As the US delegation to the Global Entrepreneurial Summit in Hyderabad is led by the First Daughter, a look at whether she is a smart businesswoman or just a glamour queen
~By Kenneth Tiven in Washington
First Daughter Ivanka Trump plays many roles inside the confines of her dad’s business ventures, including his latest as 45th president of the United States. Her presence is said to make Trump happy and smooth out his public behaviour.
She is leading the US delegation to the Global Entrepreneurial Summit in Hyderabad. How should Indians understand Ms Trump, the mother of three small children, whose husband Jared Kushner also works for his father-in-law at the White House?
Is she as poised and elegant as she appears? Or merely an eye candy adornment her father can take credit for helping create? He does like to take credit, as the world has learned since his inauguration. She overshadows her brothers. Her half-sister Tiffany is rarely seen, a reflection perhaps of Donald Trump’s acrimonious divorce from Marla Maples, his second wife. From childhood, Ivanka has been her father’s favourite. He inappropriately commented on her sexuality when she was a teenager and supported her early modelling career.
The Trump Administration ignores political tradition and custom in choosing to have both daughter and son-in-law working as presidential advisers. Further, neither the president nor Ivanka have given up their private business ventures. Hers is focused on women’s clothing and jewellery. She and her dad claim no involvement in respective day-to-day business operations.
She graduated with an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where dad attended, and has worked for the Trump organisation most of her life. While First Lady Melania Trump has been on dozens of magazine covers in the past year, not all of them positive, Ivanka has been on magazine covers for two decades.
At age 16, she was on the cover of a magazine aimed at teenage and college girls. Donald Trump earlier had partnered with John Casablancas, controversial creator of the Elite Model Management. Later, Trump started the Trump Modelling Agency, so pushing his daughter in that direction came naturally.
“Yes, I’ve had the great good fortune to be born into a life of wealth and privilege, with a name to match. Yes, I’ve had every opportunity, every advantage. And yes, I’ve chosen to build my career on a foundation built by my father and grandfather.”
—Ivanka Trump in The Trump Card
Trump himself was a master of grabbing attention through public relations involving any media he could interest, so it comes as no surprise that he did the same for her.
The magazine coverage explains how, despite her wealth, she has a social conscience. Mostly written in fawning terms, the stories intimate that she is much like her dad, just smarter and more constrained, with secret liberal tendencies. On the campaign trail, she abruptly left an interview discussing the maternity leave plan she had crafted for her father after some tough questions about his behaviour towards women. In a post-interview Twitter burst, she berated the magazine for being too negative about the plan, which only applied to mothers and not fathers, and provided a very modest child care tax rebate.
The PR push was obvious in 2007 when she launched a jewellery collection at the age of 26 with an appearance on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar explaining she was the new queen of diamonds. The swimsuit with the faux construction site drew a lot of criticism and didn’t help sell diamonds. In fact, the jewellery line failed to take off, much like dad’s effort to sell beef steaks via mail order.
Relentless public relations helped create Donald Trump’s image as a business whiz. He often pretended in phone calls to the media to be a PR man named John Baron “explaining” the genius Trump. It worked for him and his daughter has been promoted as an American princess imbued with the qualities that all women should aspire to have.
Undaunted by the jewellery failures, she launched a clothing line in 2008 and, not surprisingly, managed to be on the cover of Town & Country magazine, which aims at the very upscale young to middle-aged women she wants as customers.
All of this magazine attention came because she was a rich girl with a controversial father turned TV star. And glamorous enough when pregnant to do another cover. In 2009, she wrote a self-help book titled, The Trump Card. Like dad’s The Art of the Deal, it reeked of pretentious contradictions. She started this way: “In business, as in life, nothing is ever handed to you.” Then she tried to balance that with: “Yes, I’ve had the great good fortune to be born into a life of wealth and privilege, with a name to match. Yes, I’ve had every opportunity, every advantage. And yes, I’ve chosen to build my career on a foundation built by my father and grandfather.” In this opening, she claims she and her brothers did not get their jobs “by any kind of birthright or foregone conclusion”.
When The New Yorker magazine in 2016 wrote about how Ms Trump had become an important surrogate for her father, it described the book as “a telling portrait of the Trump family ethos, an attitude that appears quite unkind even when presented by Ivanka, its best salesman, in the years preceding her father’s political rise.”
As Trump senior’s run for the Republican nomination became clear, even business magazine Forbes managed to put his daughter on the cover. But the portrayal of the happy mother who does everything became less suitable as the campaign turned into the presidency. The Trump team’s seeming ineptness with the timing of photo releases is endless: A day after President Trump announced his first Muslim immigration ban (quickly invalidated by a federal court), Ivanka posted a social media image appearing in an expensive dress at a fancy dinner party. Social media critics hammered her.
Finally, no Ivanka story is complete without mentioning the potential criminality surrounding the Trump organisation’s involvement in money laundering at the Trump Ocean Club in Panama City. The Paradise Papers served as the basis for Reuters/NBC News reports about how the people selling the condominium units had been convicted of everything from pimping to working in the human slave trade to kidnapping to laundering money for South American drug kingpins. This was a project that Trump set aside to be Ivanka’s “baby”—her introduction to the real estate game.