His controversial comments about women notwithstanding, Trump has a large and apparently loyal network of women in his life. But who are they really, and what impact do they have on the US Commander-in-Chief?
Donald Trump might display the sort of casual sexism that would make a 1970s television host blush, yet he has a remarkably loyal and close-knit network of ladies around him, from Trump women Ivanka and Tiffany and third wife Melania to his 28-year-old interim Communications Director Hope Hicks.
These women insist the image of Trump as the male chauvinist who greeted France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron with the words, ‘You’re in such good shape’ is all wrong. Trump himself says he ‘loves women’ and even claims he spent his pre-Presidential career as a feminist champion. ‘I was the one that really broke the glass ceiling on behalf of women, more than anybody in the construction industry’ he has said.
Women who have worked for Trump paint a mixed picture of their former boss. ‘I heard him yell and scream, but I never heard him call anyone a bimbo. I never heard him demean anyone’, former Trump employee Joanne Blank told CBS News last year. But other ex Trump staff members told of working in a toxic environment with the top jobs preserved for men and women promoted on the basis of their looks. There’s also the question of Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct, deepened by the now infamous ‘grab ’em by the p***y’ Access Hollywood tapes leaked to the press last year, something Trump dismissed as ‘locker room talk.’
The President has frequently been accused of using the women closest to him as fig leaves for his controversial agenda. Perhaps more so than with his daughter Ivanka, whose speech in July last year is credited with giving him a crucial boost in the polls, while their close relationship (so close Trump once creepily suggested they would be married if they weren’t related) seemed to suggest – at least before the election – that her liberal views might have a moderating influence on his administration.
But it’s not just women in Trump’s family working hard to filter the President’s image. One of his star employees is his recently appointed Communications Director, Hope Hicks. A former Ralph Lauren model who met the Trump family doing PR for his daughter Ivanka’s clothing campaign, Hicks just became one of the highest-paid members of Trump’s administration.
With other members of Trump’s inner circle the picture is less clear. Melania Trump has largely kept a low profile as First Lady and broke with tradition by choosing to stay in New York after her husband’s inauguration, while Donald and Melania’s body language during scheduled public appearances together has been strained. Meanwhile, Trump’s advisor and early campaign champion Kellyanne Conway might have shown huge public support for Trump, but reports suggested she is privately disgusted with her boss.
So who exactly are all the key women in Trump’s life, what roles do they play and are they all as united behind the President as they appear to be?
Ivanka Trump – Trump’s eldest daughter and the political heiress
Trump’s eldest daughter – arguably his closest confidante – has an official role in the White House as an advisor to her father. So far Ivanka has used her time in the administration to push the pro-women agenda first peddled in her book Women Who Work, even while many of her father’s policy decisions – such as cutting funding for Planned Parenthood and women’s health around the world – make her efforts look largely superficial.
As advisors to the President, Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner’s predicted ‘moderate’ influence on Trump also appears to have been overestimated. Most recently Ivanka came under fire for not speaking out when her father refused to condemn the anti-semitism in Charlottesville, despite converting to orthodox Judaism when she married Kushner.
Though her views often seem at odds with the President, Ivanka appears to be the most politically ambitious member of the Trump family, the only member to relocate from her native and much-loved New York to Washington after his inauguration. Is she using her time in office to leverage her own future political career? Quite possibly. She controversially sat in at a meeting on Trump’s behalf at G20 and her move to D.C suggests she’s more invested in Trump’s political career than even his own wife.
Melania Trump – The closed-book wife
Donald Trump’s wife of 12 years has appeared to be a reluctant First Lady. She initially disappeared back to New York following Trump’s inauguration – where the couple’s body language appeared strained – and descriptions of her as a ‘very private’ woman seem at odds with the goldfish bowl life at the White House she now faces, having finally moved in after seeing out her son Barron’s school year. Opinions of Melania range from a wife who rules the roost behind the scenes, to a woman trapped by golden handcuffs in a desperately unhappy marriage. What goes on behind closed doors at the Trump home remains a mystery, though during a recent state trip to Italy Melania made headlines when she appeared to angrily slap Trump’s hand away.
Melania’s political views have remained equally ambiguous. ‘I’m not political in public, I’m political at home’ she once said in an interview with US Weekly, though she did back her husband up on his false claim that President Obama was born in Kenya.
Melania Trump announced she would make cyberbullying her star cause when she entered the White House – despite her own husband’s bullish Twitter rants – and has recently become more vocal and confident online herself, tweeting ahead of her husband about events in Charlottesville and the terror attacks in Barcelona. Melania also publicly thanked the daughter of Trump’s rival Chelsea Clinton for leaping to her son Barron’s defence when he was recently criticised by a journalist. Melania recently added drug addiction to her list of key causes, an issue former Republican First Lady Nancy Reagan once took up with her famous ‘Just Say No’ campaign.
The new First Lady might have kept a conservative distance during Trump’s first eight months in the Oval Office, but as her husband’s already chaotic administration begins to spin out of control Melania appears to be finding her voice.
