.

Ridicule has long and rich political history and conservatives tend to be more vulnerable than liberals. Joining a gentle denigration of Trump to an uplifting, message directly would be an effective, direct response to the elephant in the room.

Originally published at