STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

The year in Melania

Melania Trump ...

Posted: Jan 19, 2018 3:40 PM
Updated: Jan 19, 2018 3:40 PM

Melania Trump is perhaps a unique first lady in modern history, an immigrant, a fashion model, a third wife and, by her own account, a notoriously private woman.

After delaying her official move into America's most famous residence until June, the first lady has worked the past several months to make the unfamiliar place a comfortable home.

An "independent" first lady passes her first year

Melania Trump remains a mysterious figure in the Trump orbit

Here are the highs and lows of her first year as FLOTUS

"She is clearly not comfortable revealing too much of herself," said Kate Andersen Brower, author of "First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies" and a CNN contributor.

"And while we should respect her privacy, it makes it difficult to relate to her, or to feel like we know her at all," she added.

One year in

Trump has settled into the role to a degree that appears to please her supporters but still not quite satisfy her critics. Though she outlined a nascent platform in September -- helping children -- she has yet to deliver a refined agenda for just how she will accomplish this, or which specific areas of "help" require her full attention. Her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN to expect a "formal" unveiling of the first lady's agenda "in coming months."

"I think she will continue to focus on the apolitical issue of helping children," Brower said. "But because her husband is so divisive, almost anything she touches, including cyberbullying, is radioactive."

Trump appears to be forging ahead, however, starting 2018 with a staff expansion, adding a communications aide, a new director of advance and operations and, most telling, a director of policy, signaling there is in fact policy to be had.

"She's likely to roll out an initiative, or set of initiatives," said Anita McBride, who served as first lady Laura Bush's chief of staff. "At least now there's a structure around her staff. You also have to remember in this role, it's important to be prepared for the things you can't plan for."

McBride recalled how quickly Bush's team had to pivot in the wake of 9/11, and she is hopeful that Trump's staff of now 12 full-time employees is cognizant of the first lady's needs, no matter how new to the role she is.

To an extent, it should be expected that a former model with zero experience in politics, social work and public speaking would take more time than most to find her voice, not to mention her footing.

"Any person thrown into the role of first lady that doesn't have public ambitions is in a tough spot," said Barbara Perry, a professor and director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. "To be honest, they're all thrown in, especially in the modern media age -- it's a very difficult position. Then layer upon that not being a native English speaker and being more introverted as a person."

Meeting Melania

The world was introduced to Trump's penchant for privacy when she kicked off her tenure as America's most-recognized woman by virtually disappearing to New York, opting to finish out her son's school year from the family's gilded Manhattan penthouse rather than immediately move in to the White House.

Brower believes that decision might have made Trump's first year a more difficult road to acceptance.

"I think Melania set the tone when she refused to follow protocol and immediately move into the White House, as every other first lady has done -- with the exception of Anna Harrison, who didn't move in because her husband, William Henry Harrison, died after one month in office," Brower said.

Since June, when she and Barron moved to Washington, Trump has expanded her presence, both at events and through travel.

In September, she ventured solo to Canada to represent the United States at the Invictus Games opening ceremonies; she also made trips by herself to West Virginia, Michigan and Texas, spreading messages of helping children and families with everything from the opioid crisis to middle school bullying and hurricane recovery.

In November, she accompanied the President on his lengthy visit to Asia, setting aside time for her own outings, chatting with schoolchildren in Japan, even taking a quiet tour of the Great Wall of China by herself.

Highs and lows

"She was a rock star on the foreign stage in the Middle East and Europe on that first trip in May," said McBride. "She immediately showed our country and the world that she was comfortable traveling abroad."

Foreign press dubbed Trump the best-dressed first lady in decades, showering her with sartorial praise. Trump's savvy overseas wardrobe reminds Perry of another first lady with good taste, Jackie Kennedy.

"They are these young, very attractive, fashion plate kind of women, so they draw attention to themselves with good looks and style," Perry said of the similarities between Trump's bright moments and Kennedy's. "Both are also not completely comfortable with being in the public eye. If it were up to them, Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Trump would probably live out of the spotlight and protect their children."

McBride also gives Trump high points for the events she has hosted at the White House, even pre-June, when she wasn't living there full time.

"They've all gone off without a hitch -- the Easter Egg Roll, Mother's Day, the Governors Ball, the White House Historical Association dinner, the holiday parties -- every one was an A+ event and she presided over them," said McBride.

Brower said she would give a "B-" to Trump for her first year in office, citing a lack of a public persona as the first lady's main challenge. Being slow to completely roll out her agenda is also a concern for Brower.

"People are going to expect her to come up with an issue, like Michelle Obama did with 'Let's Move' in the second year, but again, I don't think it's an easy road for her," she said.

McBride said her least favorite "Melania moment" of 2017 happened in October, when Trump opted to respond to some comments from Ivana Trump. The President's first wife suggested that Melania Trump might be "jealous" of her own relationship with the President, while jokingly referring to herself as the first lady.

