We don’t really know Melania Trump, the often silent wife of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Like her stepdaughter Ivanka, Mrs. Trump stays on message whenever she decides to speak in her elegantly accented English. But even without uttering a word, she remains a 5-foot-11 luxury Trump billboard, sparkling in designer frocks, laid hair and impeccable makeup.
The optics alone could lead Trump watchers to assume that the Mrs. is more appendage than equal, a trophy wife who glides to the podium obediently when her husband beckons her. But hiding in plain sight during Melania Trump’s rare interviews are several clues to her independence. She’s made it Swarovski-clear that she’s her own woman.
She told Barbara Walters last November that to be married to a man like Donald Trump “you need to know who you are and you need to have a very independent life.” (She told Larry King almost the exact same thing in a post-wedding interview back in 2005).
She’s said that they “give each other space.” That her husband does what he loves to do and she does what she loves to do. “We are our own people,” she told MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. This, according to her, was the reason she opted out of the campaign trail in favor of raising their son, Barron. She’s the decider when it comes to life at home.
“I’m not a yes person,” the Solvenian-born former model told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren during a March interview. “I’m yes or no. … If I don’t agree with something I will tell him.”
Almost all of these illuminating interviews have taken place at the Trumps’ opulent penthouse on Fifth Avenue in New York City. It’s a gilded jewelry box done up in the intricate Rococo style. All gold everything, imported crystal chandeliers, hand-painted ceilings.
It’s also a place where Melania Trump obviously feels safe and grounded, the place where the self-described homebody (when they’re not traveling or going out) feels “normal.” More than 60 floors up with a view of the entirety of Central Park, that apartment — which Donald Trump described in the first episode of “The Apprentice” as the “nicest apartment in New York City” — is like her fortress.
So here’s the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue question: Would Melania Trump, the sleek embodiment of the 1 percent and a repeatedly self-proclaimed independent woman, actually deign to live in the White House should her husband become president? Could she downsize from the Trumps’ $100 million tri-level penthouse inspired by Versailles to the second-floor residence of the executive “mansion” (quotes ours)?
Barbara Walters floated that question during her interview last November.
“For many the White House is a step up,” said Walters, sitting on the Trumps’ Louis XV chairs. “I’m looking around this room; the White House might be a step down.” Trump replied that the president’s house was a “spectacular place” that “represents something very special.” His wife didn’t say anything.
Walters, of course, was right. The Georgian style 132-room residence on Pennsylvania Avenue is a giant step up for most of the first families moving in.
In her 2000 coffee table book “An Invitation to the White House: At Home with History,” Hillary Clinton wrote, “Nothing … could prepare me for the sense of awe I felt when my family arrived at the White House in 1993. Wherever we looked there was something — a clock, a chandelier, a painting, a chair — that told a story about the people and events that have shaped our country’s history.”
The Trumps experience that kind of awe whenever they step off the elevator.
At the start of each administration, Congress allocates funds for the first family to redecorate the executive mansion. George and Laura Bush got $100,000. The Obamas paid for their makeover themselves. Whether footing the bill or not, incoming first families are allowed to paint, choose furniture and hang new artwork in the living quarters on the second and third floors.
But HGTV-style renovations can’t happen in the public or historical spaces (such as the Lincoln Bedroom) unless approved by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House and the White House Historical Association. Although every president since John Adams has lived at the White House, at least for a time, the commander in chief is not required by law to call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home. That means the Trumps can’t completely gut the place and remake it in the family’s signature over-the-top style. And they might have a different option.
Melania Trump has said that she’s never been to the White House but described the uber-luxury hotel her husband is building a few blocks away as “a beautiful place.”
Like her current headquarters at Trump Tower, the $200 million Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., will most likely have all the bells and whistles she is used to. And if her past interviews are any guide, Melania Trump is nothing if not comfortable when ensconced in the family’s brand. Plus, she makes her own decisions.