American women really like Melania Trump
USA: Biographer of Melania and Donald Trump - a long-distance relationship in the White House
What does Melania Trump want? Biographer Mary Jordan reports on a first lady who exerts great influence on the US president behind the scenes - and apparently cheats on her knowledge of German.
Much of the world looks at Melania Trump with a mixture of ridicule, pity and incomprehension - for years there have been calls for "Liberate Melania". But in the end, little is known about the American first lady, after all, she reveals next to nothing about herself in public.
The "Washington Post" journalist Mary Jordan describes in a new unofficial biography the 50-year-old as an influential figure in the White House who uses her power for her own interests, but also gives her husband decisive support. Love, says Jordan in an interview with t-online.de, "is extremely complicated with the Trumps".
She talks about the relationship of the couple, who spend a lot of time apart but have a special relationship, about their influence on personnel issues and she expresses doubts about the first lady's claim that she speaks foreign languages such as German.
t-online.de: Ms. Jordan, in your book you describe how Melania Trump renegotiated her marriage contract and prevailed after her husband's election victory in 2016. Who is actually in power in this regard?
Mary Jordan: It's all about power. Trump himself speaks in these categories when he celebrates himself as the world's largest dealmaker. He says you have to have something in hand that the other wants or, better still, absolutely needs. The fascinating thing is that Melania waited very patiently for the moment when she had the greatest power over her husband to renegotiate her marriage contract.
What did she do?
She studied very carefully what was known about Trump's marriage contracts with his first two wives. After his election victory, she stayed in New York. He needed her in the White House. The first lady's office should no longer be empty, he no longer wanted embarrassing pictures of her slapping his hand away.
Mary Jordan, 59, is a political reporter for the Washington Post and former foreign correspondent. She and her husband won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on conditions in Mexican prisons. "The Art of Her Deal", her book about Melania Trump, was published in the USA in mid-June.
She is happy now. She wanted her son Barron to be looked after. Trump's full attention is on his three children from his first marriage: Ivanka, Donald Jr., and Eric. The younger two, Tiffany from marriage number two, and Barron always stand in line. Melania wanted to hedge Barron, she put it. Melania is Mama Bear. Pretty much everything she does makes her think of her son.
The Trumps with their son Barron (14 years old): "In pretty much everything she does, she thinks of her son." (Source: Yuri Gripas / Reuters)
How does she use her power in the White House?
She does not interfere in individual projects. Your power lies in personnel issues. Anyone who wants to advise Trump or does not want to be fired by him needs Melania's approval. This becomes more and more important the less Trump trusts his environment. He trusts your judgment. Some advisors told me that they were called to the White House residence for confidential talks, where not only Trump was waiting, but also his wife. Many see Melania, for example, as a key factor in Trump making Mike Pence his vice-presidential candidate. So she has great power.
How important is the first lady for her husband's political success?
She is the most popular of the trumps. It is crucial for his re-election. Half of the voters are women. When she appeared in 2016 and praised him, many voters said: "It can't be that bad after all". I heard that over and over again during the 2016 election campaign. It is also so important because he has already been divorced twice. It would look really bad for him if he broke up a third time.
Does Melania love her Donald?
Love is complicated for a lot of people, and extraordinarily complicated with the Trumps. Two things are important here: On the one hand, unlike almost any other married couple, they spend an extraordinary amount of time apart. They have separate diaries, they get up separately. Trump gets up at five in his own bedroom, she a lot later in hers. They don't eat together, they don't spend free time together. How does Trump spend his free time? On the golf course and not with his wife.
Rather not what is commonly understood as love.
I think the relationship changed after the reports of Trump's affairs with Stormy Daniels and Karen MacDougal. And after their son Barron was born. Interestingly, Trump had his affairs right after he was born. But they still have a special connection when they are together or when they are on the phone, as they often do after the President's public appearances.
What does this connection look like?
