During the many hours of day-one convention coverage on MSNBC, magazine writer Julia Ioffe observed that Melania Trump has been practically invisible since May, "when she said a certain journalist provoked anti-Semitic attacks against her."
The "certain journalist" was, of course, Ioffe, who authored a GQ profile of Trump that revealed the existence of her half-brother in Slovenia. Melania Trump blasted the article on Twitter and Facebook but has not posted on either social network since then — a hiatus of more than two months. After a brief period in which she did a bunch of TV and magazine interviews, she has receded into the background.
Journalists accustomed to watching a male candidate's wife play humanizer-in-chief for her hard-charging husband keep remarking that Trump seems to be leaving the job to stepdaughter Ivanka.
"We have seen Ivanka, even in the last trimester of her latest pregnancy, crisscross the country to be with her father on the campaign trail," NPR's Rachel Martin noted on "Morning Edition" this month. "We have seen her serve as a de facto political spouse in some ways — which is, granted, a weird thing to say."
In April, the New York Times's Jonathan Mahler wrote that "with Mr. Trump's wife, Melania, the Slovenian former model, less than comfortable on stage, Ivanka Trump has served as a surrogate political spouse for a candidate who may need one more than anyone else in the race."
Vanity Fair's Emily Jane Fox wrote in March that Ivanka Trump "has become more of a proxy wife. This owes, in part, to the fact that Melania Trump is a far less conventional campaign spouse than Laura Bush or Ann Romney — or, for that matter, moxie-laden professionals like Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton in 1992, or Bill Clinton this time around."
USA Today's Rick Hampson set the stage for Monday's convention speech under the headline, "Melania Trump speaks to a nation that's rarely heard her voice."
A presidential candidate's spouse is supposed to be "a secret weapon," like George W. Bush's wife, Laura, in his White House campaigns. But as political secrets go, Melania Trump is unusually well kept.On the campaign trail, the presumptive GOP nominee's wife has been more seen than heard — and heard at only a handful of public events. She's overshadowed not only by her Democratic counterpart, Bill Clinton, the 42nd president, but by her own stepdaughter.
Ivanka Trump is an impressive and capable surrogate, no doubt, but Melania's general absence has left a void in the media narrative about Donald Trump. Ivanka, after all, did not choose her father; she is naturally inclined to see the best in him and to overlook his faults.
Melania, who initially rejected Donald's advances, is uniquely positioned to tell the press and the electorate why she changed her mind about the business mogul — why characterizations of him as rude, impulsive and domineering are wrong, or at least incomplete. Because she has seldom done this, media interest in her speech is all the higher.
Ioffe isn't sure that Melania Trump is up to the task.
"She doesn't do very well with these kinds of things," Ioffe said on MSNBC. "She didn't sign up to be a political wife. She wasn't in favor of Donald Trump running for president. She got behind him because she's the supportive wife, but she was trying to make him think twice, three times, four times before he did it. She wanted to be comfortable, wealthy and out of the spotlight."
The upside for the Trumps is that expectations are relatively low. So if Melania, taking a rare, reluctant step into the spotlight, happens to nail her speech in Cleveland, she could supply an unexpected burst of positive press for her husband.