What happened to Ivanka? The liberal hope of the Trump administration remains silent
Soon after the presidential election, a group of New York artists started a social media campaign dubbed #dearivanka.
They were sure that Ivanka Trump, a 35-year-old self-professed feminist, patron of the arts and Democratic fundraiser, would play a moderating role in her father’s White House and were appealing to her to intercede on abortion rights, climate change and other issues. The artists considered her part of the “liberal bubble of New York,” said Alison Gingeras, an art curator and one of the organizers of the initiative known as Halt Action Group.
So far Ivanka has largely disappointed the bubble. While she may have softened President Trump’s stance on equal pay for women and childcare for working mothers, he has pushed ahead with hard-line conservative measures on immigration, the environment and domestic spending, leaving liberals feeling betrayed.
“Ivanka is completely complicit because she is the one who white-washed him during the campaign,” Gingeras said.
Although friends described her core beliefs as more in tune with the Democratic Party, Ivanka appears to have put family loyalty to her father above her own political views.
“Ivanka is the one person who can speak frankly with her father,” said R. Couri Hay, a New York public relations executive who has known the family for three decades. “And he will listen. But in the end, it is him who makes the decision. Donald rules the roost.”
With First Lady Melania Trump conspicuously absent, Ivanka is a luminous blond presence by her father’s side, a smiling counterpoint to the president’s sometimes-scowling personage.
A former model, she has become one of the most-photographed women in the world, appearing in official White House shots as well as a prolific stream of her own Facebook and Instagram accounts.
There she is standing in the Oval Office jiggling a baby, posing on the steps of the Supreme Court with her daughter or popping up in meetings with heads of state.
She often showcases her own fashion label, wearing an $89 striped skirt for a photo-op at an Orlando school and $78 sandals to last month’s governor’s ball at the White House.
Ivanka has no formal job description. Commentators have described her as a cross between a first lady and a British royal, or another Valerie Jarrett, Barack Obama’s old friend who served as a White House senior advisor.
Her husband, 36-year-old Jared Kushner, a real estate developer with no political experience, is serving as a senior White House aide, while her brothers, Donald Jr. and Eric, head Trump’s real estate business. She has stepped down from management of her fashion brand, although she retains a financial interest.
“She is a phenomenon,” said presidential historian Thomas Alan Schwartz of Vanderbilt University. “I would have never expected something like this, a presidential daughter who had this sort of influence, and who at the same time is hawking her wares on TV. This is bizarre.”
Ivanka Trump declined to be interviewed for this article.
She is the second child from Donald Trump’s first marriage to the Czech-born Ivana Trump and, according to her siblings, her father’s favorite. As an elementary school student, she would sneak into a room with a telephone at her school and call him collect.
Although Ivanka grew up in the gold-festooned penthouse of Trump Tower, her room looked middle-class — lilac walls, a small white-painted twin bed, dolls and rock star posters.
She attended the all-girls Chapin School on the Upper East Side, where students wore uniforms. She studied ballet and was accomplished enough to appear in a performance of “The Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center. Her brothers nicknamed her “the princess.”
Her life took a sharp turn when her parents’ marriage collapsed in scandal. Her mother told a New York gossip columnist that Ivanka worried that her name would no longer be Trump after the divorce.
The divorce, however, brought Ivanka closer to her father, she wrote in her 2009 book “The Trump Card,” “because I could no longer take him for granted.”
After the divorce, Ivanka left for Choate Rosemary Hall, a boarding school in Connecticut. She spent most weekends with her family in New York and took time off to launch a modeling career and to host the Miss Teen pageant with her father, but still made a good impression on teachers and students.
“She was never pretentious or entitled like some of the wealthy kids are,” said one teacher, who asked not to be quoted by name because the school has barred faculty from giving interviews about Ivanka.
She attended Georgetown University for two years before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where she studied real estate finance.
“She tried to live as normal a life as possible,” said Miriam Diwan, a former classmate from both Choate and Wharton. “She didn’t walk around in designer clothing. … She was thoughtful. She was curious about other people. She worked hard. She got good grades and she deserved them.”
