This lady is a Trump

As her platform gets bigger, Ms Trump is coming in for some criticism that her primary agenda may be the further enhancement of the Ivanka Trump brand she has carefully built over the past decade.
As her platform gets bigger, Ms Trump is coming in for some criticism that her primary agenda may be the further enhancement of the Ivanka Trump brand she has carefully built over the past decade.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ivanka's messages about empowering women are woven into her sales pitch, which blends inspirational mottos with 'shop this look' appeals

When Ms Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader of the US House of Representatives, called Mr Donald Trump shortly after the Nov 8 election, they talked about domestic policy and infrastructure. But when Ms Pelosi raised the subject of women's issues, the President- elect did something unexpected: He handed the phone to his 35-year-old daughter Ivanka.

Around the same time, Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, the author of the best-selling women's empowerment book Lean In, reached out to Ms Trump, hoping to begin what aides from both sides described as "a dialogue".

Ms Anne-Marie Slaughter, a policy adviser to Mrs Hillary Clinton at the State Department and the author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, had met Ms Trump about a year ago at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit. She also sent word to the incoming First Daughter a week after the election, saying that she hoped to be in touch with her after her father took office.

"She is really serious about the 'care agenda' and can be a strong inside force," Ms Slaughter said.

Perhaps most important, she said: "I don't know anyone else."

A month and a half before her father is due to be inaugurated, Ms Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, 35, are key advisers to the President-elect, with Ms Trump poised to be perhaps the most influential First Daughter since Alice Roosevelt Longworth. They have attended meetings with political advisers, job seekers, foreign leaders and real estate developers eager to sell US$2 million (S$2.8 million) apartments as "President-elect branded". They are also triaging calls and e-mails from their own left-leaning high-powered friends and acquaintances who are hoping to find a voice for their causes in the Trump administration.

BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED

I always thought her father was tacky. But she's elegant and classy and strong. She had a great group of friends when she was at Trinity. So I can't understand this. She is not a hateful, racist person. She's just not.

SHOE DESIGNER ARDEN WOHL, an acquaintance of Ms Trump for two decades and who counts the future First Daughter among her 33,000 Instagram followers.

SOPHISTICATED LADY

People think that because she's polished and well spoken, that she isn't like him. I think she is more dangerous because she is more polished.

MARKETING SPECIALIST SHANNON COULTER, who started a boycott of Ms Trump's brand over social media.

TAKE NO PRISONERS

Everyone who knows Ivanka says, 'How could she support her dad like this?' But she works for her father. The Trump motto is: Win at all costs.

MR PETER DAVIS, the society journalist Mr Jared Kushner hired in 2011 at his wife's suggestion to edit a magazine called Scene.

Even Leonardo DiCaprio has weighed in. The Oscar-winning actor recently met Ms Trump privately and gave her a copy of his climate change documentary, Before The Flood, according to their aides.

But as her platform gets bigger, Ms Trump is coming in for some criticism that her primary agenda may be the further enhancement of the Ivanka Trump brand she has carefully built over the past decade.

In that time, she has published a New York Times best-selling self- help memoir (with another book scheduled for next spring), started a fashion and jewellery brand, co-starred with her father on The Apprentice and become a fixture at fashion shows and charity balls.

Messages about empowering women are woven into her sales pitch, which blends inspirational mottos with "shop this look" appeals on ivankatrump.com.

She said on 60 Minutes last month that when her father takes office, she will just be a "daughter". She has said she will use her "heightened visibility" to champion working women. (After the show, she was criticised for her company's attempt to market the Ivanka Trump US$10,800 diamond and gold bracelet she wore during the interview. She later apologised and said her brand was due for a "readjustment".)

Some prominent figures remain sceptical of Ms Trump's commitment to their causes.

"I don't think it's useful to denigrate the image she projects as a working woman and as a mother and a wife, but there are limits to it," said former president of Planned Parenthood Faye Wattleton. "It's easy to talk about self-help when you have access to the best medical care in the world by virtue of your birth. It's not so easy when you can't earn a living wage and you have children to support. And we have not heard her speak out on those hard survival issues."

