In an election involving seriously damaged personal brands, surrogates are claiming high-profile roles as defenders of their candidates.
Donald Trump has waded into a quagmire of sexual groping allegations and faces doubts about his vengeful and mercurial personality.
Hillary Clinton is parrying criticism for deleting public record emails and allegedly favoring Clinton Foundation donors while she was secretary of state.
The latest surrogate to make a forceful case was Michelle Obama, who blasted Trump last week for allegations concerning his treatment of women. Obama won widespread attention for the speech at Southern New Hampshire University in which she cited the personal cost of Trump’s remarks.
CNN called her “The Clinton surrogate that could finish off Trump,” and the Los Angeles Times said she delivered “what may be a defining moment in the presidential campaign.” USA Today said the first lady’s speech “made shock waves for its strong and emotional condemnation of Donald Trump—all without saying his name.”
“We have a candidate for president of the United States who, over the course of his lifetime and the course of this campaign, has said things about women that are so shocking, so demeaning that I simply will not repeat anything here today,” Obama said. “And last week, we saw this candidate actually bragging about sexually assaulting women.”
Trump has apologized for his 2005 remarks boasting about groping women, saying they amounted to crude locker room talk that didn’t represent who he is. In last Sunday’s debate, he also denied having ever committed such acts. The revelation of the video and his denial were followed by accusations by several women of unwanted sexual advances this week.
Obama’s remarks came on a day when running mate Mike Pence offered a more defensive case for his candidate. He urged a conservative audience in Pennsylvania to stick with Trump.
Turning on the TV with a stick
“There have been moments in this campaign where I have to get up in the morning and turn on the television with a stick,” Pence said to a Republican group in Bethlehem.
But he added, “We cannot take four more years of the failed leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.”
Executive communications consultant Fraser P. Seitel says Obama made her case deftly.
“The first lady adroitly transitioned from personal experience—her hosting of the International Day of the Girls this week—to a political candidate’s alleged predatory acts against women,” he says. “It sounded genuine and heartfelt rather than scripted and canned.”
Trump on Thursday sought to reframe the election as a battle against the news media and establishment forces seeking to destroy his movement.
“They will attack you, they will slander you, they will seek to destroy your career and your family, they will seek to destroy everything about you, including your reputation,” he said. “They will lie, lie, lie, and then again they will do worse than that, they will do whatever is necessary.”
Hillary Clinton weighs in
Hillary Clinton called attention to Obama’s speech in an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Friday, saying the first lady “put into words what so many people are feeling and not just women and girls—men and boys.”
Clinton’s schedule shows no public rallies before the next debate, Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Instead, it reveals a heavy reliance on surrogates, among them President Barack Obama, former president Bill Clinton and their daughter Chelsea, vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and others.
“I never thought I would see the almost normalization of hate speech that we have witnessed in this election,” Chelsea Clinton said Thursday.
Trump, having shunned much of his party, nevertheless has deployed defenders among family members, law enforcement officials and religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. He has also found surrogates in women who say they were victims of the Clintons, citing sexual assaults and harassment by Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton’s court-assigned legal defense of the rapist of a 12-year-old.
But apparently the Clinton campaign feels the newly revealed allegations against Trump carry more weight than decades-old allegations against her husband.
Michelle Obama’s speech won a flood of attention on Twitter, drawing praise on the left from figures such as filmmaker Michael Moore.
A profound moment in American history took place yesterday. Michelle Obama’s speech will be played decades from now: https://t.co/bO60KZPxY0
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) October 14, 2016
By contrast, the African-American advocates for Trump who go by the name of Diamond and Silk weren’t backing down, despite the positive reviews of Michelle Obama’s speech.
— Diamond and Silk® (@DiamondandSilk) October 13, 2016