Editor’s Note: This story originally published in February 2016.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Melania Trump.
Treading a well-worn path, her only job would be to raise their son, do a bit of charity work, dabble in a couple of TV shopping lines (jewelry and skincare) and show up on her husband’s arm at parties, her bombshell curves swathed in Alexander McQueen.
In that world, who cares if you pose nude for British GQ on Trump’s plane, handcuffed to a briefcase like one more precious possession? Or are photographed on the steps of that plane at seven months pregnant, wearing a bikini?
In that world, you can let your Twitter and Facebook followers envy your close-up swimsuit selfies, the shot of Louis Vuitton trunks spilling jewelry around you sitting on a carved gold bed or a photo of you blowing a kiss saying, “Bye! I’m off to my #summer residence.”
Why not? You love being glamorous and rich. We get it.
Suddenly, you have to endure endless scrutiny by hordes of rude reporters, salivating internet bottom-dwellers and conservative family values voters.
At the same time, you’re forced to give up much of your privacy while, as a non-native English speaker and newcomer to the American political system, trying to avoid saying anything controversial during what looks to be a long and nasty presidential campaign.
No wonder Melania, 45, hasn’t tweeted since the Fourth of July.
Or said much publicly since her husband announced his presidential ambitions.
However, in one change, the stunning glamazon with the squinty blue steel stare has replaced her former decolletage-baring dresses for outfits that are the high fashion, high-necked equivalent of Richard Nixon’s “respectable Republican cloth coat.”
There has never been an American political wife like Melania.
Certainly, no other potential First Ladies have discussed their sex lives on the Howard Stern Show, as she and Trump did in 2000, before they married (or presumably talked about a possible political campaign.)
On the subject of her husband’s candidacy, Melania has been so reticent that Gawker recently published a sarcastic story about her silence called “Here are Some of the Many Words Melania Trump Has Said.”
“The silent partner,” snarked the New York Times, when Melania was so absent on the early campaign trail her step-daughter Ivanka became the campaign’s surrogate “wife.”
She didn’t appear with her husband during a September “60 Minutes” interview.
In a November 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters, she explained that motherhood kept her from accompanying her husband to the hinterland.
“It’s my choice not to be there (on the campaign trail),” Melania, 45, told Walters. “I support my husband 100 percent, but … we have a 9-year-old son together, Barron, and I’m raising him,” she said.
“We have a very, very — pretty much equal relationship,” Donald told Walters.
Melania’s absence has given rise to stories about what’s seen as her retro stand-by-your-man docility, and speculation about her shyness.
She’s not shy, she insisted to Harper’s Bazaar this month. “I’m very political in private life, and between me and my husband I know everything that is going on. I follow from A to Z,” she said.
Adding that it was her choice not to join him on the hustings, she said, “I have my own mind. I am my own person and I think my husband likes that about me.”
But asked for her opinion on political questions, she has demurred. “I don’t want to go there,” she said when Harper’s Bazaar asked which First Ladies she admires.
To Walters, she says she gives her husband advice, but when asked for specifics, said, “I will keep it private.”
She told US magazine, “I’m very political. I’m not political in public, I’m political at home.”
Finally at a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina rally, she was called to the microphone to make her first public remarks of the campaign.
Wearing a red coat over her shoulders, she rallied the crowd: “Isn’t he the best? He will be the best president ever. We love you!”
And with a wave, she went back to the sidelines.
Her husband gave her a kiss and according to the Associated Press, could be heard saying, “Thank you, honey. Very nice.”
After his win in South Carolina Saturday night, her husband urged her to address the crowd.
“I just wanted to say, an amazing place South Carolina,” Melania said to supporters in a soft Slovenian accent. “And he loves you, we love you and we are going ahead to Nevada and we’ll see what happens.”
The next morning on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Trump said he surprised his wife by asking her to speak.
“And she got up and she spoke beautifully,” said Trump, who described Melania as a brilliant woman, who does not seek publicity. “She’s a great mother and she has some interesting causes that are going to be fantastic for the country.”
The former Melania Knauss met Trump in New York in 1998 when she was 28 and he was 52. Shortly afterward, she began flying down with him for winter weekends at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach.
“I was struck by his energy,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “He has an amazing sense of vitality.”
The wife of a man who has denigrated immigrants, particularly those from Mexico, was herself an immigrant who arrived from Slovenia on a work visa in 1996. “I followed the rules,” said Melania, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006. “It never crossed my mind to stay here without papers.”
She became Trump’s third wife in 2005 when they married at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach in a lavish wedding. (Trump has three children with first wife Ivana Zelnícková, who sold her Mizner-designed Palm Beach house in 2014. He married actress Marla Maples after they had a child together; that marriage ended in 1999.)
Donald and Melania’s son, Barron, who turns 10 next month, was born a year after their wedding.
What kind of First Lady would Melania be?
Friends and acquaintances describe her as “nice,” and say she has a calming effect on her husband.
She’s liable to keep a low profile, as she does in Palm Beach on winter weekends, except when she’s photographed in designer gowns in her signature glamour pose: leaning back on one foot, hand on hip, three-quarter profile to the camera.
If Trump is elected, Melania would join British-born Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, as the only foreign-born First Ladies.
In addition to her native and adoptive tongues, Melania speaks French and Italian.
Melania already has a perk, if you can call it that, from her status as the spouse of the Republican front runner.
Just like her husband, she has her own Saturday Night Live doppelganger.
The only other woman who does in the campaign?