Since Donald Trump was inaugurated as US President, there has been one woman beaming with confidence beside him – and it's not Melania, his wife. Is Trump's daughter, Ivanka, going to be the surrogate First Lady, asks Nick Bryant.
America’s real First Lady takes charge
As Donald Trump uttered the 35 words that made him the most powerful man in the world, his wife, Melania, performed the traditional First Lady role of cradling the two Bibles on which her husband had placed his hand and of gazing at him admiringly as he recited the presidential oath of office. Although she looked staggeringly beautiful in a powder-blue dress that recalled the style of Jackie Kennedy’s inaugural outfit and performed her role with grace and style, it didn’t appear that the Slovenian-born former supermodel truly wanted to be there. In the midst of this inaugural show, she seemed somewhat perplexed by this new reality.
More confident on the stage that day was the younger woman seated in the row behind, resplendent in a white pantsuit designed by Oscar de la Renta, which exuded glamour and power.
Peering down from my perch in the press stand just a few metres away, as the 21-gun salute echoed around the US Capitol and the military band thumped out Hail to the Chief,
I felt as if Ivanka Marie Trump had just become the new First Lady.
From the moment the President’s eldest daughter had set foot in Washington the previous day, on board a plane emblazoned with the words “United States of America” rather than the more usual “Trump”, she had been an eye-catching
presence. While the other women in the Trump family had worn black to visit the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery, that most sacred of shrines, she had worn bold green. Her Instagram feed, whether intentionally or not, also evoked the spirit of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot. Not long after the inauguration, she posted pictures from inside the White House of her 10-month-old toddler, Theodore, crawling for the first time in a video reminiscent of the black-and-white photographs of John Jnr playing under JFK’s desk in the Oval Office.
After that inaugural weekend, Melania headed back to Manhattan with her 10-yearold son, Barron, to resume their lives in Trump Tower. Ivanka stayed in Washington, her new home. Less than two weeks later, when the new Commander-in-Chief travelled to a military base in Delaware to perform the solemn task of greeting the casket containing the body of a Navy Seal killed during a military operation in Yemen, Ivanka was at his side as he boarded the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House. It was the surest sign yet that the First Daughter had assumed the role of surrogate First Lady.
Her rise is not a singular achievement.
With Melania in New York and the Obamas in retirement, the 35-year-old business executive has also become part of the most dominant power couple in Washington, if not the world. During the presidential campaign, her husband, the property tycoon Jared Kushner, rose to become her father’s most trusted adviser, wielding far more influence than either of Trump’s sons, Donald Jnr or Eric. Jared was soon sworn in as a White House senior advisor and given an office of his own in the West Wing. The couple has also bought some Washington real estate, a $5.5-million residence in an exclusive neighbourhood of the capital, a three-minute walk from the Obamas’ new home.
In their new abode, the couple has already started hosting “working dinner parties”, as they are called, bringing together the chief executives of massive companies such as Walmart and General Motors in an attempt to push Ivanka’s pet projects – women’s empowerment in the workplace and paid maternity leave.
And, before leaving New York, she hosted a glitzy gathering at Wendi Deng Murdoch’s Fifth Avenue penthouse, attended by female corporate chiefs, as well as fashion figures such as Tory Burch and Christy Turlington. These soirées are in line with the theme of Ivanka’s new book, Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success.
Daughters are said to occupy a special place in their fathers’ hearts, but the phrase “Daddy’s Girl” seems inadequate to describe Donald Trump’s fondness for Ivanka. Famously and cringeworthily, he even once said that he might date her if she wasn’t his daughter. Yet he is also the object of her devotion. To be at his side in Washington, she has not only left behind her Manhattan friends – the US capital is a drowsy town by comparison – but also the headquarters of her eponymous clothing and accessories brand, Ivanka Trump. Her proximity to power has already raised eyebrows, as well as concerns about conflicts of interest. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Trump Tower before
Her Instagram feed evoked JFK’s Camelot.
Christmas, Ivanka controversially sat in on the meeting. In a phone conversation between Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri and the President-elect, she also joined the call – as the Trumps were battling to get approval for a realestate project in Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.
When the Trump family appeared with Donald on 60 Minutes, in his first television interview as President-elect, Ivanka wore a $10,000 bracelet from her own range, which her staff tried to promote online the following day with a screen grab from the show.
Because of her closeness to her father, she has become a target of protesters. The #GrabYourWallet campaign has called for a boycott of her fashion brand – the department store Nordstrom has already stopped selling it – while a Dear Ivanka Instagram account publishes photos of the former model alongside messages from those who fear her father.
“Dear Ivanka, I’m an American Muslim and I was attacked on the subway,” reads one post. “Dear Ivanka” candlelit vigils have also been held outside her apartment building in the Nolita neighbourhood of Manhattan. When Ivanka posted a picture of herself and Jared – him in black-tie, her in a silver ball gown – at the very moment protests had erupted around the country in fury at the Trump administration’s travel ban on arrivals from seven majority-Muslim countries, she was ridiculed online. One post showed a child refugee cowering in a silver comfort blanket and asked who wore the colour better.
President Ivanka Trump?
Yet there are critics of the new President who think Ivanka’s move to Washington is a positive development because she could end up being a moderating influence on her father. A one-time bestie of Chelsea Clinton, she donated to Hillary Clinton’s first campaign for the presidency, when the former First Lady lost out to Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008.
And during the presidential transition, Ivanka arranged for her father to meet Al Gore, the former Vice-President and climate change activist. While her father has written off man-made global warming as a hoax invented by the Chinese, she is known to be a committed environmentalist, with some even speaking of her as the Trump administration’s unofficial “Climate Tsar”.
Ivanka and Jared have also been credited with persuading the President not to issue an executive order that would have removed some of the protections against discrimination that the LGBTQ community enjoys.
Does she have presidential ambitions of her own? It’s tempting to cast Ivanka as a modern-day Eva Peron, the dazzling wife of the 1950s Argentine President Juan Peron, who was beloved by the working classes and eyed high office herself. Certainly, there are physical similarities, but before her father ran for the presidency, Ivanka was not involved in conservative US politics. “Like many of my fellow millennials,” she confessed in a speech before the Republican Convention last year, “I do not consider myself categorically Republican or Democrat.”
Like Michelle Obama, Ivanka doesn’t seem to have any great appetite for the cut and thrust of America’s increasingly vicious politics. Besides, her elder brother, Donald
Jnr, looks more like the political heir, not least because his conservative speeches echo those of his father. By contrast, Ivanka’s public remarks always sound more moderate.
Doubtless, Melania will reappear for the great set-piece events of the presidency, such as the annual State of the Union address on Capitol
Hill and the upcoming state visit to the United Kingdom, when the Trumps will be hosted by the Queen. Yet it does look increasingly likely that Ivanka will perform some of the traditional, day-to-day First Lady roles. Her fans will talk of the rise and rise of Ivanka, the Princess in the US’ newest political royal family, but her critics will view her in a very different light – as the beautiful face of an ugly administration.
US President Donald Trump singles out Ivanka at his inauguration on January 20, 2017. RIGHT: With husband Jared and their children (from left) Arabella, Joseph and Theodore, tellingly photographed at Blair House, across the road from the White House.
President Trump and Ivanka taking Marine One from the White House. BELOW: Ivanka and Jared at the Freedom Ball, after her father’s inauguration.
BELOW: Ivanka introduces her father at an event during his presidential campaign in 2016. BOTTOM: “Dear Ivanka” protesters outside her apartment in New York.