On Tuesday morning, Ivanka Trump put on a navy turtleneck and heels that appeared to be from her own besieged collection, and accompanied her father to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“Ivanka is here right now — Hi, Ivanka,” President Trump said from a podium, gesturing toward his daughter, who stood on the masking-tape mark laid out for her. She clasped her hands in front of her, smiling and nodding at appropriate intervals, a poised act of filial duty.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, she was being eviscerated. The night before, in response to bomb threats at Jewish community centers nationwide, Ivanka had tweeted out a call for tolerance. Her detractors found great irony in this. “Your father [peddled] hate in the campaign and gave a voice to all these white nationalists to come out,” one wrote. “Why r u in all [Donald Trump’s] mtgs?” wrote another. “We, the People, did not elect you to play any role in WH!”
It was a 24-hour whiplash that has come to represent a typical day of Ivanka-in-Washington. The week prior, she’d played an integral role in the Canadian prime minister’s visit — but was lambasted for an Oval Office photo with him and her father, where she was the one sitting at the presidential desk. She attended the insidery Alfalfa Dinner in her father’s stead — but her silver dress became a meme when someone noted its resemblance to foil blankets worn by refugees that the president was, that very night, trying to block. She made working women her primary cause, only to see Nordstrom drop her clothing brand after a boycott and diminished sales.
“I think at times she’s very excited,” said one Ivanka friend of several years. “And at times she’s very overwhelmed.”
Throughout Trump’s campaign, Ivanka was perceived by many as a stabilizing force. Those who were turned off by his bombast could take comfort in her moderation. She moved easily in socially liberal circles. She hung out with Chelsea Clinton. She was, gushing profiles suggested, her father’s favorite child and trusted adviser.
Then President Trump refused to soften his positions, as many had expected he would do once in office, overturning protections for the environment and forging ahead with a border wall. And now a new set of challenges arises for the personal brand Ivanka has carefully cultivated, through her years as a real estate executive and “Apprentice” co-star.
Is she truly as moderate as fans believed? Was she ever as influential? As first daughter, she has high visibility but no actual duties. Can she navigate official Washington relying on the same graciousness and playful, Everymom Instagram posts that once helped win her widespread, nonpartisan respect?
Or does Ivanka fall off her tightrope and become the first casualty of her family’s foray into politics?
Admirers are troubled by criticism of Ivanka. “People may be looking at her and carrying out their disagreement with her father, but the class with which she has conducted herself . . . is going to bode well for her down the line,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who served on the presidential transition team with her.
Her response has been to maintain a laser focus on her causes, such as pay equity and making child care more affordable. “She’s pushing a message that she cares about, which is women that work,” said her brother Eric Trump. “She’s been writing about this for years and years and years. She’s been talking about it for years.”
But some observers think she will have a hard time finding traction in Washington’s corridors of influence.
“The tumult and uproar that was generated by so much of what this president did in the first month of office has made it to where her capacity is very much narrowed,” said a Republican who has met with her. “She is going to be implicitly damned by some of his policies, and it will be very, very hard for her to navigate.”
In 2013, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) invited Donald Trump to a roundtable on public-private partnerships. Trump sent Ivanka instead. “I was extremely impressed,” said Barletta, who later served on the transition team. “When she spoke about a project, it was obviously not because she had been briefed by someone else,” he said, but because she’d done her own research.
Another Ivanka story, from another fan: “Whatever service she attends, she’s among the first to arrive,” said Marvin Hier, the rabbi who delivered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration and who has encountered Ivanka at Passover retreats since her conversion to Judaism. “Sometimes you hear, ‘Is it sincere, did she just do it for the family?’ But my observation is she’s very sincere.”
Ivanka rolled out her move to Washington with the same level of care and preparation. She hosted a dinner for chief executives and female journalists in the penthouse apartment of her friend Wendi Deng (Rupert Murdoch’s ex), to talk about women and economic empowerment.
“She was very genuine,” said guest Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. “She was very curious about the work we do.” The conversation made an impression: On Thursday, she tweeted a photo of herself at a meeting of an Urban League affiliate in Baltimore.
Such dinners have become hallmarks of Ivanka’s tenure in Washington: private, curated gatherings focused on select issues. She recruited Dina Powell, a former Goldman Sachs executive and State Department official serving among the president’s senior economic advisers, as her unofficial Washington sherpa.
