Melania Trump Inching Toward Spotlight

Melania Trump Inching Toward Spotlight
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Melania Trump’s public profile is expected to increase this fall with Barron Trump settled in a Washington-area school and the first family living together in the White House.

The first lady has been low-key in her official role, compared to recent predecessors. She did not move to Washington until this summer and, while she has participated in various events, she has yet to indicate a cause she will champion.

Her office said Monday an announcement about her agenda will be made “in the coming weeks.”

“The First Lady continues to be thoughtful about her initiatives, and we look forward to announcing something in the coming weeks,” spokesperson Stephanie Grisham told RealClearPolitics in a statement.

As for details of that “something,” Grisham noted, “It is safe to say that Mrs. Trump is very focused on the health and well-being of children.”

Melania Trump began her tenure at first lady out of the limelight, staying in New York so her son could finish out his school term. Next month, he’ll start at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, Md., where tuition runs around $40,000 a year.

Since her move to Washington in June, the first lady has slowly become more involved in her husband’s administration, but it has been done on her terms.

“Maybe she has made the decision to live life on her terms even though she is full time in the White House,” said Professor Katherine Jellison of Ohio University, who studies first ladies.

Her way indeed. Mrs. Trump has said she wants to be a traditional first lady – she is said to admire Jacqueline Kennedy – but has shrugged off the usual trappings that come with the modern definition of the job. She clothes herself in her favorite European fashion designers, rarely involves herself in policy debates, and has yet to appear on the cover of a major magazine such as Vogue.

However, the first lady did join President Trump at a meeting on opioid addiction last week in Bedminster, N.J. It was such an unusual move that it ignited chatter this could be a cause she would champion. But she made no public remarks on the issue, other than a tweet last Tuesday:

But she was the first member of the Trump administration to respond publicly to the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, when she wrote on Twitter:

During the campaign, Mrs. Trump said she wanted to combat cyberbullying, but that issue appears to have been placed on a back burner.

Ironically, in June the president went on a tweet-filled tirade against “Morning Joe” co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, including accusing Brzezinski of having plastic surgery. (The MSNBC host denied having a face-lift but admitted to having her “chin tweaked.”)

The first lady stood by her husband.

"As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder," Grisham said in a statement to CNN at the time.

And while her husband has taken hits in the polls, Mrs. Trump remains popular. In fact, her approval rating easily beats that of her husband. A Fox News poll in July found her with a 51 percent approval rating, up 14 points since the same poll in December. The president has a negative-20 point job approval in the RealClearPolitics average.

The role in which Melania Trump appears most comfortable involves children. She’s made numerous visits to hospitals and, during that time, has been seen smiling and engaged with kids. Several of these events have been during visits abroad and Mrs. Trump, who speaks six languages, can communicate with the children on their own terms.

Her first solo engagement as first lady involved children, when she visited the New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in March to read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” to them.

Her other interests include bringing the spotlight to veterans. One of the few events she hosted in the White House was a reception in May for mothers of military veterans and, in April, she accompanied her husband when he visited wounded veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Her first solo overseas trip also will involve veterans. She will lead the U.S. delegation to this year's Invictus Games, being held in Toronto Sept. 23-30.

The games were founded in 2014 by Britain's Prince Harry to build awareness for veterans who were injured in combat.

Whatever Mrs. Trump chooses to champion, she is not the first first lady to take her time in deciding. Michelle Obama didn’t launch her signature “Let’s Move” initiative until she had been in the White House for a year.

She also is not the first to struggle to have a private life in the fishbowl that is the White House.

And, as with her idol, her wish to make the role her own while also keeping the semblance of a private life could backfire: The more Jackie Kennedy tried to maintain a veil of privacy, the more the public wanted to know about her. The same could happen to Melania Trump.

“Jackie Kennedy tried to be low-profile, but the public kind of wouldn’t let her. They really demanded to see this young, glamourous first lady,” Jellison said. “That sort of mystique has developed around [Melania]. She’s a mystery woman, so to speak, so people want to know more about her. That’s what Jackie Kennedy was not able to avoid ultimately. People wanted to know more and more and more about this quiet first lady. So she ended up fighting a losing battle.”

Emily Goodin is the managing editor of RealClearPolitics.

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