The quest to unearth the Manhattan moderate who may lie deep within Donald Trump’s psyche runs directly through his daughter Ivanka.
This, at least, is the impression that she has given over the past few weeks, brokering meetings between the president-elect and environmentalists, such as former vice president Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and chatting about child care with prominent feminists.
But as Ivanka Trump expands her circle of allies and sorts out what kind of influence she might have over the policies of the next administration, the question arises: Are her efforts a reflection of her passions and convictions — or of a desire to extend the brand of a fashion entrepreneur whose market is primarily young women?
The two might not be mutually exclusive. The public and private outreach Ivanka Trump has made to influential liberals — and the vigor with which they are seeking her out — underscores the extent to which the Trumps’ political and financial interests are interwoven, even as family members are taking steps to separate themselves from aspects of their business.
Sorting out and reorganizing the Trump family enterprise is a work in progress. The president-elect has tweeted that he will be “leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country,” and he has promised an announcement with his children on Thursday to explain precisely how the family plans to do that.
Watchdog groups and ethics experts are calling for Trump to fully divest his businesses, but the family is looking at a more complicated arrangement.
While Trump’s two older sons, Don Jr. and Eric, are likely to focus on running their father’s real estate empire after he takes office, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, intend to serve as informal but influential advisers to the next president.
The likelihood is that Ivanka Trump will drastically scale back her role in her father’s commercial enterprises, but it is far from certain that she will relinquish control over the formidable lifestyle brand she has established in her own right.
One of her advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing decision-making process, said that “she’s figuring out what her role is” and knows that she will have to “separate commercial interests from her issue advocacy.”
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Ivanka Trump quietly separated her personal social-media accounts — a vehicle through which she plans to carry out her advocacy — from that of her business. In a “letter from the editorial team” on IvankaTrump.com, the company explained that, going forward, @IvankaTrump would feature her personal advocacy while @IvankaTrumpHQ on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter would include brand initiatives such as “#womenwhowork” and fashion stories.
“This is an unprecedented time for our company and we are being intentional in how we move forward, working hard to ensure we’re creating the best possible community for our readers,” the letter read. “We’ve been listening to the feedback we’ve received, both positive and not, and we’ve been taking it into consideration as we plan for the future.”
Alienating young women could pose a financial risk to Ivanka Trump’s business ventures. Opponents of the president-elect have targeted the brand with a boycott, and shortly after her prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention this summer — where she sported a dress from her fashion line that sold out at Macy’s shortly thereafter — Cosmopolitan found that millennial women held an unfavorable view of her. The Cosmopolitan-Morning Consult poll of 3,000 registered voters found that 28 percent of women ages 18 to 34 had a positive view of her, while 42 percent had a negative opinion.
A more recent survey suggests that the ugly presidential campaign has not put a pall on her business. In late October, Forbes reported, the research firm Brand Keys asked 950 upscale women ages 18 to 35, “In light of Ivanka Trump’s involvement with the Trump campaign for president, how likely would you be to consider buying her line of shoes and clothing?”
Slightly more than half responded “extremely likely” or “very likely.” Only 17 percent said they were “not very” or “not at all” likely to. The remainder — 32 percent — put themselves in the “somewhat likely” category.
Since the election, Ivanka Trump has already raised conflict-of-interest questions. Her presence at a meeting her father had with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and her firm’s decision to tout the $10,800 diamond bracelet she wore during the family’s post-election “60 Minutes” interview, prompted a swift backlash.
Ivanka Trump is entering uncharted territory: Although several presidents’ daughters, and daughters-in-law, have served as White House hostesses, presidential historian William Seale said that none served as an influential public policy adviser.
“A more modern woman, coming in with her own career, is a little different,” said Seale, author of “The President’s House” and an editor at the White House Historical Association. “If there’s someone there who’s smart and can do it, why not?”
If Hillary Clinton had won, many in Washington probably would be asking the same question, given daughter Chelsea Clinton’s prominent role at her family’s foundation.
Several people who know Ivanka Trump and her husband say the two could prove invaluable as the new president seeks to build trust with groups that opposed his candidacy. The two have moved easily within Manhattan’s overwhelmingly liberal upper crust and have earned reputations as hard-working and willing to listen to others.
“They are two of the most valuable people to the president-elect, in terms of making a bridge to different constituencies,” said Kevin Sheekey, who managed all three of former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s campaigns and served as deputy mayor for government affairs. “And a determination of whether the administration is successful is going to lie in their ability to build relationships in unexpected places.”
Ivanka Trump plans to focus primarily on issues related to women and families, which she highlighted during her father’s campaign. Since the election, she has spoken on the topic with Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation, but she has not connected with major policy groups, such as the Washington-based National Partnership for Women and Families.
A newer interest is climate change, which led to meetings between the president-elect and Gore and then DiCaprio in the past week.
Up until this point, Ivanka Trump has been relatively quiet on environmental issues. Donald Trump and his three older children signed a December 2009 open letter in the New York Times to President Obama that urged him to forge a global climate agreement. The letter was organized by ABC Home chief executive Paulette Cole, whose home furnishing store was patronized by both Trump and his business.
Cole said in an email that while she is not familiar with how the Trumps got on the letter, Trump was a friend of her late father, ABC Carpet chairman Jerome Weinrib, as well as a store customer.
In 2012, Ivanka Trump and Kushner attended the White House correspondents’ dinner as Bloomberg’s guests and sat at the same table as Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, which has received tens of millions of dollars from Bloomberg to shut down coal plants across the country. The group discussed climate change, Sheekey recalled, and Brune came away impressed.
But in an interview, Brune said his favorable impression of Ivanka Trump and Kushner has to be weighed against the president-elect’s policy positions and key appointments, including his nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Brune compared Pruitt’s appointment to “putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”
“Any advocate worth their salt will know the difference between access and influence, and it’s vital that we not be fooled by what this administration is doing,” he said. “It’s great that Ivanka and Jared may, occasionally, feel that climate change is an issue. Until they’re setting policy, it’s a sideshow, it’s a distraction — at best.”
With few available options, prominent progressives see Trump’s daughter and son-in-law as potential allies within Trump’s circle. A major supporter of Planned Parenthood, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, said some of the group’s New York donors were reaching out to the couple.
But the supporter added, “We have to go on the assumption there’s no relief in sight,” given not just the president-elect’s stated opposition to abortion rights but also that Vice President-elect Mike Pence and GOP congressional leaders have made targeting Planned Parenthood a top priority.
Kirk Fordham, a strategist for progressive groups who has worked for Republicans, estimated than “fewer than 10 percent” of these organizations developed a “Trump contingency plan” before the election. Now, he said, they need to mobilize their Republican members. “You’ve got to be power-mapping his New York relatives and his friends, because nearly all of them are liberal.”