In September, as Donald Trump railed against the media and sold himself as the candidate of the forgotten man, Ivanka Trump ventured into the lair of the liberal media and power elite that was laughing at her father.
She jetted off to Aspen with her husband, Jared Kushner, to attend “Weekend with Charlie Rose,” an off-the-record gathering at which 90 percent of invitees were Trump haters.
The annual event is typically filled with Nobel laureates, former government officials, royalty from abroad, business moguls and celebrity chefs who engage in intimate foreign- and economic-policy discussions, coupled with outdoor bonding activities like tennis and fly fishing. Harvey Weinstein, who hosts the Clintons in the Hamptons, added a Hollywood touch this year.
Google’s Eric Schmidt — who helped design the Democratic data systems meant to defeat Trump — typically serves as a co-host.
If there were any question whether Ivanka’s deep involvement in her father’s divisive campaign would ruin her social standing among liberals, here was her answer: Less than two months before Election Day, she was still a member of the club — albeit with a full security detail keeping her at a slight remove.
Ivanka, 35, Trump’s avatar among the moneyed left-wing elite, is now poised to be the first “first daughter” in modern history to play a larger public role than the first lady. And she’s positioning herself exactly as she did that weekend — as a bridge to moderates and liberals disgusted and depressed with the tone and tenor of the new leader of the free world.
And the ambitious daughter, who once plotted her career around international brand domination, is planning to take on an even heavier lift. Ivanka wants to make climate change — which her father has called a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese — one of her signature issues, a source close to her told Politico. The source said Ivanka is in the early stages of exploring how to use her spotlight to speak out on the issue.
If she can pull it off, her advocacy could come as a bit of solace to fearful Americans. Over the past week, New Yorkers concerned about Trump’s election have posted “Dear Ivanka” letters on social media and outside the Puck Building in lower Manhattan, which is owned by her husband. One theme of the letters is a fear that Trump will dismantle the Obama administration’s signature climate change policies.
Advocating opposition to CO2 emissions and fossil fuels will inevitably create another warring sphere of influence in Trump’s orbit: Incoming Chief of staff Reince Priebus has clarified in recent days that Trump’s “default position” on climate change is that “most of it is a bunch of bunk.”
But no one is closer to Trump than his eldest daughter, and it would not be the first traditionally liberal position she has tried preaching to conservatives. At the Republican National Convention in July, Ivanka championed pay equity and parental leave, family issues she intends to continue pushing from what will likely be a unique platform that represents her role as an adviser, a surrogate and functional first lady.
“The issues she’s talking about are ones she’s always talked about,” said a source close to Ivanka. “These are totally consistent with what she’s developed with her brand. She is playing a critical role in being able to have issues that moderate and liberal women care about — and creating a bridge to the other side.”
Ivanka is not currently expected to leave Manhattan for Washington. But she is searching for a chief of staff and other hires to help shape her new role.
“Certainly this is unprecedented in the modern era,” said Katherine Jellison, an expert in first lady studies at Ohio University. “There’s been nothing like this since World War I.”
Trump’s third wife, Melania, has made no public appearances or statements since Election Day, save for the family’s joint “60 Minutes” interview. (The Slovenian-born former model has been spotted outside of her home in Trump Tower only twice — dining privately and silently at 21 and at Serafina with family members).
Instead, it’s Ivanka’s expressionless exterior — and continued comfort and acceptance in the social circles that recoil at Trump pére — that are gelling into the lead family role for the most temperamental and mercurial incoming president in the country’s history.
But as Trump seeks to avoid business conflicts, Ivanka is also expected to increase her responsibilities running the family company — and it is unclear how she will advocate for policy positions while overseeing the international real estate and branding organization.
“It becomes a conflict if she is in a policymaking or advising role,” said Jellison. “If she were able to play White House hostess only, and very much delineate that is her sole role in the White House, then she would be on much safer ground. At any point if people see her sliding onto the policymaking and advising side, there would be charges of conflict of interest.”
For now, as a family accustomed to using itself to promote its many brands muddles through the inevitable conflicts of interest, Ivanka appears to be slowly discovering the limits imposed by her new position.
Earlier this month, she sat in on Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, renewing questions about conflicts of interest between government and private business-related activity.
