For now, Me­la­nia Trump plans to be long-dis­tance first lady

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION+WORLD - By Catherine Lucey

It will be one of many un­usual things about a Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion: a long-dis­tance first lady.

Trump will move into the White House af­ter the Jan. 20 in­au­gu­ra­tion. Break­ing with tra­di­tion, Me­la­nia Trump and 10-year-old son Bar­ron plan to re­main in New York City at least un­til the end of the school year.

While the de­ci­sion sets Me­la­nia Trump apart from other first ladies — both Michelle Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton moved with school-age chil­dren in tow — it seems in char­ac­ter. The for­mer model and nat­u­ral­ized U.S. cit­i­zen from Slove­nia was an elu­sive fig­ure dur­ing the cam­paign and had no po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore her hus­band’s stun­ningly suc­cess­ful out­sider cam­paign.

“We’re in a time when all the molds are be­ing bro­ken,” said Katherine Jel­li­son, head of the his­tory depart­ment at Ohio Univer­sity and an author­ity on first ladies. “That may be the case where we have a re­defin­ing of a role that, af­ter all, isn’t in the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

Trump spokesman Ja­son Miller cited “sen­si­tiv­ity” about pulling Bar­ron from school midyear. In an in­ter­view with US Weekly ear­lier this year, Me­la­nia Trump said: “Bar­ron is the pri­or­ity for now and he needs me at this age. He needs a par­ent at home, and I like to keep it as nor­mal as pos­si­ble.”

Anita McBride, chief of staff to Laura Bush dur­ing her time in the White House, noted that Michelle Obama also weighed de­lay­ing her fam­ily’s move for sim­i­lar rea­sons, but “ul­ti­mately made a dif­fer­ent de­ci­sion and one that suited their fam­ily.”

Just how Me­la­nia Trump will tackle the White House, and how she will be re­ceived by the pub­lic, is un­clear. The first lady usu­ally serves as the of­fi­cial host­ess and typ­i­cally un­der­takes some kind of ad­vo­cacy work. Michelle Obama took on child­hood obe­sity and other projects. But be­ing first lady has no of­fi­cial du­ties or any clear play­book.

Mar­ried to Don­ald Trump for nearly 12 years, Me­la­nia Trump is his third wife. A U.S. cit­i­zen since 2006, she will be only the sec­ond first lady born out­side the coun­try. Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, was born in Lon­don to an Amer­i­can father and Bri­tish mother.

So far, Me­la­nia Trump’s few for­ays into pol­i­tics have been a mixed suc­cess.

Her speech at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion was widely panned af­ter the dis­cov­ery of strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties of por­tions of her speech to the one de­liv­ered by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Demo­cratic con­ven­tion. And she has had to de­fend her hus­band against ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual as­sault. She has chal­lenged the ve­rac­ity of re­ports that he im­posed him­self on women, de­spite his boasts in a 2005 video about do­ing so.

In the cou­ple’s first post­elec­tion in­ter­view, on CBS’ “60 Min­utes,” Me­la­nia Trump said: “I will stay true to my­self. I’m very strong and tough and con­fi­dent.”

For now, McBride said, the pro­fes­sional staff at the White House can do much of the event plan­ning, with the first lady weigh­ing in re­motely and trav­el­ing down from time to time.

McBride noted one big event loom­ing: the Gov­er­nor’s Ball in Fe­bru­ary, a stand­ing event on the cal­en­dar.

An­other pos­si­bil­ity is that other fam­ily mem­bers, like Trump’s daugh­ter Ivanka, could take host­ess du­ties at times. There is plenty of his­tor­i­cal prece­dent for that, ac­cord­ing to Jel­li­son. When Jackie Kennedy trav­eled, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s mother or sis­ters would fill in. If Bess Tru­man was home in Mis­souri, her daugh­ter, Mar­garet, would play host­ess dur­ing Harry Tru­man’s pres­i­dency. Julie Nixon some­times ap­peared on be­half of her mother, Pat Nixon.

How­ever the events are or­ga­nized, Doug Wead, who worked for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush and wrote a book about pres­i­dents’ chil­dren, said the Trumps are ex­perts at event plan­ning.

“You have this un­usual sit­u­a­tion where you have a pres­i­dent who doesn’t have po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, but he has busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence. They will know how to en­ter­tain,” Wead said.

In terms of ad­vo­cacy, Me­la­nia Trump has men­tioned do­ing work that ad­dresses bul­ly­ing — a no­table choice given the pres­i­den­t­elect’s love of name-call­ing on so­cial me­dia. It can take some time for the first lady to launch per­sonal projects. Michelle Obama be­gan her “Let’s Move” ini­tia­tive about a year into her hus­band’s first term.

If Me­la­nia Trump tries to keep some dis­tance from Wash­ing­ton even af­ter she moves, she wouldn’t be the first pres­i­den­tial spouse seek­ing space. Bess Tru­man of­ten fled Wash­ing­ton for her home­town of In­de­pen­dence, Mis­souri. And Jackie Kennedy liked to travel in Europe.

“I’m not say­ing it has al­ways been the case that first ladies and their fam­i­lies loved liv­ing in the White House,” Jel­li­son said. “There were many who spent a great deal of time away.”

EVAN VUCCI, FILE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Nov. 9 photo, Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, left, ar­rives to speak at an elec­tion night rally with his son, Bar­ron, and wife, Me­la­nia, in New York. Break­ing with tra­di­tion, Don­ald Trump will move into the White House af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion, while Me­la­nia and 10-year-old Bar­ron plan to re­main in New York City un­til at least the end of the school year.

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