The country’s former first ladies are showing there are second acts in political life after the White House.
From Hillary Clinton abetting the anti-Trump resistance to Michelle Obama’s warning that men should indeed be on edge amid the MeToo movement, the former White House sidekicks are stepping deeply into the political moment.
So, too, is current first lady Melania Trump, who took her first solo strides on the world stage this month, weighing in on Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, the treatment of men under MeToo, and her own abuse at the hands of the internet.
“I could say I’m the most bullied person in the world — one of them,” Mrs. Trump told ABC News in interviews taped during her trip to Africa last week and airing over several days this week.
Though coming at the issue from different perspectives, the prominence of current and former first ladies on an issue of such potent political currency is rare, but the country welcomes it, said Anita McBride, former chief of staff to another first lady, Laura Bush.
“What these first ladies are doing is shining a light on conversations that are going on all around the country among women,” Ms. McBride said.
She also said the diversity of views from the first ladies was refreshing.
“In my mind, they are reflective of women generally around the country. We’re not monolithic, we all share different points of view,” said Ms. McBride, who is also director of American University’s First Ladies Initiative. “In this particular moment, where women are somehow expected to all think the same way around the MeToo movement, in reality there are different points of view.”
Mrs. Trump weighed in during interviews with ABC, which aired clips Wednesday. The first lady said she supports the aims of the movement, but said allegations must be backed up.
“I do stand with women, but we need to show the evidence,” she said. “You cannot just say to somebody, ‘I was sexually assaulted,’ or, ‘You did that to me,’ because sometimes the media goes too far, and the way they portray some stories it’s, it’s not correct, it’s not right.”
A day after Mrs. Trump’s comments aired, Mrs. Obama was on NBC’s “Today” show and said she doesn’t mind if men are feeling a little hot under the collar right now, calling it the price to pay for progress on women’s issues.
“There’s going to be little upheaval, there’s going to be a little discomfort, but I think it’s up to the women out there to say ‘Sorry.’ Sorry that you feel uncomfortable, but I’m now paving the way for the next generation,” Mrs. Obama said.
The first ladies club also played an important role earlier this year when the Trump administration pursued its zero tolerance border policy, under which border jumpers were prosecuted — and their children were separated from them.
Mrs. Bush was the first to complain in a Washington Post op-ed, followed by Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, who took to Twitter to register their opposition. Rosalynn Carter then issued a statement through the Carter Center calling separation “disgraceful and a shame to our country.”
Mrs. Trump then took a high-profile trip to the border to visit facilities where families were being detained in immigration custody, bringing her own brand of attention to the issue.
Her visit was nearly overshadowed by her choice of jacket, which had the slogan “I really don’t care do u?” emblazoned on the back. She faced renewed criticism this month after she wore a white pith helmet during part of her African tour, sparking complaints she was adopting a symbol of colonialism.
“I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear,” the first lady and former model told reporters while standing in front of Egypt’s Great Sphinx.
She has had the most ambitious post-White House political agenda, having won a Senate seat, served as secretary of state and run, twice, for president.
Perhaps fueled by those failed bids, she offered a strident take on the political moment this week, saying she didn’t mind the antics of protesters who harassed and heckled GOP senators during the confirmation process for Justice Kavanaugh.
“You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” Mrs. Clinton told CNN.
Mrs. Obama, though, took a less combative approach — and even refuted former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who took her famous 2016 admonition on civility in politics, “When they go low, we go high,” and turned it into a call for violence: “When they go low, we kick them.”
“Fear is not a proper motivator,” Mrs. Obama said. “Hope wins out.”
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