He trusts her and she helps him. And she admires him for what he has achieved: how he became president. How he creates a direct connection to the audience when he performs, while she doesn't like speaking in public herself. That is why she especially admires the way his followers cheer him on during the performances. And he admires that she is never as impulsive as he is. So: you have a relationship, albeit a complicated one.
Trump at a reception in the White House: Great influence on personnel decisions at government headquarters. (Source: Oliver Contreras / Getty Images)
Ms. Trump has claimed that, in addition to English, she also speaks French, Italian and German. This information is also found in many biographies. Does the First Lady really speak German?
There is no evidence for this. I researched these allegations for months and spoke to many people in Germany about them. Both German photographers who spent hours with her when she modeled in her twenties and German native speakers she met as a first lady said she never spoke German to them and they never heard her speak German to anyone else. The same applies to French and Italian.
In 2017, the Trumps met Pope Francis, who addressed the First Lady in Italian.
Yes, and she couldn't respond until the question was translated. I asked the White House whether any moment had been recorded in which she actually speaks German, French or Italian beyond a "Ciao" or "Bonjour". There are even recordings of Jackie Kennedy that prove her fluent French. That was in the sixties. Today, when anyone can film with the phone, there should be recordings.
I got no answer. The question is only interesting because it has asserted that about itself and allows it to continue to be asserted. It is one of the first lady qualities that are mentioned the most. They say she has this heavy accent when she speaks English, but she speaks all these other languages.
So she's lying about her knowledge of German?
Well, we know Donald Trump is exaggerating. He exaggerates his height, the number of floors of his Trump Tower in New York, he exaggerates everything. It seems as if Melania exaggerates parts of her résumé too, and that apparently includes her language skills.
Melania Trump speaking in Baltimore: The First Lady "doesn't like speaking in public". (Source: Erin Scott / Reuters)
Let's get back to the White House. The first lady has occasionally contradicted the president, for example in the dispute over the family separation on the southern border with Mexico. What's behind it: Does she speak out of her own conviction? Or do they both play a variant of "Good Cop / Bad Cop"?
Often this is actually a "good cop / bad cop" strategy and is done in consultation with the president, for example if he has made a mistake and wants to correct something. It is more practical then to say, "My wife convinced me" than to admit that his political critics and opponents were right. So it was with the family breakups where the president knew he had made a mistake. In fact, Melania did not agree with this policy either. There are moments when she clearly contradicts him because she simply thinks something else is right. So you don't coordinate it all the time, but much more often than you think.
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With your interview requests for the book, you were blown off by the first lady. You only spoke extensively once, during the 2016 election campaign. What was your insight from this personal conversation?
At that time she came across as very warm-hearted, very different from what her image would suggest. She has the image of an ice queen. She looked very different to me then. She laughed, she was smart, it seemed like I was talking to a completely different person than the one you see in public.
The couple in 1999 at a film premiere in New York: "An extraordinary story that fits America." (Source: Jeff Christensen / Reuters)
The White House and the First Lady herself are extremely closed off.
Yes, I put a lot of simple factual questions to the White House - but I got stuck with everything. I find it fascinating that Melania doesn't talk about her story. That's why many think she has something to hide from her past. But when I researched her life in Paris, Milan and Ljubljana, I found out that she actually led a very normal life. She just worked very hard and with discipline. She came to the United States as an immigrant at the age of 26 and was first lady 20 years later. This is an extraordinary story that fits America. I find it fascinating that she doesn't talk about it and has made herself a mystery.
Politically, the president is in crisis. The polls are bad, and he doesn't find an answer to the coronavirus and racism crises. What does the First Lady advise him in such a situation?
Melania spends a large part of her day reading everything that is written about Trump and her. This irritates some advisors in the White House. Because she points out critics to him and then he gets in a bad mood. So she knows exactly how great the anger is. During the impeachment, she had a kind of bunker mentality that welded her and her husband together. She felt that the Trump name was unjustly tarnished. In the current situation, their behavior becomes very interesting. The main thing she thinks about is what's good for her son Barron. It will be exciting to see how much campaign she will do and how much she really wants to stay in the White House.
Ms. Jordan, thank you for talking to us.
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