The two spearheaded a meeting that typifies Ivanka’s goals: a roundtable with her father attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and top female executives from both countries, discussing ways to elevate women in cross-border business endeavors.
“She was an important voice in the conversation,” said Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs. Freeland noted that Trudeau has made it a priority to promote feminist issues, so “we were happy to find that was common ground with the White House.”
The meeting occurred, a White House official said, in part because Ivanka wanted it.
“She was instrumental in recruiting the U.S. business leaders who participated, as well as thinking through the agenda,” the official said. Ivanka personally made phone calls inviting the CEOs and proposed topics, such as the hurdles women face in getting access to capital.
It was Ivanka at her most Ivanka: the type of player she has long seemed eager to present herself as. Capable, confident, and entirely unobjectionable. The type of woman to post on Instagram a newsy photo of her father at a press conference with the Israeli prime minister — followed immediately by a glowing photo of herself at the National Museum of Natural History, catching butterflies with her toddler son. A source close to her said she plans to visit a different Washington museum each week.
She and her husband, Jared Kushner, have hosted a Shabbat dinner. They’ve sampled local restaurants — Masseria near Union Market has become a fast favorite. They’ve enrolled their children at a local Jewish school.
Their every public movement has been plumbed for meaning.
Phillip Bloch, the stylist and TV personality, who has known Ivanka since she was a girl, watched her arrive in town for her father’s inauguration and marveled at the brilliant optics: “When she stepped off that plane wearing that green jacket and green shift dress, and had her baby on her hip, you could just tell she was coming to Washington to make her mark.”
It’s one thing to make a mark on Washington; the trick is to not let it bruise you.
No matter how unobjectionable Ivanka’s actions and causes may be, she’s undertaking them against the backdrop of a divisive presidency, in a majority-Democratic city where even a trip to the gym can become a political act.
She used a fake name when she showed up for a Solidcore class a few weeks ago. The gym’s owner still called her out on social media, asking to discuss how her father’s policies “threaten the rights of many of my beloved clients.”
Meanwhile, Ivanka’s husband is in the West Wing, too, serving as one of her father’s advisers. This month, word leaked out that, together, Jared and Ivanka helped kill an effort to roll back the Obama administration’s LGBT protections. It was a bit of news that, at a fraught time, bolstered the couple’s reputation as social liberals and influential players — although this week the Trump administration announced it would not defend at least part of the protections, revoking guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice.
The two of them also reportedly got language critical of a global climate deal struck from an anticipated executive order. Ivanka was also behind a White House discussion on human trafficking.
Publicly, Ivanka has remained silent on many of the controversies, painting online an idyllic picture of the Trump White House. But the soft-focus social media posts that made her relatable can end up backfiring when her detractors juxtapose her cultivated messages with her father’s often ham-handed ones.
Ivanka, it seems, is caught between a rock and a Trump place — representing her father even when she’s not, by dint of who she is and the visible roles she has played in his campaign and White House.
In Washington, “I think you’re measured by how effective you are,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican who, like Ivanka, is a 30-something from New York and has met her along with a group of female lawmakers to discuss women’s issues.
Stefanik said she hopes Ivanka will reach out again to GOP congresswomen, many of whom were dedicated to these issues well before the Trump presidency.
Over time the issues Ivanka is pushing will find natural allies, Reed said. “As we get further down the path of people realizing that President Trump is here, and he will be our president for at least four years, they are going to start to focus on what can bring us together,” he said.
Indeed, Ivanka and her husband with their bipartisan tendencies have been “secure lines” for people disinclined to reach out to her father, a source close to them said.
In the eyes of some, Ivanka is not walking a tightrope, but rather a skinny and vital bridge.
The morning after her trip to the museum and social media bludgeoning, she was back on Twitter, this time with a photo of herself and her daughter in front of the Supreme Court. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach her about the judicial system in our country firsthand,” she wrote.
Was she signaling her respect for the branch of government that her father had blasted for blocking his attempt to ban refugees? Or was she simply touring her new city?
Her Twitter fans chimed in, praising her parenting skills and patriotism. The backlash quickly followed: “How nice, she can take a casual day off ‘work’ whilst millions of Americans can’t afford child care and health care,” replied one detractor, as Ivanka became, once again, the Trump in the most complicated spotlight.
Jonathan O’Connell contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this report described Eric Trump as Ivanka Trump’s older brother. He is younger.