HER face is world-famous and she is the other half of the planet’s most powerful political leader. A Slovenian-American Jackie Kennedy for the age, a Diana without the tragedy.

Yet after four years in the job of America’s First Lady, who outside the DC beltway can say they know Melania Trump? Her speech at this week’s Republican National Convention will have been the first time some have even heard her voice.

True to the Trump brand, her White House Rose Garden address was controversial, with the administration accused of breaking with tradition and using the office and trappings of the presidency for political gain.

While every president arguably does this outwith election periods, Donald Trump has become the most blatant offender. He will close the convention tonight with fireworks over the White House lawn. Rumours that he will project his image on to the building are wide of the mark. Probably.

Mrs Trump has never been the most comfortable public speaker. Her convention debut in 2016 became a disaster when it was spotted that a paragraph from her speech was remarkably similar to one in a Michelle Obama address eight years earlier. A speechwriter took the blame.

This time she was more relaxed, though still relying heavily on the teleprompter. What she said was highly revealing of both herself and the way the Trump campaign intends to fight this presidential election. It is the have-cake-and-eat-it strategy familiar to many a Brexiter.

READ MORE: President's brother dies, age 71

Here was a new US citizen standing up for the most nakedly anti-immigrant President in living memory. A foreigner, only the second First Lady to be born outside of the US, appealing for racial harmony after her husband has done so much to stoke tension between communities.

Here, too, was a wife and mother talking about the terrible impact of Covid-19, while her husband has so often appeared in denial about the virus that has claimed 178,000 lives – almost 1000 people a day. Read that again and it still won’t sink in.

This was Melania as the good political cop to her husband’s bad, the softer side of his presidency, there to appeal to the sizeable band of Republican voters, many women, who held their nose in 2016 only to regret it later.

It is a curious thing about Mr Trump, that this most misogynist of men, someone caught on tape talking about women in shockingly coarse terms, should owe much of his success to women. On one level we should hardly be surprised. The old saw about behind every powerful man, etc, is a cliche but that does not stop it being true. (Personally, I prefer the version attributed to Jim Carrey: “Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.”)

Women who have found it impossible to gain power in their own right, for whatever reason, will hitch their wagon to someone else’s. Men do it too. Every king has his court.

What makes Mr Trump remarkable is the number of women he has around him, and the extent to which he relies upon them.

There are the blood ties to daughters Ivanka, from first wife Ivana, and Tiffany, from second wife Marla. Ivanka and her husband are indulged to the point of having their own court. There are few who do not see her running for President one day. The betting site oddschecker puts her chances of winning in 2024 – yes, the caravan has moved on already – at 33/1.

Before the wives and daughters there was the Scottish mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump. In his victory speech of 2016 he first thanked his parents, “who I know are looking down on me right now”, for being “great people” from whom he learned so much.

READ MORE: Joe Biden 'basically the Loch Ness monster' says Trump Jr

Every book on Trump so far has been lighter on details about Mary Anne than on his father, Fred. Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher’s Trump Revealed describes his visit to his mother’s old home in the Outer Hebrides. He was inside for just over a minute and a half. “I do feel Scottish,” he told reporters, “but don’t ask me to define that. There was something very strong from my mother.” Mary Anne would have had to be tough to stay married to her overbearing and ferociously ambitious husband.

Another woman who can lay claim to knowing Mr Trump more than most is Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to the President for the last two years.

Ms Conway, coiner of the phrase “alternative facts”, has defended her boss to the utmost even at the cost, it seems, to her family life. She resigned this week, shortly after being “mom shamed” by one of her daughters. Claudia Conway, like her father, has been an ardent critic of Mr Trump. This time it was her mother who bore the brunt of her anger. The teenager tweeted that her mother’s job and desire for money and fame had ruined her daughter’s life. Ms Conway has now promised her four children “less drama, more mama”.

The final woman of note in the court of King Donald is someone estranged from him. Mary L Trump, his niece, landed several blows in her book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Ms Trump, a psychologist, did so not by labelling him a textbook narcissist (he has been called worse) but by revealing more about his early years and family in-fighting. That must have hurt.

Of all these women the most fascinating remains Melania Trump (although I would still love to know more about Mary Anne MacLeod). The only writer to have come anywhere near Melania Trump is Washington Post reporter Mary Jordan, whose biography, The Art of Her Deal, is an enthralling, highly entertaining read. From parts of the jigsaw she assembles a picture of a woman who is hardworking, tough, sticks close to her family, and keeps her own counsel.

The takeaway, particularly for all those who persist in seeing the First Lady as an unhappy prisoner in a fake gold cage, is that no one need worry about Melania. She’s got it.

It is Melania, not her husband, who is the true face of the modern United States. In that she shares a spot with another First Lady, Michelle Obama. America has not heard the last from either woman.


Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.