America’s Prospective first ladies are inherently interesting. But Melania Trump seems particularly intriguing to the media, perhaps because, as the New Yorker recently put it, she is “the exception to her husband’s nativist politics.”
Melania, a Slovenian immigrant, is unlike Donald in another way, too: While the presumptive Republican presidential nominee seems capable of discussing his own tremendousness until the end of time, his wife is slightly mysterious.
The press loves a mystery and is out to solve it. The result: A recent deluge of stories about the former model. Here are some of the most interesting things we’ve learned so far:
She has a long-lost half-brother in Slovenia (GQ, April 27)
Reporter Julia Ioffe turned up Denis Cigelnjak — son of Melania’s father, Viktor Knavs — from a relationship that ended before Knavs married Melania’s mother. At the time of the birth, Knavs denied Denis was his child; a paternity test proved otherwise, and Knavs ultimately paid child support but “has never acknowledged his son,” according to GQ.[Denis] didn’t seek attention and says he wants nothing from his father or the Trumps. He wouldn’t mind meeting his half sisters, Ines and Melania, who, he’s fairly certain, don’t even know he exists. (When I asked Melania about this over the phone, she denied that it was true. Later, after I’d sent her documents from the Slovenian court, she wrote to me claiming she hadn’t understood what I’d asked, explaining, “I’ve known about this for years.” She added: “My father is a private individual. Please respect his privacy.”)
She initially rejected Donald Trump’s advances (New Yorker, May 9)
Lauren Collins reported that the former Melania Knauss first caught Trump’s eye 18 years ago. But it was a wandering eye — the real estate mogul was with another woman at the time — so she turned him down.
She met Trump in 1998 at the Kit Kat Club in New York, at a party thrown by Paolo Zampolli, the owner of a modelling agency. Their courtship story is as chaste as its backdrop is louche: Donald saw Melania, Donald asked Melania for her number, but Donald had arrived with another woman — the Norwegian cosmetics heiress Celina Midelfart — so Melania refused.
For more on Midelfart (yes, that’s her real name), check out New York magazine.
She now envisions herself as a bolder first lady than she did at first (Express, May 4)
Donald Trump toyed with the idea of running for president before this campaign, which means this isn’t the first time Melania has been asked what kind of first lady she would be. Writing in the British tabloid Express, Alice Foster pointed out that Melania’s answer has changed.
Back in 1999, a New York Times journalist asked Melania what kind of first lady she would be if Trump entered the White House. … She replied: “I would be very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy. I would support him.”
Earlier this year, Melania told CNN that she would work to help women and children if Trump becomes president of America.
“We are in the 21st century. I will be me. I will be different than any other first ladies,” she said.
She likes her character on ‘Saturday Night Live’ (Harper’s Bazaar, Jan. 6)
The NBC sketch comedy show loves to poke fun at Donald Trump, and it occasionally draws Melania into the satire, too. Last fall, “SNL” described her as looking more like “another bangable daughter” than a wife (she is 24 years younger than The Donald). But Melania told reporter Alex Kuczynski that she gets a kick out of her character.
As we walk around her opulent apartment, which was recently parodied on “Saturday Night Live” as having “the same interior decorator as Saddam Hussein,” Melania smiles when I bring up Cecily Strong’s portrayal of her on the show. “It’s kind of an honor, actually, to have someone play you like that in a fun way,” she says. “We laugh a lot about that. It’s funny to see how people see you.”
She basically stopped tweeting during the campaign (New York Times, Sept. 30)
Since Donald Trump launched his campaign last June, his wife has taken a dramatically different approach to Twitter, as Guy Trebay wrote in the fall.
For a time, her 51,600 Twitter followers were allowed a rare window into her honeyed but seemingly isolated life in the form of regular Twitter posts featuring selfies of her beauty rituals, private jet rides and bikini body. That window snapped shut in July, just after Mr. Trump declared his candidacy and following incendiary comments of his depicting Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists. The last Twitter post (at least for now) from @MelaniaTrump was an image of the American flag date-stamped July 4.
Those of you who read the profile might recall that it originally contained what the Erik Wemple Blog described as a “‘Perfect beach day’ crotch selfie” by Melania, which the Times later removed. Welcome to the 2016 campaign.
Melania has tweeted again since then, most recently to criticize the GQ profile that revealed the existence of her half-brother. Her followers have nearly doubled, to 111,000. But the sum total of her tweeting since the start of the campaign is nine messages.
She tells Donald when he’s wrong. But he doesn’t always listen. (MSNBC, Feb. 24)
Donald Trump doesn’t seem to take advice very often; he has certainly run his campaign his own way. But Melania told Mika Brzezinski that her husband’s stubbornness doesn’t stop her from giving him a piece of her mind.
We still don’t know nearly as much about Melania Trump as we do about her loquacious husband — and we don’t need to; she’s not the one running for president — but through a combination of interviews and journalistic probing, we’re gaining some understanding of who she is and how she influences the Republican standard-bearer.
A running theme seems to be that she does her own thing, whether that means disagreeing with Donald or ditching Twitter in the age of social media. She’s also confident enough to laugh when “SNL” makes fun of her and assertive enough to open fire on GQ (even if her complaints are pretty much baseless, in my estimation.)
Something else seems clear: Melania Trump remains guarded enough to leave the media wanting more. It’s an effective strategy — and couldn’t be more different from her husband’s.