It’s no secret that Paul Ryan and Donald Trump are not besties. The Republican presidential pick has little use for the Speaker’s wonky, establishment ways. Ryan, meanwhile, increasingly looks as though he feels about Trump the way most Americans feel about Anthony Weiner: Please, God, just make him go away!
Practically speaking, however, it simply won’t do to have the top-ranked GOP officer holder completely out of touch with his party’s nominee. The optics are terrible, and there’s nothing the political media enjoy quite like stories about internecine unpleasantness.
Under such ticklish conditions, there was really only one way for the two men to bridge this gulf without losing face: Bring in Ivanka.
So it was that Trump’s elder daughter and the House Speaker sat down together for an intimate chat in Manhattan last Monday. Arranged at Ivanka’s behest, the meeting took place immediately after Ryan’s address to the Economic Club of New York: Ivanka briefed Ryan on her dad’s campaign; Ryan regaled Ivanka with war stories from 2012. It was, the Speaker’s people assured me, “a productive conversation.”
The very next afternoon, Ivanka ventured even deeper into the political jungle. Jetting down to Washington, she met with more than a dozen Republican women legislators on Capitol Hill. The topic was her father’s childcare plan, which Ivanka reportedly helped formulate. (The invitation came from conference chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, whose political office did not respond to repeated inquiries about the inspiration for, gist of, or anything else to do with the meeting.) Afterward, Rep. Marsha Blackburn told Roll Call that the confab had been “informative” and said Ivanka seemed knowledgeable about the issue—which is more than has ever been said of her dad in any policy area.
Of all the ways Team Trump is reinventing presidential politics this cycle, among the most curious is the emergence of his daughter as the ultimate utility player. Part character witness, part strategist, part policy advisor, and part goodwill ambassador, Ivanka is expanding the role of aspiring First Daughter in a way that no previous aspiring First Child has attempted—and few others could likely get away with.
First and foremost, of course, Ivanka is performing the expected function of a political child: presenting an attractive, appealing tribute to her hyper-ambitious parent’s softer side. Indeed, by all accounts she is more dazzling in the role than most family surrogates—perhaps because the contrast between her polished self-presentation and her dad’s carnival-barker persona is so stark. Just think about the number of times since Ivanka’s convention debut that you’ve heard (or perhaps even uttered) some variation of, “Well, if the guy raised a daughter like that, he can’t be all bad.”
Ivanka’s work as humanizer-in-chief is more vital than usual because Trump’s wife, Melania, is so poorly suited for the job. Even setting aside the brouhaha over Melania’s convention-speech plagiarism and the awkward questions about her visa status during her early days of modeling here, Melania does nothing to make Trump seem more relatable. She is too young, too hot, and, yes, too exotic. (Just try picturing the Slovenian-born supermodel snarfing down corndogs and casually chatting up Middle America’s working moms about the high costs of child care.) If anything, she is a reminder of how very different her thrice-married, reality-show, real-estate heir of a husband is from the average American. Ivanka may be richer than most voters, but she radiates a humanity, decency, and basic likability that the rest of that family sorely lacks. As such, she is essentially pulling double duty in normalizing the candidate.
Beyond providing a personal touch to Team Trump, Ivanka is also stepping out as a policy surrogate on so-called women’s issues. Post-convention, she has been pitching her dad’s child-care plans in interviews, on the trail, and, this week, to Republican congresswomen (all of whom are answerable on such matters to their constituents). She has hit a bump or two in this capacity. For instance, when Cosmo presented her with some tougher-than-expected questions, Ivanka got snippy and cut short the interview.
Still, for anyone unnerved by the Donald’s sketchy handling of women (either personally or politically), Ivanka provides both hope and comfort. Whether or not she has personally struggled with issues like parental leave or equal pay, she talks a pretty good game. Plus, she’s got that whole “Women Who Work” book coming out early next year based on her company’s initiative of the same name.
Intertwined with all this, there’s Ivanka’s roll as ambassador to the Republican elite and moderates more broadly. If Donald Jr. is the Trump child best suited for outreach to his dad’s rowdy, alt-right base, Ivanka is the one most palatable to the electorate’s less edgy elements. This definitely includes members of the party establishment who, for whatever reason, might find it distasteful or politically complicated to be seen publicly snuggling with her dad—such as, say, women lawmakers or a House Speaker with a political brand (and ambitions) to protect. For anyone worried about getting too close to the unstable ball of toxic gas that is Donald Trump, Ivanka provides a less risky, more socially respectable alternative.
Considering Ivanka’s lack of policy or political background, it’s striking to see her adopting such wide-ranging responsibilities in her dad’s campaign. It is more striking still that her role has thus far drawn virtually no criticism. When her Cosmo interview went sideways, the chattering class noted her poor performance. But the basic fact of Ivanka’s centrality to her dad’s campaign has raised vanishingly few eyebrows. Just imagine the kind of abuse that Chelsea Clinton or Tagg Romney would have taken under the same conditions.
Then again, in a campaign where the nominee himself is a proud political and policy neophyte, why should his daughter/ strategist/policy adviser be expected to have any more experience or expertise?