How Melania and Ivana Revealed The Females in Trump’s Circle
President Trump’s first wife, Ivana Trump, made critical remarks Oct. 9 regarding First Lady Melania Trump, inviting a question that’s central to Trump’s time in office: how much power do the women in his inner circle hold?
During an interview with “Good Morning America,” Ivana took a jab at the first lady when she said, “I have the direct number to the White House but I don't really want to call him there because Melania is there. And I don't really want to cause any kind of jealousy or something like that, because I'm basically first Trump wife, OK? I'm first lady.”
Melania Trump hit back, pointing out that Ivana Trump’s declarations had “no substance” and were “attention-seeking and self-serving noise.”
"Mrs. Trump has made the White House a home for Barron and the President. She loves living in Washington, DC, and is honored by her role as first lady of the United States. She plans to use her title and role to help children, not sell books," the first lady’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, said to CNN.
Ivana’s recent statements are not so surprising. The Czech-born Ivana has remained relatively outspoken about advising her husband from time to time, with her new memoir, “Raising Trump,” detailing the lessons she taught her three children--Donald Jr, Eric and Ivanka--alongside Trump. The president’s ex-wife often provokes a maelstrom, which is, perhaps, considered unprecedented in American presidential history, when giving interviews.
In September, Ivana told New York Post that Trump offered her the Czech ambassadorship but she declined in favor of her jet-setting lifestyle. Czech president Milos Zerman was “furious” with Ivana’s decision, calling her a “coward”, according to the Prague Daily Monitor.
When it comes to Trump’s second wife, Marla Maples, Ivana never leaves her comments on Maples to herself. Ivana attacked Maples in Jul. 25 1990, declaring she saw “her children everyday” after Maples accused her of “not paying enough attention” to Trump. The feud between Maples and Ivana on that day overshadowed former president Bush’s Supreme Court nomination, David Souter, in newspapers as noted by The Washington Post.
Nearly 26 years later, Ivana called Maples a “disgrace” for choosing to appear as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars in April 2016 when Trump was running for candidacy. “It was disrespectful to do the show. I never would have embarrassed Donald that way,” said Ivana, according to People.
No former president, except Ronald Reagan, has had a divorce and multiple wives. Reagan’s second marriage to Nancy Reagan in 1952 was seemingly picture-perfect, as noted by The Huffington Post; neither wives tore each other down — a far cry from feuds between Trump’s list of wives.
The public feuds between Trump’s wives heightens the obvious within Trump’s circle: the women have more stake than expected.
While the first lady has often been portrayed as President Trump’s “silent partner,” her quick Twitter blasts (denouncing the Charlottesville violence on Aug. 12, sending prayers to Barcelona on Aug. 17 ahead of the president himself) suggest that she is serious about her role in the White House.
As Puerto Rico struggles to heal from Hurricane Maria, Melania released a PSA encouraging Americans to donate to an organization of their choice that would fund recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. The first lady’s video comes amidst the president’s criticism of San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz’s “leadership” in the hurricane and of Puerto Ricans “want[ing] everything to be done for them” on Sept. 30. Melania’s Twitter actions and video suggest she may be seeking to act as a stabilizing force in the noise that surrounds the Trump Administration.
At a time when Sen. Corker (R-Tenn.) calls Trump a “baby” in the White House, Melania’s occasional rise from the fray signals her attempts to make it seem like the White House is functioning. In fact, her actions can be seen a sort of olive branch to Americans.
During a U.N. luncheon on Sept. 20, Melania encouraged the international community to speak out against bullying. “No child should ever feel hungry, stalked, frightened, terrorized, bullied, isolated or afraid, with nowhere to turn,” Melania said.
The timing for Melania’s thoughtful speech couldn’t be more uncanny, given three days later, the president would attack North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un in an almost childish manner as “rocket man on a suicide mission.” While Melania’s focus on anti-bullying can be seen as following in the footsteps of former first ladies such as Michelle Obama with her Let Girls Learn initiative, the first lady’s speeches or appearances usually occurs to balance the president’s heated rhetoric.
When social media blasted Melania for sporting a pair of stilettos on the walk to Air Force One on Aug. 29, Melania reacted calmly, stressing it’s sad that Harvey was ongoing but people were “more worried about her shoes.” The president, however, took that as an opportune moment to jab the media, voicing “and she’s wearing heels, like many of you do, and they went after her.”
