How Michelle Obama's speech denouncing Donald Trump came together

Story highlights

  • Michelle Obama spoke Thursday about Trump's crude comments caught on tape
  • "It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted," Obama said

Cleveland (CNN)Listening to the audio tape last week of Donald Trump telling a chortling interviewer he employed his fame as an excuse to assault women, First Lady Michelle Obama grew incensed.

The man whose political career was born in the racially-tinged conspiracy about her husband's birth was describing in vile terms a penchant for sexual aggression. This was beyond the standard campaign trail rancor, the first lady would say later. It was something more.
    With a campaign speech scheduled for the following week in New Hampshire, Democratic sources said the first lady set to work refining and updating a message she'd been seeking to deliver for a long time about Donald Trump's cruel language toward women.
    "This is a speech that the first lady has wanted to personally deliver for a long time," said an aide. "It came directly from the first lady."
    That address, delivered at a campaign inflection point as woman after woman emerged to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct, evolved into what could be one of the most effective political speeches of the year.
    "I have to tell you that I can't stop thinking about this," the first lady said, who before this summer had rarely offered her insights into the emotional turbulence that comes with being a political spouse.
    "It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted," Obama said. "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 to me to just move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream."
    The first lady has carefully honed her public image since she entered the national spotlight more than eight years ago, in part through her direct style of speaking. And while she's advocated passionately for her chosen causes, like combating childhood obesity and supporting military families, she's largely kept her innermost thoughts on the country's political life private.
    "In any position, you mature over time," said Desiree Rogers, the Obamas' first White House social secretary, who worked closely with the first lady at the beginning of her tenure in the East Wing. "You start to get your sea legs, you make decisions about what's going to be important to you."
    "She's been graceful throughout this whole process and you get better and better at it, and I think that's what we see," Rogers added. "We see a very mature woman -- a woman who knows what she wants, knows what's important her. And most importantly, not afraid to speak about it."
    Unlike the rhetorical gymnastics her husband has employed, Michelle Obama aims to get her message across by forging an emotional connection to her audience. Responsibility for much of what the first lady says in public rests in her speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz, who's described in interviews an ability to channel the first lady's voice as she's drafting her remarks.
    "As I write for her now, I'm sort of editing the speech with her voice in my head because she's given me so much feedback over the years and been so clear about what she wants," Hurwitz told The Washington Post in June.
    Through the first lady's office, Hurwitz declined to detail the preparation that went into Thursday's remarks. But those familiar with the speech's development described an address that sprung directly from the speaker herself.
    Clinton's campaign hopes Trump's lewd remarks will disqualify the candidate in the eyes of women voters, and has jumped on every opportunity to deploy Trump's words against him. Michelle Obama, however, didn't need convincing, approaching the campaign already determined to voice her scathing rebuke.
    "Of course the campaign was supportive," the aide said.
    Unlike the President, Michelle Obama isn't prone to revising her speeches until the last minute, according to people who have worked for her in the past. A lawyer and executive before she became first lady, she is more comfortable with carefully executed drafts and at least one practice session.
    For a speech with the deeply personal bent of Thursday's address, her former aides say there's little doubt the first lady spent many hours over the past days writing and perfecting her address. And while aides describe a healthy competition between husband and wife over political influence, there's little question the first lady consulted the President on her message.
    Occupied with work on Air Force One when the speech aired live Thursday, President Barack Obama later watched a video of his wife's remarks on a long limo ride in Pittsburgh.
    "I could not be prouder of her," the President said Friday.