The first daughter is trying to woo the white suburban female voters who have become her father’s demographic kryptonite.
Ivanka Trump’s campaign persona offers a stark departure from the daily tornado of grievance and belligerence that has marked so much her father’s campaign.
FRANKLIN, Wis. — President Trump had just been on Fox and Friends, demanding that his attorney general “act” against his opponent before the election. He had, the day before, called Joseph R. Biden Jr. a “criminal,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci a “disaster,” government scientists “idiots” and members of the news media “real garbage.”
Ivanka Trump, meanwhile, was visiting suburban Milwaukee and here for none of this.
“I learned that the first ice cream sundae was created in this amazing state!” the president’s older daughter and senior White House adviser said from a small stage of a sunlit function room overlooking a pond.
There would be no mentions of Hunter Biden in here, no reference to Hillary Clinton, “Barack Hussein Obama,” China Virus, witch hunts, fake news, Antifa or rigged elections.
Instead, the first daughter came armed with local fun facts and pleasing asides. She skipped the Trump-branded red meat and went straight to dessert.
“Wisconsinites eat 21 million gallons of ice cream a year,” Ms. Trump shared as an icebreaker. She likes to collect souvenir trivia like this from the road, which she will then serve up at home as cool mom fodder.
“My children, upon hearing this, want to move to Wisconsin,” she continued. “So, the Kushners might be coming to town!”
Supporters of President Trump at a rally in Janesville, Wis., last week. Wisconsin is home to both fierce devotion and revulsion to Mr. Trump.
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Still, a surrogate can stray only so far from a campaign’s dominant message and messenger. Ms. Trump could speak with endless poise about all the important lessons her father instilled (“Find something you’re passionate about, because that’s the path to happiness”). She could focus on suburban parenting concerns such as school choice and education reform, and lament “the loss of social interaction for our kids” during the coronavirus outbreak. She could avoid any talk of immigration, caravans, walls or family separation.
And then, later in the day came a report that the parents of 545 children who had been separated from them at the southern border could not be located.
“On the one hand, a president’s family member can offer a softening and humanizing touch,” said Gil Troy, a presidential historian who has written extensively on first families. In such a polarized and binary environment, he added, Ms. Trump can still offer some measure of reassurance for Republicans who do not like her father but who would be loath to support Mr. Biden. “Ivanka can still be proof that is ‘See, he’s not that bad,’” Mr. Troy said. “She is trying to be some port in the storm.” At a certain point, though the contrast becomes too stark. “It becomes almost a countercampaign rather than a supporting one,” he said.
And while Ms. Trump may avoid the vitriolic language of her father and brothers, she has been connected to policies and actions that critics find just as distasteful or ill-advised. She was, reportedly, a proponent of her father’s march across Lafayette Square last spring during protests against racial injustice, culminating in a Bible-waving photo-op in front of the fire-damaged St. John’s Church. The widely-derided performance stands as one of the most notorious spectacles of Mr. Trump’s presidency.
As perhaps the president’s most influential aide, his daughter tends to be studiously quiet in public, even over policies she is believed to personally oppose. Yet she has shown a knack for oblivious gestures: drawing backlash, for instance, after she tweeted a photo of herself cuddling her two-year-old son amid reports of migrant children being forcibly taken from their mothers by border agents.
Ms. Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, also offer ready-made foils of privilege. The Lincoln Project, a super PAC of anti-Trump conservatives, sponsored two Ivanka and Jared themed billboards in Times Square this past week; one featured a grinning Ms. Trump next to national and statewide death tallies from the coronavirus. (The couple has demanded their removal and threatened legal action.)
On the re-election trail, Ms. Trump is offering a campaign version of daytime TV.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to hear that positive tone,” said Joe Krupa of Franklin through a navy blue, MAGA-emblazoned mask. “I’m really sick of all the Debbie downers and the negativity,” he said. To be clear, Mr. Krupa said he blamed this negativity on the rampant “hatred for Trump” that exists from Democrats and the biased media. Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian energy company, he added, “should be an even bigger scandal than Watergate.” Mr. Krupa seemed to be getting slightly worked up for a second but stopped himself — as if this was not the right vibe for the Ivanka Hour.
“It’s more of the boys’ role to talk about Hunter Biden and all of the other stuff that’s wrong with Joe Biden,” said Mr. Krupa’s friend, Lois Dombrowski of Caledonia, another Milwaukee suburb.
In her remarks, Ms. Trump spoke of her father’s willingness to look beyond party orthodoxy and support creative solutions: one local example involved an initiative to help Wisconsin farmers whose goods were shut off from supply chains after the coronavirus hit. “Farmers were literally taking this beautiful milk and pouring it down the drain,” Ms. Trump said.
Like her father, Ms. Trump is fond of breathless adjectives (“amazing” “unbelievable”) and applying them to common nouns (“beautiful milk”)
“Why do you do what you do every day?” Ms. Schlapp asked the first daughter. How does she endure all the incoming — all the attacks, biases, hatreds and all she had to deal with?
In short, Ms. Trump said she does what she does for the same reason her father does what he does — for love.
Mercedes Schlapp, a former White House official and campaign surrogate, moderated Ms. Trump’s discussion in Franklin, Wis.Credit…Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, via Associated Press
“We love this country, we love the people of this country,” she said. “For all the negativity, for all the noise and all of the biased reporting that the president receives, the outpouring of love and prayers” — she paused — “The love is just a beautiful counterbalance.”
In a sense, Ms. Trump is still attempting to serve as a counterbalance of her own to an otherwise dark campaign. She aims to present, for what it’s worth, an alternative reality check to a version of Donald Trump that seems deeply embedded at this late stage.
Of all the Trump ambassadors, she offers the most disciplined message, sharing a pitch that rarely makes reference to “idiot” scientists or hoaxes of any kind. Among family surrogates, she makes an odd kind of black sheep.