The contrast in situational responses between Melania and Donald reveals an almost yin and yang position in the White House.
This theme recurs again in First Daughter, Ivanka Trump, and the president’s senior advisor.
Ivanka is often seen attending events like the World Entrepreneur’s Conference, hosting new initiatives such as the Computer Science initiative and accompanying her father during major summits. At times, Ivanka’s prominence resembles a combination of the roles of “First Daughter” and “First Lady” together.
After Trump’s decision to authorize a missile strike against the Assad regime on April 6, Eric Trump told the Telegraph that he was “sure” Ivanka was behind the decision. However, Ivanka quickly dismissed Eric’s words on her first foreign trip to Germany on behalf of Trump, noting that while she “expressed her sentiment to her father,” Trump made the decision.
Ivanka’s admittance to “expressing her sentiment” may seem unimportant. However, when paired with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to Ivanka to lead the American delegation to the Indian summit in November 2017, it becomes clearer that Ivanka plays a larger political role than Melania in Trump’s administration.
During the G20 summit on Jul. 7-8 in Hamburg, Ivanka sat in for the president during discussions on the World Bank initiative for female entrepreneurs. The first daughter drew such an ire that German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her as a “parcel of the American delegation.”
Although it may seem bizarre that the president would allow his daughter to represent the state in an international conference, Merkel’s defense of Ivanka indicates that a level of trust flitters here between the president, Ivanka and other heads of state. Ivanka isn’t just a first daughter; she’s a negotiator in her own right.
But, when it comes to defending the president publicly, there are three powerful negotiators that pack fiercer punches than Ivanka can. One might be acquainted with the names Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Hope Hicks.
Senior Advisor, Kellyanne Conway has often used the “diversion” tactic to defend Trump’s slew of controversial actions. When Trump said MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” on Twitter on June 29, Conway completely avoided the subject of the tweet and praised Trump for “cutting out the middleman” between his tweets and himself instead.
Conway employed the same tactic when questions came up about Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, after San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz said the federal response “collapsed.”
“I’m sorry very much that there are certain people, particularly on T.V., trying to politicize this hurricane, always trying to find a way to blame the president for things when they would do much better to figure out how to help,” Conway said on Fox News on Sept. 29.
Although Conway doesn’t play a role as a peacemaker like Ivanka, her constant oscillation between defending Trump with diversion tactics and rare silence reveal her loyalty to the president’s cause. Kellyanne Conway doesn’t care if you have an issue with the way Trump acts towards women; she cares how you treat her president. And this only underscores the level of camaraderie between Trump and Conway, and the power she gives Trump repeatedly whenever she refuses to answer a media question directly.
It’s possible that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a tougher job, as she’s responsible for answering the questions that Conway seems to runs from.
Sanders was already getting more camera time than Sean Spicer, the former White House Press Secretary, before his resignation, and has heated up the podium in her haste to strengthen Trump’s statute.
During a Sept. 28 briefing, Sanders defended Trump’s NFL comments, saying “[it] shouldn’t be about the NFL against the president” and that it was “pretty black and white.” The irony of Sanders’s statement on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality isn’t lost here.
Sanders is willing to sacrifice certain morals such as the discussion on racial inequality to back Trump’s cause. Moreover, Sanders legitimizes Trump name-calling -- “rocket man” for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un -- praising the president for originality and turning controversial conversations on North Korea to Trump being a “master of branding.” Trump might be the master of branding but he wouldn’t be the master without the women in his circle, repeatedly promoting him.
Reserved White House communications director Hope Hicks who often turns from the cameras may seem like the outlier here -- and not just because she may be the only press-shy communications director in American history.
According to POLITICO, Hicks is a “stable, consistent” presence at Trump’s side with the nickname “Hopester,” and reminds him during interviews that he doesn’t have to answer all the questions on the record.
But, in the midst of a heated New York Times interview in the White House on a possible Mueller firing, Hicks was accused of “just sitt[ing] there and letting [Trump’s words on Sessions and Mueller] happen.” This may seem like a repeat of Ivanka, Melania, Kellyanne and Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ behavior on Trump.
However, the actions of the women in the president’s inner circle’s signal that defending Trump’s actions, diverting from it or remaining silent is not about strategically communicating with the American people but about strategically communicating with the president. Trump’s volatility is balanced by the mixture of calm and storm brought to the Oval Office by these women. But most of all, it’s a sign of joint loyalty before cause.