Friday, November 13, 2015

Melania Trump: "A Woman Striking in Her Beauty and Docility"

By Guy Trebay

Lying prone on a rug adorned with the Great Seal of the United States, the woman who might someday be first lady is wearing high-heeled sandals and a crimson bikini.

The date is February 2000. Donald J. Trump hasn’t yet thrown his hat into the ring as a Reform Party candidate, yet he’s already set in motion a machine that 15 years on will turn a voluble political maverick into the front-runner for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

The woman on the rug is Melania Knauss, a Slovene model, who at 29 is almost a quarter-century younger than her billionaire future husband. The rug is a prop in an Oval Office set mocked up in a Manhattan photo studio. Spread across two pages of the now defunct Talk magazine, Mr. Trump is seen in an inset close up; telescope back from the picture and what you’d see is Mr. Trump seated behind the presidential desk and at his feet his future wife, a woman striking in her beauty and docility.

If it is always the case in politics that you “play a role,” as Ms. Knauss observed in a caption accompanying those photos, you do this because politics is, above all else, “a business.”

Observers of the business and ongoing theater of a Trump candidacy are bound to be struck by the passive role played by the candidate’s wife, one seeming to predate gender equality, in an embrace of values from an era when a potential first lady might be less likely to have served as her husband’s former law firm mentor (as Michelle Obama once was) than his carpet ornament.

“Why do we not see her?” Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, asked recently, referring to Mrs. Trump’s near invisibility on the campaign trail, her sole appearance a wordless photo op for which she smiled prettily as her husband announced his candidacy. “One reason is that Republicans take a traditional view of marriage,” Mr. Luntz said. “And she is not a traditional spouse.”

The truth of this has been underscored in a variety of ways as the Trump campaign continues to gather momentum. When Mr. Trump formally announced in June, it was not his wife who offered remarks but Ivanka Trump, the 33-year-old daughter some have already begun referring to as his unofficial campaign spouse.

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