“This has been very much a family business,” the source close to Ivanka explained of the meeting. “Part of it is adjusting from that collaborative mentality. Strong consideration is being given to how to address those responsibilities going forward.”
Since her eponymous jewelry company tried to promote a $10,800 gold bangle she wore during a “60 Minutes” interview, the Trump team has blamed the snafu on a “junior-level person” who sent out the promotion from a “third-party vendor.”
Insiders maintain that these are merely growing pains. Last week, Ivanka separated her personal social media accounts from those promoting her fashion brands. But old habits are hard to break: She continues to retweet links promoting her apparel line.
And even the testimonial videos on her website promoting “Women Who Work” — the basis for what she wants to advocate from her new, more public post — is in many ways a dressed-up marketing opportunity. For instance, the site features Emily Heller,an advanced-placement English teacher from Alabama, talking about her work — and simultaneously serves as a vehicle to sell Ivanka’s clothing line. (Links underneath the video of Heller discussing her passion for teaching guide viewers to “shop Emily’s looks,” which are all Ivanka Trump-branded clothes.)
Ivanka’s greatest strength in the spotlight as she seeks to moderate her father while promoting the family brand is her unflappability. She never raises her voice. She never criticizes a family member in public. As one former colleague put it, “she’s the most on-message human being I’ve ever seen. Even when she’s angry, she’s a model of composure. It is one of the most incredible feats of self-will I’ve ever seen.”
“She always take the time to send a quick note right after an event or a big project, recognizing and expressing her appreciation for our hard work,” said Amanda Miller, vice president of marketing at the Trump Organization, who got hooked on the family brand when she was 15 and worked at a Trump golf course. “That is what makes you want to come to work everyday.”
But as the president-elect transitions into a more demanding governing role, those same Democrats who accepted Ivanka when they dismissed her father are now wondering how long she can pirouette through the muck without sullying her own brand.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds now,” said one Aspen attendee.
Ivanka is already trying out her ceremonial role, at least. She served pre-Thanksgiving meals at UJA-Federation of New York with her 2-year-old son in tow and visited Success Academy in Harlem, where she spent about 90 minutes touring seven classrooms and grilling the principal about the makeup of the student body, how the charter school recruits teachers and listening to stories from parents, whom she charmed.
“I just love your shoes!” exclaimed one Harlem mother. Ivanka posted photos of the visit on social media.
On Monday, she tweeted that she was “sending love and prayers to the Ohio State University campus and community,” after a student drove a car into a crowd of pedestrians and then stabbed people with a butcher knife.
According to former colleagues, Ivanka takes her role seriously and sees herself as a steadying hand in her father’s gonzo and divided orbit.
It’s a big adjustment for a new first daughter who has devoted her life to becoming a one-name international fashion and lifestyle brand. But one thing she has in her favor: Most of her potential mistakes are likely to be self-inflicted. She keeps such a tightly guarded circle of work and family that there are few channels privy to anything other than her carefully curated public persona. Even her licensing deals are kept close to the vest. She licenses her shoe line through Marc Fisher — a tenant of Trump Tower.
Before the election, Ivanka spent hours with consultants discussing how to expand her personal brand to include books, home decor, luxury accessories. That plan is now on hold.
Instead, she will be in uncharted territory. “Margaret Truman sometimes took her mother’s place at ceremonial events,” said Jellison. “Pat Nixon’s younger daughter, Julie, would fill in for her sometimes. But here in the last century, we haven’t seen something like this where the first lady wants to live in an entirely different city and let the first daughter take that larger role.”
For now, Ivanka plans to focus on making a positive case about issues she wants to make her own and stay silent on all the rest — she sees herself as a distinct, sometimes liberal voice, in her father’s orbit. It remains to be seen how long she can keep it up. In Aspen, it took a bloodless professional comic to cut through the gauze of bonhomie.
“My only problem with your dad,” said Hasan Minhaj of “The Daily Show,” an Indian-American, during an awkward public roast before a room of a few hundred high-powered business leaders and former government officials, in the recollection of two attendees, “is that he wants to send my dad out of the country.” It was a moment somewhat reminiscent of the Donald Trump’s more public 2011 skewering by President Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents dinner, where Trump grimaced through the jokes on his behalf.
But the Republican nominee’s daughter was unruffled – she smiled graciously and took the hit.