A MODEL FIRST LADY
The Immigrant Who Sleeps Next to Trump
Will the Donald’s anti-immigration supporters cotton to his glamorous, Slovenian-born wife Melania?
It’s almost impossible to imagine Melania Trump—the Republican front-runner’s glamorous, Slovenian-born wife—chowing down on a fried Twinkie on a stick at the Iowa State Fair. But now that her husband is a serious contender for the GOP nomination, your wait for the former supermodel to hit the 2016 campaign trail in all its deep-fried glory may soon be over.
Donald Trump said as much a few weeks ago when he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that Melania, whom Trump called “my pollster,” will soon begin campaigning for his presidential bid.
Thus far, the 45-year-old third wife of Trump has been advising her husband behind the scenes (scolding Trump for making fun of Jeb Bush, for example, advice he clearly hasn’t taken to heart). But she has been nearly invisible to the public. While other Republicans are dispatching their wives to recruit volunteers, greet voters and headline events, Mrs. Trump has appeared just twice alongside her husband, once at his campaign kickoff and again at the GOP debate in Cleveland.
The Trump campaign has declined to make Melania available for interviews, including for The Daily Beast. When a local Republican Club in Iowa called to ask for Melania to speak, “the Trump campaign said, ‘How about Ivanka instead?’” referring to Trump’s eldest daughter, who has made appearances on his behalf.
In the CNN interview, Trump explained that he had held back on asking his wife to campaign for him, but that was about to change. “She will. She would certainly like to,” Trump said, adding that she’ll be “unbelievable” speaking on women’s health issues.
So now that Melania is apparently ready for America, is America ready for her? Will conservatives warm up to a European supermodel who lives on three floors of Manhattan’s Trump Tower, travels by private 757, and once posed alongside a blowup whale for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition?
A little bit Jackie Kennedy, a little Carla Bruni, Melania Trump is the first potential First Lady of her kind. In addition to her past success as a high fashion model, the former architecture student now has successful QVC jewelry and skin-care lines and is mother to 9-year-old Barron Trump.
Born in the former Yugoslavia, Melania would also be just the second American First Lady born outside of the United States (John Quincy Adams’s wife, Louisa, was British), which raises the question of whether her status as a naturalized citizen will be a sticking point for Trump’s anti-immigration supporters.
Trump said that his wife shares his position on illegal immigration. “She agrees with me because she went through a long process to become a citizen. It was very tough,” Trump told CNN. “When she got it, she was very proud of it. She thinks it’s a beautiful process to go through when it works.”
In one of the few instances she has discussed politics publicly, Mrs. Trump also defended her husband’s demands to see President Obama’s birth certificate in the run up to the 2012 elections. “I have a birth certificate from Slovenia. And do you want to see President Obama birth certificate or not?” she asked Joy Behar in a 2011 interview.
“It’s not only Donald who wants to see it. It’s American people who voted for [the president] and who didn’t vote for him. They want to see that.”
At a recent Trump event in South Carolina, where Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration and international trade drew roars of approval from the audience, his fans knew little about Mrs. Trump, but said they had no problem with her foreign roots.
Ralph Kaiser from Hartwell, Georgia, described himself as “Trump all the way” and said he agrees completely with Trump’s immigration plan.
“We’ve got a really drastic problem with illegal immigration,” Kaiser said. “They’ve broken into our country and we’re accepting it and that’s not right. It’s going to destroy what we have in America because we can’t afford it.”
But Kaiser said he had no problem with the fact that Mrs. Trump is an immigrant herself. “If you come here legally, I am with you,” he said.
Regina Owen drove to Greenville from Charlotte, North Carolina, to see Trump speak and said she understands his larger point on illegal immigration.
“What I see is him explaining his viewpoint on how we need to get our country together. People need to focus on the bigger picture.” Asked whether Mrs. Trump’s origins outside the country would be a problem for Trump supporters, she said no.
“I don’t think it’s going to factor in,” Owen said. “I see it as a plus. I don’t see it as a minus.”
And in all-important Iowa, where Mrs. Trump would likely campaign, she can expect a warm welcome. “She would be very well received,” says Gloria Mazza, the president of Polk County Iowa Republican Women, which has invited every Republican spouse to come speak to their group. “Donald Trump was just here for the state fair and we’ve never seen anything like it.”
Mazza described Mrs. Trump as “a classy lady” and “beautiful” and said Republican women she knows would welcome her eagerly.
“People will be in awe of her, really. Selfies would be a big thing.”