Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

During and after the first night of the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, Donald Trump tweeted response attacks during the speeches of Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But as Aaron Blake points out, he was notably silent during Michelle Obama’s. More than that though, he actually complimented her.

“I thought her delivery was excellent,” Trump tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought she did a very good job. I liked her speech.”

What’s the deal? That doesn’t sound like the Donald Trump who has risen to grab the reigns of leadership in the Republican Party. He has done so primarily by attacking anyone who questions him. Even Republicans, POW’s and the disabled have not been spared – not to mention Democrats, immigrants and Muslims. He hasn’t shied away from attacking women like Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina, Elizabeth Warren. Heck, he’s even gone after the Pope. I’t’s all part and parcel of his anti-political correctness schtick.

But as Blake points out, this is not the first time Trump has gone off-message when it comes to Michelle Obama. After leading the whole re-emergence of the birther conspiracy against her husband during the run-up to the 2012 election, he tweeted this about the First Lady’s speech at the Democratic Convention that year.

It’s not as if Michelle Obama didn’t challenge Trump during her speech this week. It’s true that she never uttered his name. But she took direct aim at his behavior and character. And everyone who listened to her knew exactly who she was talking about.

So the question becomes, why is Michelle Obama the one person who throws Trump off his game? I’m not sure I can satisfactorily answer that. But what strikes me is that she doesn’t engage on his level. As she said Monday night, her motto is “when they go low, we go high.”

This provides us with an interesting comparison of two styles of response to Donald Trump – both by women. We have all reveled in the way Sen. Elizabeth Warren has thrown punches at the Republican nominee. She knows exactly where to hit and always lands a good blow. It is emotionally satisfying to watch someone do that on our behalf. But from Trump’s perspective – that’s exactly what he expects. He knows how to play that game and has spent a lifetime developing his craft.

I would propose that Donald Trump is not skilled in knowing how to argue against the deep moral values that undergird what Michelle Obama talked about Monday night. For example:

Make no mistake about it, this November, when we get to the polls, that is what we are deciding. Not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. In this election, and every election, it is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives…

[I want a] president that truly believes in the [precedent] that our founders put forth all those years ago — that we are all created equal, each a beloved part of the great American story. When crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other, we listen to each other. We lean on each other. We are always stronger together. I am here tonight because I know that that is the kind of president Hillary Clinton will be and that is why in this election, I’m with her.

I suspect there is more to it than that. But other contributors are likely more deeply psychological and not available for speculation (i.e., Michelle Obama triggers something in Trump’s psyche). But it is interesting to ponder how playing the game Trump’s way is exactly what he’s hoping for while “going high” seems to throw him off balance.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.