Last month, artists like Dan Colen and Nate Lowman, both of whose works Ms Trump has collected, lent their names in support of a "Dear Ivanka" open letter, one that included statements like "I'm black and I'm afraid of Jeff Sessions" and "My mum is going to be deported", but that also said: "We wanted to appeal to your rationality and your commitment to protecting the rights of all Americans, especially women and children." The two were among the 200 or so at a recent protest outside the Puck Building owned by Mr Kushner, where the couple have an apartment.

There was also artist Marilyn Minter, expressing puzzlement that Ms Trump would be associated with an ideology that Minter says she found personally troubling: "She's supposed to be a feminist."

Stella Schnabel, the actress and daughter of the artist and director Julian Schnabel, seemed personally affronted by what she saw as Ms Trump's support of her father's positions. "I had a playdate with Ivanka. I went to Mar-a-Lago!" Schnabel said of Ms Trump, as she stood beside shoe designer Arden Wohl, an acquaintance of the future First Daughter for two decades and who counts Ms Trump among her 33,000 Instagram followers.

"I always thought her father was tacky. But she's elegant and classy and strong. She had a great group of friends when she was at Trinity," Ms Wohl said, referring to the Upper West Side private school Ms Trump attended. "So I can't understand this. She is not a hateful, racist person. She's just not."

Tell that to mogul Barry Diller, a social acquaintance for many years, and one who in 2009 did a business deal with Mr Kushner.

"I think it's delusional to believe there's any difference between Mr Trump and his children on any of his extreme positions," Mr Diller, a Clinton donor in the 2016 campaign, wrote in an e-mail. "They've had every opportunity to publicly modify them and have not done so."

However, there has been some dissension within family ranks.

Supermodel Karlie Kloss, recently involved with Mr Kushner's younger brother, Joshua, a New York entrepreneur, spent the autumn making her strong opposition to a Trump presidency known to near-total strangers. Shortly before the election, she posted an Instagram shot of herself filling out an absentee ballot and put the hashtag #Imwithher below it.

Mr Joshua Kushner in July and August "liked" a number of vociferously anti-Trump tweets from his Twitter account.

Ms Anna Wintour, the editor-in- chief of Vogue, was a mentor to Ms Trump, ran two profiles of her in the Conde Nast magazine and, at one point, offered her a job there. (Ms Trump wrote in her memoir, Trump Rules, that she turned it down.) But as the election drew to a close, as Ms Wintour bundled millions of dollars for Mrs Clinton, the two fell out of touch.

After the election, Ms Wintour wept as she talked to her staff about the need to move forward in the face of a stinging defeat. Asked to comment about her relationship with Ms Trump, Ms Wintour politely declined through a spokesman.

DADDY'S GIRL

For a long time, Ms Trump's popularity owed (at least in part) to her ability to smooth out her father's rough edges.

Where Mr Trump was brusque, his daughter was tactful. Where he came off as self-centred and easily distracted, she was self-effacing and sharply focused, traits she displayed from her earliest days growing up on the Upper East Side.

Ms Trump worked briefly as a model as a teenager, before entering Georgetown University. Two years later, she transferred to her father's alma mater, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, she began to get photographed around town, at parties like the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival and the annual Frick Gala, where she stood out as a refreshing change from a generation of hard-partying heiresses such as Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Casey Johnson.

By then, she was working for her father at Trump Organisation, but had built a social life that eclipsed that of her famous father.

Mr Trump and his older sons are not fixtures of the New York power scene, but Ms Trump and Mr Kushner, who bought The New York Observer in 2006, are more socially nimble. She was seated front row at Carolina Herrera shows at New York Fashion Week, walked the red carpet at the Glamour Woman of the Year gala at Carnegie Hall and was a guest at dinners with movie star Hugh Jackman and media heir James Murdoch.

When she and Mr Kushner broke up during their courtship, a reconciliation took place on billionaire Rupert Murdoch's yacht - a rapprochement brokered by her good friend Wendi Murdoch, who was still married to Mr Murdoch then.

Soon, Ms Trump converted to Judaism and married Mr Kushner at Bedminster, her father's private golf club in New Jersey, wearing a Vera Wang dress, as a Getty photographer snapped away. They have since had three children.

Occasionally, there were naysayers: gossip items in Gawker and Page Six. But slights about the couple were few.