Like others in her family, she developed her own fashion brand marketed with the hashtag #womenwhowork and did far better than her father in the clothing business.
At her father’s real estate firm, Ivanka was respected for her attention to detail and her even temper. When she negotiated the purchase of the El Doral Hotel & Golf Course in Miami in 2013, Michael Ashner, an executive on the selling side, met her over tuna sandwiches at the Trump Tower.
“She is very smart. She is very deliberative and cautious,” he said. “I suspect she is a calming influence, a voice of reason for her father.”
Ivanka gained acceptance with the New York elites who sneered at her father’s penchant for conspiracy theories. She and her husband collected modern art and furnished their home in a minimalist style that contrasted sharply with the gold and marble of her childhood home at Trump Tower.
She hung out with Chelsea Clinton and hosted a fundraiser for Democrat Cory Booker’s U.S. Senate run. Along the way, she converted to Judaism to marry Kushner and became religious enough to observe the sabbath.
Ivanka cultivated friends in the media. Vogue Editor Anna Wintour blurbed her first book. She was close to media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his now-former wife, Wendi Deng, and served as trustee for a fund set up for their daughters.
During the presidential campaign, she emerged as her father’s most persuasive cheerleader and apologist.
She stole the show at the Republican convention, describing her father “as color blind and gender neutral.” When his support flagged among women, Ivanka vouched for him, telling CNN that he couldn’t be sexist because if he were, “I would not be one of his senior executives and I would not be working shoulder to shoulder with my brothers.”
“Especially women felt that if he had a daughter like that, he must have done something right,’’ said Lee Carter, a New York pollster who showed Ivanka’s speeches and television ads to politically diverse focus groups.
Ivanka’s old friends were surprised by the extent to which she supported her father’s campaign, given her past political positions. “I was pretty horrified,” said one, who asked not to be quoted by name for fear of retaliation from Trump supporters.
Although Ivanka is often described as Donald Trump’s “secret weapon,” she has also been involved in some of the more embarrassing incidents since his inauguration.
When Nordstrom announced it was dropping her fashion line because of weak sales, the president took to Twitter to complain that the department store chain was treating her “so unfairly.” The next day, presidential aide Kellyanne Conway urged viewers of a Fox News show to buy Ivanka’s products, prompting a rebuke by the government’s ethics watchdog.
It looks like Ivanka is trying to regain the respect of the Democrats and independents with whom she socialized for much of her adult life. People working with her and her husband have leaked reports about how they are persuading the president not to revoke protection for the LGBT community or to completely defund Planned Parenthood.
During the transition, she helped bring former vice president and environmental activist Al Gore to Trump Tower to brief her father, a skeptic about climate change, and floated the idea of becoming a climate czar within the administration. She is now focused on child care and maternity leave, an issue historically championed by Democrats.
“She is very well-versed in the issues, thoughtful and sincere,” said Sheila Marcelo, the chief executive of Care.com, who attended a dinner party in January at the home of Wendi Deng at which Ivanka Trump solicited ideas from business executives, many of whom had been fundraising for Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
Even as Ivanka has reached out, her critics have redoubled their attacks. “Saturday Night Live” slammed her with a skit in which Scarlett Johansson, playing Ivanka, hawked a perfume called “Complicit,” with the tagline: “It’s for the woman who could stop all this but won’t.”
The feminist icon Gloria Steinem last month ridiculed the Trump child-care plan as resembling Nazi Germany’s policy of paying German women to give birth while curtailing abortion. “Subsidizing one choice and not others is the very opposite of freedom,” she wrote in a posting to the @dear_ivanka Instagram account.
The #dearivanka campaign is a way of both shaming her and trying to connect.
“She really is the only person within the Trump orbit who is somehow accessible,” said Gingeras, the curator. “The way she posts these picture of her children putting her private life in propaganda service to the administration shows she is open and vulnerable.… There is a perception that she listens.”
The Latinx experience chronicled
Get the Latinx Files newsletter for stories that capture the multitudes within our communities.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.