Trump released a biting statement in response.

"Mrs. Trump has made the White House a home for Barron and the President. She loves living in Washington and is honored by her role as first lady of the United States. She plans to use her title and role to help children, not sell books. There is clearly no substance to this statement from an ex, this is unfortunately only attention-seeking and self-serving noise," Grisham told CNN at the time.

What to expect

Brower said first ladies are at their best when they reveal their "humanity" -- a skill that would indeed help warm Trump to her critics, or those who aren't sure about her just yet. But the complex divisiveness that her husband's presidency has churned up could make this tactic a tricky one.

Revealing moments -- when Trump reminded with a gentle nudge that the President should put his hand over his heart during the National Anthem at the Easter Egg Roll, or even when she swatted his hand away on that infamous tarmac walk in Israel last spring -- certainly cultivate a more realistic persona for a first lady who for many conjures an image of an unsmiling face behind big, dark sunglasses.

Ironically, in Trump's case, channeling her charisma has been most successful when she isn't near the President. Her visits with children, in the United States and overseas, are clearly the best chances to see Trump's smile, or witness her dropping to her knees to look a child in the eyes and have a hug, or hear her laugh at a joke or snap a selfie.

Terre Haute
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 63°
Robinson
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 59°
Indianapolis
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
Rockville
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 55°
Casey
Overcast
58° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 58°
Brazil
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 63°
Marshall
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 63°
Breezy, Warmer Thursday
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 354457

Reported Deaths: 9537
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1664575369
DuPage21231599
Lake19714506
Will17106422
Kane15616342
Winnebago9314167
St. Clair7623213
Madison6832152
Champaign574128
McHenry5726120
Peoria431064
McLean391831
Rock Island372189
Unassigned3627260
Sangamon355660
Kankakee319078
Macon263348
Kendall248527
Tazewell244549
LaSalle220760
DeKalb213842
Coles179838
Williamson173758
Boone168725
Adams165915
Clinton163124
Vermilion15627
Jackson144325
Whiteside116722
Randolph115914
Knox11519
Effingham10953
Ogle10897
Grundy8897
Jefferson86744
Franklin8666
Marion86613
Monroe86128
Bureau85517
Stephenson8207
Morgan81024
Henry7987
Christian78425
Macoupin74110
Union73825
McDonough66815
Fayette63821
Crawford6306
Lee6271
Shelby5928
Douglas5638
Livingston55710
Montgomery55515
Woodford55311
Logan5474
Saline5057
Bond4719
Warren4647
Iroquois45919
Jersey45621
Cass45011
Wayne44011
Jo Daviess4367
Fulton4290
Perry40916
Moultrie3785
Carroll3678
Johnson3220
Richland31815
Lawrence3068
Hancock2853
Clay28411
Washington2771
Clark2729
Greene27015
Pike2674
Cumberland2586
Jasper25010
Mason2381
White2351
De Witt2333
Pulaski2261
Mercer2256
Piatt2180
Wabash2105
Ford1829
Menard1651
Edgar1478
Massac1412
Marshall1403
Hamilton1142
Henderson1110
Alexander1091
Gallatin1052
Edwards990
Brown980
Scott950
Putnam860
Schuyler801
Stark802
Calhoun670
Hardin490
Pope361
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 150664

Reported Deaths: 4008
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion24697784
Lake13220352
St. Joseph8877159
Elkhart8469132
Allen7880222
Hamilton5962113
Vanderburgh559360
Tippecanoe354714
Monroe320738
Hendricks3183130
Johnson2995128
Porter297848
Clark285461
Delaware282074
Vigo252637
Madison229593
Cass222021
LaPorte215557
Warrick188464
Kosciusko176823
Floyd174867
Howard158866
Bartholomew139758
Dubois135125
Marshall132526
Henry122628
Grant120939
Wayne119327
Boone118848
Hancock114145
Noble113533
Jackson108713
Morgan92240
Dearborn91628
Daviess84033
Gibson83411
Clinton81616
Shelby79429
Lawrence78534
LaGrange76715
Harrison74024
Putnam71016
Knox70310
DeKalb69411
Posey6796
Steuben6008
Fayette58517
Miami5845
Montgomery57222
White56815
Jasper5624
Greene51837
Scott50813
Decatur49839
Adams4725
Clay4346
Whitley4316
Sullivan42812
Ripley4228
Wells4155
Starke3937
Wabash3919
Orange38725
Huntington3785
Spencer3706
Franklin36525
Jennings36013
Washington3592
Randolph3398
Fulton3362
Jefferson3305
Pike31913
Carroll31413
Perry29514
Jay2876
Fountain2863
Tipton26823
Parke2203
Newton21811
Vermillion2181
Rush2044
Owen2021
Martin1950
Blackford1923
Crawford1491
Pulaski1471
Brown1303
Ohio1227
Benton1070
Union1040
Switzerland890
Warren751
Unassigned0233