On Donald Trump’s last full day as president, I have occasion to write about a subject I never touched during his entire term in office: The First Lady. Mary Jordan, the veteran Washington Post reporter and author of The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump, published a piece Monday that draws distance between Melania and her twice-impeached husband:
In her final days as first lady, Melania Trump has largely stayed away from the West Wing. While her husband spends his time there in anger — though aides said his dark mood has lightened since he began planning a rousing military send-off for himself — she has shown no sign of any disappointment for how the president’s era is ending.
The article continues in this fashion, creating one dichotomy after another, each of which makes Melania look decent when compared to the president. Every negative narrative about the First Lady is offset by some mitigating factor.
First, there is her stoicism and poise in contrast to Trump’s frenetic and panicked demeanor.
Several people who have been in touch with Melania Trump said she is aware of the intense criticism both she and her husband have gotten since the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but that unlike her spouse she appears completely unfazed…
“She has hours left as first lady, but she is not the type to wander around the rooms of the White House in deep reflection of what happened, of what could have been,” said one person in touch with her. “She is Melania — she keeps the focus on what’s next.”
Another said that unlike her furious husband, “Melania is good.”
Then there’s her refusal to act like a good sport because she didn’t invite Jill Biden to the White House, as is traditional during a presidential hand-off, and won’t attend the inauguration ceremony. According to Jordan, these were decisions outside of her control, with which she did not agree:
They said she would have been happy to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, as every outgoing president and first lady have for the past 152 years. But rather than dwell on what could have been, she focuses on what she has control over: choreographing her own exit, trying to cement her legacy as a first lady who devoted much time to renovations of the White House, and making plans to continue her “Be Best” initiative.
Unlike her husband, she has at least been preparing for the transition. For example, she quite responsibly began packing her “considerable wardrobe and shoe collection” shortly after Election Day, and she’s been “working with Chief Usher Timothy Harleth to facilitate the move-in of the Bidens.”
White House strategist Kellyanne Conway, the co-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign, explains that Melania “was against the protracted challenge to the election results, especially after the results were certified,” and that she opposed holding the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the assault on the Capitol: “She was the only family member who was not there.”
In fact, according to Conway, the First Lady was initially unaware of the breach at the Capitol because she was busy complying with record-keeping requests related to White House property. Once she was alerted, however, “she urged her husband to intervene and end the riot.”
The most biting section of Jordan’s piece may have been provided by Melania herself, identified as “one person close to the president” who said, “it can be hard to predict what will bother him most” and revealed that Trump was especially aggrieved to learn that celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lopez, and Lady Gaga will be appearing at Biden inaugural events.
A believer in the power of being associated with marquee names, he hired Elton John and Billy Joel to sing at his and Melania’s wedding in 2005. But his harsh rhetoric, hard-line immigration policy and other stances during the 2016 campaign led Hollywood to largely boycott his inauguration. Now as Trump rages about what he describes as unfair treatment from all sides — from people he hired, from businesses he helped with his policies, from members of his own party and even from celebrities — his wife just shrugs and moves on.
There is no indication, however, that Melania will move on from her marriage. She plans to join her husband at Mar-a-Lago and has been busy looking for a Florida school for their son, Barron. Moreover, she plans to be deeply involved in the site-selection and design of the Trump presidential library, although she has a familiar rival for that task in Ivanka.
Even before Melania officially moved into the White House, Ivanka Trump told people she would like the first lady’s office to be renamed the “first family’s office.” Both women also wanted to decorate the Oval Office — in very different styles — until the president stepped in and canceled both plans.
“The library location has not even been scouted yet, but Ivanka has made her interest clear,” said one person aware of the discussions. “As usual, Melania will have to contend with the other family members.”
The piece concludes by saying it’s no surprise that “Melania Trump is far more mentally ready for the post-presidency than her husband.”
Throughout Trump’s tenure, I never saw fit to criticize the First Lady and I don’t have much interest in critiquing her now. She’s an enigmatic figure and it’s difficult to understand her marriage or where she stands on many issues. As she leaves the White House, it’s at least clear that she wants to put some distance between herself and her husband and step-children.
It’s an understandable impulse, especially considering the foreseeable legal challenges the family will face in the coming year. The Trump Organization is under heavy scrutiny from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. and New York Attorney General Letitia James. At the same time, Michael Sherwin, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, is conducting a criminal investigation into the January 6 insurrection. Trump could also face federal and state charges related to his attempt to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia. Not to mention, there are civil complaints that will involve him being deposed about his alleged rape of the writer E. Jean Carroll and his alleged theft of his niece Mary’s inheritance.
Melania doesn’t have any control over what happens in court. Perhaps that’s why she’s using the little control she does have while she’s still First Lady to build herself up at the family’s expense. It’s probably futile. There’s no reason to think she can escape the shame of this presidency and become a respected ex-First Lady known for her #BeBest campaign and advocacy for children. Still, I can’t say I blame her for trying.