• Sun. Apr 11th, 2021


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The Trump Show’s Supporting Cast

If you were to create a chart showing the hierarchical position of each of President Trump’s four adult children, judging from how often he sees, mentions or is photographed with them, you would surely place the golden child of the family, Ivanka Trump, at the very top. Next would come the two sons — Donald Trump Jr. and Eric.

In last position, sadly, would be Tiffany Trump, who has can’t seem to shake her image as the Little Match Girl of the Trump clan, the outsider looking wistfully at the party through a rose-colored window.

Yet there was Tiffany at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, dressed in a wide-legged powder-blue pantsuit, her hair styled for maximum platinum impact, smiling beatifically as she denounced the evils of mind control and implored voters to re-elect her father to prevent disaster in America.

As it happens, all four adult children spoke at the convention this week, though Ivanka, as usual, got prime position as the one to introduce her father Thursday night. In a weeklong hagiographic spectacle that deviated from political norms so much that at times it felt less like a political convention than a competitive exercise in hyperbolic fealty to a single person, it made perfect sense that two other family-adjacent figures with jobs in the Trump campaign also had convention slots: Eric’s wife, Lara Trump; and Donald Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle.

Candidates always use family members as campaign props and deploy relatives, especially their wives (and occasionally their husbands), to testify to their good qualities. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s wife, Jill, spoke at the Democratic convention earlier this month; Mr. Biden accepted the Democratic nomination for president after a video tribute from a passel of grandchildren.

But Mr. Trump, perhaps even more than most politicians, places a high value on appearance, particularly on how things play on television. And it is no secret that he believes it is the job of his family to promote the family business — which is, for all intents and purposes, himself. Even still, it was striking how many family members had prime spots at the Republican convention, and how many of them were women.

Visually, the Trump women come across as variations on a theme, in the Fox News mold — long glossy hair, high spiky heels, clingy outfits, sparkling teeth — but their job is to help improve Mr. Trump’s standing among women. They are there to prove that despite all the unpleasant stories, despite the decision to roll back equal pay regulations, despite the “Access Hollywood” tape, despite the many women who have accused him of harassment and assault, despite the fact that he cheated on his pregnant wife with an adult-film star and then paid her (the star) to keep quiet, Mr. Trump is a champion of their gender.

He said so himself, in a video on that very theme on Tuesday night. “Women have played a very, very big role” in his administration, he said. “The level of genius is unbelievable, frankly.”

Indeed, he has appointed a number of women to top positions, though some of them, like Kirstjen Nielsen, the former director of homeland security, he has subsequently fired. (The claim that First Lady Melania Trump made, that he had “an unprecedented number of women in leadership roles” was false, however, if you define “unprecedented” to mean “something that has not happened before.” Both the Obama and Clinton administrations had a higher percentage of women confirmed in executive branch roles.)

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Beyond that, he has to overcome the perception that he treats women badly in his personal life.

Bringing out a succession of actual women who are close to him to prove otherwise is a familiar trope, the equivalent of using “I have a Black friend” to establish anti-racist credentials, said Jill Filipovic, who has written about the Trump children and is the author most recently of “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” “It’s ‘I’m the father of daughters, so I can’t possibly be sexist,’” she said. “In his case, it’s ‘Not only am I the father of daughters, but look — my daughters love me so much that they will get up and speak on my behalf.’”

In her remarks on Wednesday, Lara Trump recalled how, as a young woman from the South who moved to New York City to seek her fortune, she was astonished to find that the Trump family was “down to earth,” “warm and caring” and similar to her own family, small business owners from North Carolina.

She said nice things; then she changed her tone. “This is an election that will decide if we keep America, America or if we head down an uncharted frightening path toward socialism,” she said.

As for Tiffany, who recently graduated (remotely) from Georgetown Law School, she remains chronically overshadowed by her three older half-siblings, who all work full-time for their father in one capacity or another. It was interesting to see her in person at the convention, like spotting a rare duck in Central Park.

She is 26, the only child of the short-lived marriage between Mr. Trump and Marla Maples, the model who was quoted as saying that Mr. Trump had given her “the best sex I’ve ever had” during their affair, at a time when Mr. Trump was a tabloid personality in New York City. (Mr. Trump hastily divorced his first wife, Ivana, and then married Ms. Maples two months after she gave birth to Tiffany.) Tiffany’s half-siblings were raised in gold-plated glamour in Manhattan; after Mr. Trump divorced Ms. Maples, Tiffany was raised in Calabasas, Calif., where she knew the Kardashian family but did not see her father much.

“I had the blessing of raising her pretty much on my own,” Ms. Maples once said.

Like all the Trump children, Tiffany seemed to be speaking at the convention mostly to an audience of one, wanting to please and impress her father above anyone else. A year ago, she figured in a news story about the abrupt dismissal of Madeleine Westerhout, Mr. Trump’s personal assistant.

According to news reports, Ms. Westerhout all but dug her own grave when, after a few drinks, she indiscreetly bragged to reporters that “she had a better relationship with Trump than his own daughters.” She also joked that “Trump couldn’t pick Tiffany out of a crowd,” and didn’t liked being photographed with her.

(Not true, Mr. Trump said at the time. “Tiffany is great,” he said. “I love Tiffany.”)

Tiffany began her speech on Thursday night by saying that she could “relate to so many of you who might be looking for a job.” But if she tried to appear gentle and relatable, just a girl standing on a stage in a cavernous empty room asking people to love (or vote for) her father, then Ms. Guilfoyle — older, brasher, louder, the chairwoman of the Trump Victory Finance Committee — came across as some sort of avenging Valkyrie, raining terrifying visions of a dark, apocalyptic future on the television audience.

Standing in high heels, swathed in a form-hugging red dress, Ms. Guilfoyle yelled about anarchists, arsonists and socialists, declaring that the only thing that could save the country from sliding into smoldering ruins was four more years of her boyfriend’s father as president.

She, too, seemed all in not for the Republican Party, but for the Trump Party.

Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

“Women around him seem so anxious to gain his favor,” Kate Anderson Brower, a journalist and author who has written extensively about presidential families, said of Mr. Trump. “It felt like Kimberly was in some sort of competition, like ‘Look at me; I’m your biggest fan and I can say the most flattering stuff.’”

Ms. Guilfoyle, 51, has said that she enjoys going on hunting and shooting trips with Mr. Trump Jr., 41, in a way that recalls how Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate and Alaska governor, talked about those pursuits. With her brash persona and over-the-top, hate-the-libs message, Ms. Guilfoyle is the perfect icon for the president’s far-right base, Ms. Filipovic said.

But she has changed a great deal since her early days, when she worked as a prosecutor in San Francisco and was married to the Democratic politician Gavin Newsom. (They divorced in 2006, after five years of marriage. Mr. Newsom is now the governor of California and a hated political foe of Mr. Trump.)

In considering Ms. Guilfoyle’s convention speech, Ms. Filipovic pointed to the contrast between Ms. Guilfoyle today and Ms. Guilfoyle 16 years ago, mentioning a television interview in 2004 in which Ms. Guilfoyle, then a legal correspondent for “Good Morning America,” and Mr. Newsom, who as mayor of San Francisco had recently begun issuing licenses for same-sex marriages, discussed their relationship.

“What struck me in watching her,” Ms. Filipovic said, “was how good she is at adopting the language and sensibility of whatever audience she’s trying to appeal to.”