The future first family is onstage, dressed casually but uncomfortably in business attire.
They look like they’re about to pose for a Christmas card you immediately toss in the recycling—heavily made up and over-gelled, the men manspreading in expensive, ill-fitting suits, their ties wide and outdated, the women sitting upright as if their limbs are made of plastic in what appear to be the latest fashions from the Ivanka Trump Collection.
At left is Donald Jr., who once told me, in the pews of an Iowa church, that his father is blue collar at heart because he likes to eat cheeseburgers. Next is Eric, who failed to register to vote for his father in New York. Beside him is Tiffany, the rarely heard from daughter of Donald and second wife Marla Maples who in 2011 released a pop song called “Like a Bird” that featured a rapper duo of some sort called “Sprite & Logic.” Then there’s Ivanka, who also forgot to register to vote but who sounds so pleasant and reasonable that you forget she’s even supporting her dad. Rounding out the group at right is Melania, Trump’s third wife and the only person onstage who seems to have any good ideas. When Anderson Cooper, the night’s emcee, asks what her advice to Trump is, she said, “Just to use nice language, better language.”
Seasons Greetings, America!
This spectacle, a Tuesday night CNN town hall, is ostensibly intended to inform the country about the kind of husband and father Donald Trump is so that they can better inform themselves as the Republican primary drags on.
The political calculus is clear: Any invitation to appear on a big stage alongside your loved ones is a chance to humanize yourself as a candidate. It’s why Trump trotted Ivanka—heavily pregnant throughout the winter and spring—all over the country to speak on his behalf and why, on nights when he wins primaries or caucuses, he lines his family up behind him onstage like Rockettes. Usually missing from these events is Barron, Trump’s 10-year-old son with Melania. He wasn’t present on Tuesday.
On Monday, John Kasich and his family were the stars of their very own hour-long town hall, also conducted by Cooper. On Wednesday night, Ted Cruz and his family will get their turn.
Trump looked on as his children spoke, his lips pressed tightly together. Only when Melania answered questions, in her Slovenian accent, did he seem to break character, smiling boyishly and gesturing self-deprecatingly. When she called him an adult, he self-mockingly rolled his eyes.
The questions from the audience were softballs, as they tend to be at this sort of thing.
What’s it like to be a mom, Melania? (She loves it!)
What’s it like to have Donald Trump as a dad, Don Jr., Eric, Tiffany, Ivanka? (He’s great!)
What’s it like to introduce your boyfriend or girlfriend to Donald Trump? (Only Ivanka provided a colorful answer to this, telling the story of how she spied on her dad having lunch with her now-husband, Jared Kushner, the publisher of The New York Observer—which coincidentally endorsed Trump’s candidacy on Tuesday—in Trump Tower, hiding behind columns and peering out at them as they got to know one another.)
What do you bond over? (Work! We love concrete! Eric actually said that. “We love building. The two of us just love machinery, we love concrete, we love jobs.”)
Donald Trump prides himself on not being a typical politician. He’s not canned, he’s not politically correct, he says what everybody else is thinking but is too chickenshit to say. But his family—particularly Ivanka—is nothing like that, at least not in public. They are the seasoned children of a politician, their dad’s advertising notwithstanding, and they appear no more human or relatable than Chelsea Clinton, who is, incidentally, friends with Ivanka.
It’s almost as if the presence of Trump’s children on the campaign trail is to reassure anybody who doesn’t think Trump’s act is, in fact, an act that it has to be. How could a man like the one Trump plays in public produce such perfectly groomed and polite children like the ones onstage with him Tuesday night? It just couldn’t be possible.
When a man in the audience rose to ask the Trump women about accusations that their patriarch is a misogynist, their political expertise showed in full force.
“I think the facts speak for themselves,” Ivanka said. “I’ve witnessed these incredible female role models he’s employed in high-level positions at the Trump Organization my entire life.”
The way Trump raised her and Tiffany, his only other daughter, Ivanka said, “is a testament” to how he feels about women. “I don’t think that’s the message a father would relay to a daughter who he didn’t believe had the potential to accomplish exactly what her brothers could,” she said.
Marla Maples, Tiffany’s mother, has referred to raising Tiffany as a “single mom,” but on Tuesday night, Tiffany performed just as well as Ivanka in her role as devoted daughter to devoted, successful dad. “I think my father, since I was a little girl, has always just inspired me,” she said. “He wants us to do the best, and he has the utmost faith that we can accomplish exactly what we set our minds to just as well as men, if not better.”
Melania added: “He treats everyone equally. So if you’re a woman and he attacks you—you attack him, he attacks back… I think it’s very important he doesn’t make the difference.”
It was sweet, really. His kids and wife are so exceedingly boring and pleasant that you almost forget what they’re trying to do: convince the public that Donald Trump has not spent the last 10 months running a campaign predicated on immigrant-bashing, race-baiting, and bullying.