Tiffany Trump – The ‘other’ daughter
‘I’m very proud of my children’, Donald Trump said in a Fox & Friends phone interview last year, ‘I’m just looking at them right now, as an example for your show. But I’m very proud, because Don and Eric and Ivanka and — you know, to a lesser extent ’cause she just got out of school, out of college — but, uh, Tiffany, who has also been so terrific.’ The characteristically back-handed compliment must have stung for Trump’s 23-year-old daughter Tiffany, already a slightly separate member of the Trump clan, as the only child and ‘other daughter’ from a five-year marriage to Donald’s second wife Marla Marples.
Donald Trump has been open about his special bond with Tiffany’s older sister Ivanka, and in turn the latter – twelve years Tiffany’s senior – seems to have played a shaping role in Tiffany’s life. ‘I’m so proud of the woman you have become!’ she posted on Tiffany’s 21st birthday. Ivanka seems to have also made herself a Donald-Tiffany go-between. In her first book, The Trump Card: Playing To Win At Work and Life, Ivanka tells a story about Tiffany approaching her as a teenager to see how she might ask their father for a credit card. ‘I went to our father and suggested he think about surprising Tiffany with a credit card for Christmas with a small monthly allowance on it’ she writes, ‘Sure enough, he did just that. Tiffany was thrilled and relieved. And so appreciative.’
Though Tiffany’s part in the Trump campaign was less prominent than Ivanka’s, she appears to have polished her image in recent years, deleting the old Instagram shots that had her labelled a party girl and taking to the stage to make a speech about her father at the Republican National Convention. ‘Please excuse me if I’m a little nervous’, she told the crowd, ‘when I graduated college a couple months ago, I never expected to be here tonight addressing the nation.’
While Trump’s older children were given time to establish themselves before their father won the election, Tiffany faces the unenviable challenge of working out her future under increased scrutiny. She has interned at fashion magazines in the past, and even once considered a pop career, but after attending the University of Pennsylvania she has since chosen to study law at Georgetown University. Right now, the relative shelter of further education seems like a smart move.
Lara Trump-Yunaska – The daughter-in-law and Trump’s secret weapon?
Of all the Trump women, Lara could be one of the President’s most powerful propagandists.
Vanessa Trump – The ‘other’ daughter-in-law and Miss USA
You might have seen less of Vanessa Trump (above right), unless you happened to have spotted her cameo in the 2003 Jack Nicholson movie Something’s Gotta Give, back when she was still Vanessa Haydon.
A Manhattan-raised actress and former Miss USA, Vanessa married Donald Jr. in 2005 and the couple have since had five children together. Vanessa was a competitor on The Apprentice USA and according to The New York Times, was introduced to Donald Jr. by Trump Sr. at a fashion show.
Like her sister-in-law Ivanka, Vanessa has her own fashion line (a range of handbags called La Poshett), but unlike Ivanka she stays out of politics, though she has been a quietly supportive presence at official events and backed up her husband Donald Jr. when he landed in hot water for his alleged role in the Russian collusion scandal.
Hope Hicks – Donald Trump’s star employee
Kellyanne Conway – Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ champion
While many of Trump’s original team have faced the boot in the last year, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway is still in the game. At least for now.
An experienced strategist and pollster, Conway originally endorsed Republican candidate Ted Cruz, but when Cruz lost out in the presidential primaries Trump hired Conway as a senior advisor on his team. She later became his campaign manager and the first woman ever to lead a successful presidential campaign.
She has weathered some pretty public gaffes since Trump’s inauguration, referring in TV interviews to Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ and the entirely fictional ‘Bowling Green Massacre.’ She also landed in hot water when she urged people to ‘go buy Ivanka’s stuff’, which is strictly against ethical codes.
Though she is an outspoken supporter of Trump, her true feelings about the President were called into question when television host Mika Brzezinski claimed she overheard Conway badmouthing him off-air. ‘She would get off the air, the camera would be turned off, the microphone would be taken off, and she would say “Blech, I need to take a shower,” because she disliked her candidate so much.’
Ivana Trump and Marla Marples – Donald Trump’s ex-wives
Though neither play an active role in the Trump machine, it’s worth also mentioning the background presence of Donald’s two ex-wives, Marla and Ivana.
68-year-old Ivana was married to Donald Trump for 15 years and is the mother of his three oldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric. Since her 1992 divorce from Trump, she has married and divorced again twice and appeared on various reality television shows (Ivana Young Man) and even had a cameo in the First Wives Club.
When Trump was running for election last year, old allegations surfaced from divorce court documents that Trump had attacked and raped Ivana after undergoing cosmetic surgery on his scalp.
Ivana never pressed charges – possibly under intense legal pressure – and Trump has denied the attack ever happened. His lawyer Michael Cohen did give fresh oxygen to the story when he told the press, ‘Of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse. It is true. You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.’ The martial exemption law in the case of rape was actually struck down in 1984.
Then there’s Marla Marples, an actress and television personality who Trump married in 1993. Marples had Trump’s daughter Tiffany the same year, but the couple divorced in 1999.
She also seems on good terms with his daughter Ivanka, publicly congratulating her on her book release earlier this year. She also appeared to show oblique support for Trump’s election via her Instagram account, which showed she was at the White House for his inauguration, though primarily in support of Tiffany. ‘I’ve been trying to bring Tiffany to DC for a long time… And I think she did it in style’ she wrote.