If you were going to groom a member of the Trump family for politics, your first instinct wouldn’t necessarily be to pick Donald Trump — a 70-year-old with outrageous wealth and a penchant for saying outrageously racist things.
You might pick Ivanka Trump: his glamorous, accomplished, 34-year-old daughter, who is more disciplined and on-message on her worst day than her father on his best.
So perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking that Ivanka’s political star has quietly been on the rise over the past year. Before Donald Trump selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, there were suggestions — occasionally serious — that he should pick Ivanka. She’s slated to speak just before her father tonight at the Republican National Convention, and it’s safe to assume that her speech will be polished, poll-tested, and perfectly uncontroversial.
Behind the scenes, Ivanka has amassed a surprising amount of influence within the Trump campaign. She was reportedly responsible for the ouster of controversial campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in June. And some sources suggested she was one of the deciding votes in her father’s vice presidential pick.
“She is very, very trusted by me,” Trump told the New York Times in April. “She has great real-estate instincts and great political instincts.” Trump jumps at the chance to tell interviewers how great and accomplished his daughter is (though this fulsome praise often veers into his cringe-inducing joke that he’d date her if they weren’t, you know, related).
The big question, then, is how Ivanka will wield this outsize influence within the Trump campaign. In some cases, she’s garnered a reputation for trying to push her father to moderate his positions. Yet that doesn’t seem to have succeeded thus far — and in at least a few instances, she’s been unable to shake Donald Trump’s core beliefs.
Ivanka’s role in the campaign began with defending Trump against misogyny charges
Ivanka first assumed a public role in her father’s campaign in August 2015, when Trump was facing accusations of misogyny after he said that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her … wherever” during a debate.
Initially, Trump didn’t see his feud with Kelly as a problem at all. It was Ivanka who convinced him that this was a real vulnerability and that he needed to address it. As Trump told Sean Hannity: “She said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to let people know how much you adore women and how you’ll take care of them.'”
Since then, Ivanka has taken a leading role in trying to defend her father’s reputation — a difficult task given Trump’s long history of objectifying and denigrating women. She even told London’s Sunday Times that her father was “a feminist.”
And it’s a big reason I am the woman I am today. He always told me and showed me that I could do anything I set my mind to if I married vision and passion with work ethic. He’s also surrounded me with strong female role models who have done just that since I was a little girl… People talk about gender equality… He has lived it, he has employed women at the highest levels of the Trump Organization for decades, so I think it’s a great testament to how capable he thinks women are and has shown that his whole life.
While this defense wasn’t entirely convincing, Ivanka was arguably his best messenger here. In addition to being an executive within the Trump Organization, she’s an entrepreneur whose entire pitch is aimed at young women, selling a palatable, popular workplace feminism. Her website, IvankaTrump.com aims to give 20-somethings advice on how to choose an outfit for a summer wedding, write a living will, or ask for billions for your startup idea. Her forthcoming book is called Women Who Work.
Serving as a character witness is the traditional role for a male candidate’s wife or daughter. Ivanka Trump’s argument that her father “adores” women and will “take care of them” is similar to Ann Romney’s role in the 2012 campaign, when she stood up at the Republican National Convention to tell a story about Mitt taking her to a high school dance. “You can trust Mitt,” she said. “He will take us to a better place, just as he took me home safely from that dance.”
For most wives and daughters, however, that’s the extent of their campaign role. But Ivanka, along with her husband Jared Kushner, has slowly acquired an importance that stretches beyond simply telling heartwarming stories.