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Michelle Obama Rips Trump As 'Clearly In Over His Head'

Updated at 7:22 a.m. ET

Michelle Obama didn't mince words Monday night. After mostly staying out of the political fray during President Trump's tenure in the White House, she used her prime-time Democratic National Convention slot to deliver a blistering indictment on his policies and ability to lead.

"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."

The bestselling author and popular former first lady was the closer for Democrats on the first night of the convention. In a taped appearance sitting in what looked like a living room with a Biden sign behind her, Obama said she "hates politics," but she proceeded to give the most political and personal speech of the night.

She reprised her 2016 Democratic convention tag line, describing her strategy for responding to then-candidate Donald Trump: "When they go low, we go high."

Obama acknowledged that some weren't sure the Democratic Party should stick with that approach. But she defended staying true to it, saying, "Going high is the only thing that works, because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that's drowning out everything else. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight."

But for the 2020 version, Obama suggested there are times when hitting back is necessary, saying, "Going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty."

Wearing a gold necklace with letters that spelled V-O-T-E, the former first lady made an urgent plea for Americans to show up in 2020.

"We've got to vote early, in person if we can. We've got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow up to make sure they're received. And then, make sure our friends and families do the same. We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we've got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to."

That message could be viewed as at odds with advice from public health experts who warn that Americans need to social distance during the coronavirus pandemic and avoid crowded places. Joe Biden, 77, has held few public events and has stuck to just a handful of low-key events with small numbers of voters in his home state of Delaware or neighboring Pennsylvania.

Obama warned against complacency and noted that people deciding their votes didn't matter led to Trump's victory in 2016. She also made it clear people who may not be completely sold on Biden needed to get behind the party's nominee.

In a reference that could include rapper Kanye West's lackluster candidacy for president, Obama said, "This is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning."

President Trump responded to the former first lady in a series of tweets on Tuesday morning, criticizing the record of the Obama-Biden administration and mocking the timing of Michelle Obama's endorsement of her husband's vice president.

Many of the speakers during Monday night's lineup focused on issues of racial injustice in an effort to build a case that Biden is the right candidate to heal a country still reeling from the aftermath of George Floyd's death while he was in the custody of Minneapolis police officers. Floyd's family members appeared for a moment of silence as part of the programming. But Obama's speech only briefly touched on that issue, when she mentioned Floyd and another African American, Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed in Louisville, Ky., five months ago. Obama noted, "Stating the simple fact that a Black life matters is still met with derision from the nation's highest office."

The former first lady did discuss her personal experience getting to know Biden during her husband's presidency, outlining Biden's own struggles and ability to empathize with others.

"His life is a testament to getting back up, and he is going to channel that same grit and passion to pick us all up, to help us heal and guide us forward."

But a central message of her speech was focused on painting a dark picture of what she described as the state of the country and the current president's character and impact on children. At one point Obama said those in the next generation "see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists. They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages, and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protesters for a photo op."

Former President Barack Obama is slated to speak on Wednesday night about his former vice president, and it's likely he will include more firsthand accounts of Biden's leadership and involvement in some of his administration's biggest accomplishments, such as enacting major health care reforms and addressing the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. On Twitter, he also echoed his wife's push for people to get out and vote.

Michelle Obama referenced the divisions in the country, saying, "I am a Black woman speaking at the Democratic convention." But even as Biden announced the historic pick of Kamala Harris as his running mate — making her the first Black woman and the first person of Asian descent to be nominated as vice president by a major political party — she did not spend any time marking that dynamic in her speech.

Instead, she used the speech to paint a picture of what she believes is at stake for the country if the president is reelected.

Obama warned: "If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don't make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it."

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Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
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