Was that swat when her husband reached out to hold her hand in Tel Aviv a sign of trouble in the marriage? The glower during his inaugural address a repudiation of what he was saying? Does she feel trapped in a White House where she and the president appear to be leading separate lives under a single roof?
A whole “free Melania” genre of humor has grown up in Democratic circles and among late-night comedians.
But a new, impressively reported book by my Post colleague Mary Jordan has pulled back the veil. It reveals the first lady to be a power player in her own right, one driven by a very clear sense of her own self-interest.
“The Art of Her Deal,” which will be released Tuesday, has already made headlines with its revelation that the first lady delayed her move to Washington after her husband became president to gain more leverage in renegotiating the couple’s prenuptial agreement. Among her concerns was assuring that her young son Barron would be treated equitably with the other Trump children when it comes time to be assigned a role in the family business and eventually collect his inheritance.
The book also details the turf battles that have erupted between the first lady and her stepdaughter Ivanka, who takes a far higher public profile, who flaunts her influence and who, Jordan reports, at one point proposed that the “First Lady’s Office” be renamed the “First Family Office.” Melania nixed that idea.
But the most significant insight to be gained from reading “The Art of Her Deal” is Jordan’s discovery of how much alike the first lady and her husband are in character and priorities, despite their vastly different styles and temperament. This, perhaps, explains why Donald Trump’s third marriage has outlasted his previous two.
“She is seen as the good-hearted princess who needs to be saved from her rapacious and bullying husband, the vulnerable immigrant swept up in his presidential ambitions who cried the night he was elected, the vapid and shallow model with nothing much to say about the world, the lucky beauty who just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Jordan writes. “Yet she is none of those things.”
Much like her husband, Melania Trump has airbrushed her past and exaggerated her achievements. She has claimed that she graduated from design school and earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture. In fact, she dropped out of college after her first year to pursue modeling. Her respectably successful career in that field has also been inflated, with claims that she was a “supermodel.”
As President Trump does, Melania demands iron loyalty, but it is a one-way street. Jordan’s book is filled with stories of people who helped her along the way, only to never hear from her again after they were no longer useful.
Jordan also discovered that there is no evidence to back up the first lady’s claims to speak five languages. Melania knows a few words in Italian and French — including “bonjour” and “ciao” — but has never demonstrated fluency in any language but English and her native Slovene.
Chief among the misperceptions about Melania, it would appear, is that she has much interest in putting a brake on her husband’s more objectionable impulses. There have been rare instances in which she has expressed a view at odds with his — including when she criticized the administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border and, more recently, when she advocated wearing masks during the covid-19 epidemic.
But by and large, her “Be Best” campaign does not appear to apply to the Trump household. In 2011, Melania fueled Trump’s racist lies about Barack Obama’s birthplace, and claimed — falsely — that Obama had not produced a birth certificate. “It’s not only Donald who wants to see it,” she said. “It’s American people, who voted for him, and who didn’t vote for him, they want to see that!”
She also rose to her husband’s defense after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape shortly before the 2016 election, and attacked the credibility of the women who accused him of sexual misconduct. Had she not stepped up at that delicate moment, his chances of winning might have been nil.
“Melania has struck a complicated deal with a complicated man and taken on a complicated job,” Jordan concludes. No, she doesn’t want to be “free.”
At least, not for another four years.