"They're ideal politicians," said Mr Peter Davis, the society journalist Mr Kushner hired in 2011 at his wife's suggestion to edit a magazine called Scene. "Because you come away from any interaction thinking they're great and nice and don't have any deeper feeling about them."

As with many people eager to move up the New York social ladder, the couple engaged in philanthropic endeavours. But they didn't leave strong footprints; to look at Ms Trump's charitable deeds is to find echoes of her father's much- chronicled pattern of claiming a lot while giving just a little.

In 2010, she became a founding partner of the UN Foundation Girl Up initiative and then showcased her involvement on the Trump Organisation's website, where it remains today as the first of just three outside causes the family supports, along with the New York City Police Foundation and the Police Athletic League.

Ms Trump's main contribution was to post a promotional link to her jewellery collection, where she sold a Girl Up bracelet, with part of the sales going to the initiative.

Once the election began, the UN Foundation, which is non-partisan, officially parted ways with her. "We cut all ties with her, but there weren't any, anyway," said spokesman for the group Beth Nervig.

During the Republican National Convention, at which her father officially accepted the party's presidential nomination, scrutiny of Ms Trump began to take a more negative turn. Although her own speech was widely praised, friends were taken aback by the coarseness of some of the other speakers (like those who encouraged chants of "Lock her up") and wondered when she would speak up to denounce them.

In September, Ms Trump got testy with a Cosmopolitan reporter who grilled her about apparent inconsistencies between her professions of feminism and the campaign she defended so ardently. "So I think that you have a lot of negativity in these questions," she said, according to the transcript.

The next week, Ms Trump got another signal that her father's race for the presidency was not doing great things for her reputation or her own global brand. It took place in what was supposed to be her safe space: a closed-door gathering of her fellow plutocrats.

In Aspen, Colorado, at the annual Weekend With Charlie Rose conference in September, Ms Trump and Mr Kushner joined the likes of Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Ari Emanuel and Jeffrey Katzenberg at a dinner.

Hasan Minhaj, 31, the popular Daily Show comedian, was the entertainer and gently ribbed some of the more exalted guests about their wealth and power. But his digs went deeper when Minhaj, whose parents emigrated from India to the US shortly before he was born, turned to Ms Trump.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked, his tone suggesting others in the room were asking the same question. Listing Mr Trump's attacks on Muslims, like suggesting they should be barred from entering the US, Minhaj implored Ms Trump to stop abetting her father and then closed with a sharp-edged joke: "At the end of the day, your dad wants to deport my dad."

She sat there, Minhaj said, "looking uncomfortable".

When a now-infamous tape of Mr Trump and Mr Billy Bush came out a few weeks later, marketing specialist Shannon Coulter started a boycott of Ms Trump's brand over social media, with a #GrabYourWallet hashtag that went viral.

"People think that because she's polished and well spoken, that she isn't like him," Ms Coulter said. "I think she is more dangerous because she is more polished."

Then came Vicuna at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in California, the latest work from the Tony-nominated playwright Jon Robin Baitz. His satire centred on a Trump-like presidential candidate and his lovely, loyal daughter, Srilanka, who struggles to stand by her monstrous father and power-hungry husband, and ends up a social and professional pariah as a result. (Mr Trump's surprise victory was a plot twist the playwright didn't see coming.)

"Everyone who knows Ivanka says, 'How could she support her dad like this?'" said Mr Davis, the society journalist. "But she works for her father. The Trump motto is: Win at all costs."

According to old friends, Ms Trump - who, along with her husband, declined repeated requests for an interview for this article - is keeping a stiff upper lip.

"She doesn't complain about anything, and she rarely expresses weakness," said Ms Maggie Cordish, a college friend who met her husband, a real estate developer, through Ms Trump. Ms Cordish said her interest in the cause of working women is heartfelt: "She elevated issues that weren't part of the Republican agenda because she cares about them."

Hollywood mogul David Geffen, a long-time supporter of Democratic candidates, said he has a fondness for Ms Trump and Mr Kushner, even though he did not vote for her father. "I've known Ivanka and Jared for years. She's a lovely, intelligent woman, and Jared has been a loyal son-in-law. Trump depends on him. He's a very smart guy. Is he a genius? No, but guess what: The geniuses all lost."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'This lady is a Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe